Biography of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Women's Suffrage Leader

Elizabeth Cady Stanton
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Elizabeth Cady Stanton (November 12, 1815–October 26, 1902) was a leader, writer, and activist in the 19th-century women's suffrage movement. Stanton often worked with Susan B. Anthony as the theorist and writer, while Anthony was the public spokesperson.

Fast Facts: Elizabeth Cady Stanton

  • Known For: Stanton was a leader in the women's suffrage movement and theorist and writer who worked closely with Susan B. Anthony.
  • Also Known As: E.C. Stanton
  • Born: November 12, 1815 in Johnstown, New York
  • Parents: Margaret Livingston Cady and Daniel Cady
  • Died: October 26, 1902 in New York, New York
  • Education: At home, the Johnstown Academy, and the Troy Female Seminary
  • Published Works and SpeechesSeneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments (co-drafted and amended), Solitude of Self, The Women's Bible (co-written), History of Women's Suffrage (co-written), Eighty Years and More
  • Awards and Honors: Inducted into National Women's Hall of Fame (1973)
  • Spouse: Henry Brewster Stanton
  • Children: Daniel Cady Stanton, Henry Brewster Stanton, Jr., Gerrit Smith Stanton, Theodore Weld Stanton, Margaret Livingston Stanton, Harriet Eaton Stanton, and Robert Livingston Stanton
  • Notable Quote: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal."

Early Life and Education

Stanton was born in New York in 1815. Her mother was Margaret Livingston and descended from Dutch, Scottish, and Canadian ancestors, including people who fought in the American Revolution. Her father was Daniel Cady, a descendant of 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 one older brother and two older sisters living at the time of her birth (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 age 20. 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 toward female clients. As an attorney, he advised abused women to stay in their relationships because of legal barriers to divorce and to the 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.

She experienced a religious conversion at school, 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 religions.

Radicalization and Marriage

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 cousin 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.

After the wedding, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her new husband departed for a trans-Atlantic voyage to England to attend the World's Anti-Slavery Convention in London. Both were appointed 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 quickly grew. Daniel Cady Stanton, Henry Brewster Stanton, and Gerrit Smith Stanton were already born by 1848; 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. That convention, including the Declaration of Sentiments written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and approved there, is credited with initiating the long struggle toward woman suffrage and women's rights.

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 her 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 Margaret Livingston Stanton and Harriet Eaton Stanton. Robert Livingston Stanton, the youngest, was 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, the Stantons 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 work for anti-slavery legislation after the war. 

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

Split Movement

Stanton and Anthony proposed at the Anti-Slavery Society annual meeting in 1866 to form an organization that would focus on equality for women and African-Americans. The American Equal Rights Association was the result, but it split apart in 1868 when some supported the 14th Amendment, which would establish rights for black males but would also add the word "male" to the Constitution for the first time, while others, including Stanton and Anthony, were determined to focus on female suffrage. Those who supported their stance founded the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) and Stanton served as president. 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 for the traveling public programs known as "the lyceum circuit" from 1869 to 1880. After 1880, she lived with her children, sometimes abroad. She continued to write prolifically, including her work with Anthony and Gage from 1876 through 1882 on the first two volumes of the "History of Woman Suffrage." They published the third volume in 1886. In these years, Stanton cared for her aging husband until his death in 1887.

Merger

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. She was critical of the direction of the movement despite serving as president, as it sought southern support by aligning with those who opposed any federal interference in state limits on voting rights justified more and more the women's right to 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, alienated many in the suffrage movement from Stanton, as the more conservative majority of suffrage activists were concerned that such skeptical "free thought" ideas might lose precious support for suffrage.

Death

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

Legacy

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 or the children.

Sources

  • Elizabeth Cady Stanton.” National Women's History Museum.
  • Ginzberg, Lori D. Elizabeth Cady Stanton: An American Life. Hill and Wang, 2010.