Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Information and Articles About Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a Women’s Rights advocate, and one of the prominent women of the Civil War, and a famous woman in history
Elizabeth Cady Stanton Facts
Elizabeth Cady, November 12, 1815, Johnstown, New York
Henry Brewster Stanton
October 26, 1902, New York City, New York
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Elizabeth Cady Stanton summary: Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a social activist, one of the originators of the women’s movement in the United States, and an author, wife, and mother. With her good friend Susan B. Anthony, she campaigned tirelessly for women’s rights, particularly for the right to vote. Although Anthony figures perhaps more prominently in popular memory, Elizabeth Cady Stanton was as an important force in the 19th-century women’s movement.
Childhood and Education
Elizabeth Cady was born November 12, 1815, in Johnstown, New York, the eighth of 11 children born to Daniel Cady and Margaret Livingston Cady—she was one of six children who survived infancy and early childhood. Daniel Cady was a prominent Federalist attorney who served one term in Congress (1814–1817), became a circuit court judge, and was appointed to the New York Supreme Court in 1847. Margaret Livingston Cady was descended from early Dutch settlers—her father, Colonel James Livingston, was an officer in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. Margaret was unusually tall for her time and had a commanding presence; Elizabeth would often later describe her as "queenly."
With the loss of so five of her children during their infancy and early childhood, Margaret Cady was depressed and somewhat withdrawn from her surviving children’s lives, while Daniel Cady immersed himself in his work. Much of the child-rearing responsibilities fell to Elizabeth’s older sister Tryphena, Tryphena’s husband Edward Bayard, and a slave owned by the family, Peter Teabout, who was freed—all slavery ended in New York on July 4, 1827—but continued to live near and work for the family.
Elizabeth was educated at Johnstown Academy until she was 16. She studied Latin, Greek, math, religion, science, and French, and particularly enjoyed co-educational classes where she was able to compete with boys her age and older. She spent much time with her father, who gave her access to his law library and discussed legal issues with her—she even debated legal issues with his law clerks. With her early interest in the law, Elizabeth also understood the inequality of women’s legal position. Married women in particular had few rights, with no right to property, income, employment, or even custody of their own children.
In 1826, Elizabeth’s only surviving brother, Eleazar, died just before his graduation from Union College in Schenectady, New York. Elizabeth tried to comfort her devastated father, declaring that she would become all that her brother had been. Her father responded that he wished she was a boy—a response that upset her greatly. She sought advice from the family’s neighbor, Reverend Simon Hosack, who encouraged and supported her intellectual development, even teaching her Greek and giving her books, including his own Greek lexicon.
Upon graduation from Johnstown Academy, many of Elizabeth’s male classmates enrolled in Union College, where her brother Eleazar had gone. Union did not admit women in 1830— in 1837 Oberlin College became the first to admit women—so Elizabeth went to Troy Female Seminary in Troy, New York, which was founded and run by Emma Willard. The school was renamed the Emma Willard School in 1895 and continues to operate today.
Marriage, Early Involvement in Women’s Rights
In 1840, Elizabeth married Henry Brewster Stanton, a journalist and antislavery orator she met through her involvement in the temperance and abolition movements. The phrase "promise to obey" was omitted from their wedding vows at Elizabeth’s request—she later wrote "I obstinately refused to obey one with whom I supposed I was entering into an equal relation." They planned their European honeymoon to include the Anti-Slavery Convention in London, England, in the spring of 1840. There, they encountered Lucretia Mott, a Quaker minister, feminist, and abolitionist whose example helped solidify Elizabeth’s commitment to women’s rights.
After their honeymoon in Europe, the Stantons moved into the Cady house in Johnstown, and Henry began to study law under Daniel Cady. They had seven children between 1842 and 1859. In 1843, the Stantons moved to Boston, where Henry began practicing law and the couple enjoyed the social, political, and intellectual life of active abolitionists. Elizabeth met with and was influenced by, among others, Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Louisa May Alcott, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Seneca Falls Convention
When the family returned to New York in 1847, this time to Seneca Falls, Stanton tried to focus solely on being a mother and wife, particularly because Henry traveled often, speaking and writing about social issues, including abolition. But she quickly became dissatisfied with only these roles. She became active in and helped to foster the abolitionist, women’s rights, and temperance communities locally while still focusing on her family, establishing ties with other like-minded women. Stanton would spend the rest of her life fighting not only for the right to vote, but for gender-neutral divorce laws, a woman’s right to refuse her husband sexually, increased economic opportunities for women, and the right of women to serve on juries.
