Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Women's Suffrage Pioneer

Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Elizabeth Cady Stanton. PhotoQuest/Getty Images

Known for: Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a leader in 19th century activism for women's suffrage; Stanton often worked with Susan B. Anthony as the theorist and writer while Anthony was the public spokesperson.

Dates: November 12, 1815 - October 26, 1902
Also known as: E. C. Stanton

Future Feminist's Early Life

Stanton was born in New York in 1815.  Her mother was Margaret Livingston, descended from Dutch, Scottish and Canadian ancestors, including members who fought in the American revolution. Her father was Daniel Cady, descended from early Irish and English colonists.  Daniel Cady was an attorney and judge. He served in the state assembly and in Congress. Elizabeth was among the younger siblings in the family, with two older sisters living at the time of her birth, and one brother (a sister and brother had died before her birth).  Two sisters and a brother followed.

The only son of the family to survive to adulthood, Eleazar Cady, died at twenty. Her father was devastated by the loss of all his male heirs, and when young Elizabeth tried to console him, he said "I wish you were a boy."  This, she later said, motivated her to study and try to become the equal of any man.

She was also influenced by her father's attitude towards women clients.  As an attorney, he advised abused women to stay in their relationships because of legal barriers to divorce and to control of property or wages after a divorce.

Young Elizabeth studied at home and at the Johnstown Academy, and then was among the first generation of women to gain a higher education at the Troy Female Seminary, founded by Emma Willard.

While at school, she experienced a religious conversion, influenced by the religious fervor of her time. But the experience left her fearful for her eternal salvation, and she had what was then called a nervous collapse. She later credited this with her lifelong distaste for most religion.

Radicalizing Elizabeth

Elizabeth may have been named for her mother's sister, Elizabeth Livingston Smith, who was the mother of Gerrit Smith.  Daniel and Margaret Cady were conservative Presbyterians, while Gerrit Smith was a religious skeptic and abolitionist.  Young Elizabeth Cady stayed with the Smith family for some months in 1839, and it was there that she met Henry Brewster Stanton, known as an abolitionist speaker.

Her father opposed their marriage, because Stanton supported himself completely through the uncertain income of a traveling orator, working without pay for the American Anti-Slavery Society.  Even with her father's opposition, Elizabeth Cady married abolitionist Henry Brewster Stanton in 1840.  By that time, she'd already observed enough about the legal relationships between men and women to insist that the word obey be dropped from the ceremony.  The marriage took place in her home town of Johnstown.

After the wedding, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her new husband departed for a trans-Atlantic voyage to England, to attend an abolitionist convention, the World's Anti-Slavery Convention in London, both appointed as delegates of the American Anti-Slavery Society.  The convention denied official standing to women delegates, including Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

When the Stantons returned home, Henry began to study law with his father-in-law.  Their family began to grow quickly.  Daniel Cady Stanton, Henry Brewster Stanton and Gerrit Smith Stanton were already born by 1848 -- and Elizabeth was the chief caregiver of them, and her husband was frequently absent with his reform work.  The Stantons moved to Seneca Falls, New York, in 1847.

Women's Rights

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott met again in 1848 and began planning for a women's rights convention to be held in Seneca Falls, New York. That convention, and the Declaration of Sentiments written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton which was approved there, is credited with initiating the long struggle towards women's rights and woman suffrage.

Stanton began writing frequently for women's rights, including advocating for women's property rights after marriage. After 1851, Stanton worked in close partnership with Susan B. Anthony. Stanton often served as the writer, since she needed to be home with the children, and Anthony was the strategist and public speaker in this effective working relationship.

More children followed in the Stanton marriage, despite Anthony's eventual complaints that having these children was taking Stanton away from the important work of women's rights.  In 1851, Theodore Weld Stanton was born, then Lawrence Stanton, Margaret Livingston Stanton, Harriet Eaton Stanton, and Robert Livingston Stanton, the youngest born in 1859.

Stanton and Anthony continued to lobby in New York for women's rights, up until the Civil War. They won major reforms in 1860, including the right after divorce for a woman to have custody of her children, and economic rights for married women and widows.  They were beginning to work for reform on New York's divorce laws when the Civil war began.

Civil War Years and Beyond

From 1862 to 1869 lived in New York City and Brooklyn. During the Civil War, women's rights activity was largely stopped while the women who had been active in the movement worked in various ways first to support the war and then to work for antislavery legislation after the war.  

Elizabeth Cady Stanton ran for Congress in 1866, from the 8th Congressional district in New York. Women, including Stanton, were still not eligible to vote. Stanton received 24 votes out of about 22,000 cast in the contest.

Split Movement

Stanton and Anthony proposed at the Anti-Slavery Society annual meeting in 1866 to form an organization that would work for both women's and African American equality.  The American Equal Rights Association was born, but split apart in 1868 when some supported the Fourteenth Amendment, which would establish rights for black males but also add the word "male" to the Constitution for the first time, and others, including Stanton and Anthony, determined to focus on female suffrage. Those who supported their stance founded the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) and Stanton served as president, and the rival American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) was founded by others, dividing the women's suffrage movement and its strategic vision for decades.

During these years, Stanton, Anthony and Matilda Joslyn Gage organized efforts from 1876 to 1884 to lobby Congress to pass a national woman suffrage amendment to the constitution.  Stanton also lectured on the lyceum circuit from 1869 to 1880.  After 1880, she lived with her children, she lived with her children, sometimes abroad. She continued to write proliferously, including working with Anthony and Gage from 1876 through 1882 on the first two volumes of the History of Woman Suffrage, and then publishing the third volume in 1886. She took some time to care for her aging husband, and after he died in 1887, moved for a time to England.


When the NWSA and the AWSA finally merged in 1890, Elizabeth Cady Stanton served as the president of the resulting National American Woman Suffrage Association.  Though the president, she was critical of the direction of the movement, as it sought southern support by aligning with those who opposed any federal interference in state limits on voting rights, and more and more justified women's vote by asserting women's superiority.  She spoke before Congress in 1892, on "The Solitude of Self." She published her autobiography Eighty Years and More in 1895. She became more critical of religion, publishing with others in 1898 a controversial critique of women's treatment by religion, The Woman's Bible. Controversy especially over that publication led to her losing her position within the suffrage movement, as others thought that associating with freethought ideas might lose precious votes for suffrage.

She spent her last years in ill health, increasingly hampered in her movements and by 1899 unable to see. Elizabeth Cady Stanton died in New York on October 26, 1902, with nearly 20 years to go before the United States granted women the right to vote.


While Elizabeth Cady Stanton is best known for her long contribution to the woman suffrage struggle, she was also active and effective in winning property rights for married women, equal guardianship of children, and liberalized divorce laws. These reforms made it possible for women to leave marriages that were abusive of the wife, the children, and the economic health of the family.

More Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Related topics on this site

  • About Susan B. Anthony: Stanton's name is linked in history with that of her friend and colleague, Susan B. Anthony. Find out more about Anthony, too, on this site.
  • Woman Suffrage: more resources on the woman suffrage movement, the life cause of Elizabeth Cady Stanton.