By 1848, Stanton felt that a public meeting for protest and discussion of women’s rights was the next step in gaining equal footing with men. She, Lucretia Mott, Mott’s sister Martha Coffin Wright, and a handful of other women organized the first women’s rights convention at the Stanton home in Seneca Falls on July 19 and 20. Stanton wrote a Declaration of Sentiments, which she modeled on the Declaration of Independence, to formally assert the equality of men and women and propose resolutions, including female suffrage. The Seneca Falls Convention was attended by over 300 people, including Frederick Douglass, who spoke informally at the convention. One hundred of the participants signed the Declaration of Sentiments. Two weeks later, Stanton was invited to speak at a second women’s rights convention in Rochester, at which Mott was the featured speaker. In 1850, Stanton was invited to speak at the first National Women’s Rights Convention in Worcester, Massachusetts, held October 23–24, but she was pregnant at the time. Instead of attending, she chose to be a sponsor and have a speech read.
Collaboration with Susan B. Anthony, Suffrage Movement, Women’s Rights
In 1851, she was introduced by a mutual friend to Susan B. Anthony, who was most active in the temperance movement at the time. The two would form a life-long friendship and collaboration. Initially, they focused on the temperance movement, forming the Woman’s State Temperance Society, which disbanded within a year. Convinced that gaining equality for women would have the greatest effect, giving women the ability to affect both temperance and abolition, Stanton and Anthony focused their energies on suffrage. Anthony was unmarried and childless, therefore able to travel and give speeches, often on Stanton’s behalf—Stanton refused to travel far until her children were grown.
Anthony and Stanton increasingly tied female suffrage and black suffrage together, forming the Woman’s National Loyal League in 1863 to support the Thirteenth Amendment to abolish slavery and campaigning for full citizenship for blacks and women. After the Civil War, they split from the less radical American Woman Suffrage Association founded by Lucy Stone, which believed in precedence—the idea that suffrage for free black men was more important than suffrage for women—and which focused on winning the right to vote state-by-state. Instead, Anthony and Stanton campaigned for a constitutional amendment for universal suffrage in America and founded the National Woman Suffrage Association in 1869 with Matilda Joslyn Gage. Stanton and Gage wrote the Declaration of Rights of the Women of the United States, which Anthony presented, uninvited, at the Centennial celebration in Washington in 1876.
Stanton’s position on suffrage caused a rift with many of the former abolitionist leaders, perhaps most notably Frederick Douglass. He believed that white women in particular were already somewhat empowered by their connections and ability to influence their voting fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons and that obtaining the vote for freed black men was more urgent and important. Following the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868, which stated, "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdictions thereof, are citizens of the United States and the State wherein they reside" and prohibited limiting the rights of any citizen, Stanton and Anthony took the position that the amendment actually did give women the right to vote. Both women—Anthony in 1872 and Stanton in 1880—along with many others, would go to the polls insisting on voting.
In 1862, the Stantons moved to New York City and then, in 1868, to Tenafly, New Jersey. Anthony began publishing the weekly newspaper The Revolution in New York City, with editorials often written by Stanton. The paper provided a strong counterpoint to the prejudices evident in most other newspapers of the day, arguing for equal rights, suffrage, and equal pay.
In November 1869, Stanton joined the New York Lyceum Bureau, which was an organization that provided lectures, dramatic performances, class instruction, and debates and was instrumental in adult continuing education and was part of the cultural fabric of the 19th-century life. Stanton would travel and lecture, mainly in the Midwest and on the western frontier, for about eight months of the year until 1880, addressing a wide variety of topics for a wider audience than the suffrage conventions she had previously limited herself to. One of her most popular speeches, Our Girls, addressed the education and socialization of girls in a way that challenged the traditional way that girls were reared; it was a practical way to spread the principals of equality that Stanton had long fought for.
When she stopped lecturing in 1880, she had more time to devote to writing and travel, though she continued to give three or four major speeches a year. She and Anthony had begun writing what would be a 3-volume history of the suffrage movement; volumes one and two of the History of Woman Suffrage were published in 1881 and 1882. Stanton worked on the third volume, published in 1886, in 1884 and 1885 when she resumed housekeeping to take care of her aging husband—Henry Stanton died in 1887.
Final Years, Legacy
In the 1890s, Stanton further distanced herself from the more conservative, mainly Christian leaders of the National American Woman Suffrage Association—she believed that Christianity was inherently sexist, relegating women to an inferior position in society. With Gage, she began writing The Woman’s Bible to interpret scripture from a feminist viewpoint. Published in 1895, it firmly placed her as one of the most radical of the women’s suffrage advocates—Anthony was a less controversial figure and became the more recognized leader of the women’s suffrage movement.
Stanton died of heart failure on October 26, 1902, at her daughter Margaret’s home in New York City, just a few weeks before her 87th birthday. While she had been unable to obtain a formal college degree, both of her daughters earned advanced degrees; Margaret attended Vassar and Columbia, while Harriot obtained both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Vassar. Although Anthony was initially more identified as the founder of the women’s suffrage movement, in recent years, Stanton has received more equal footing with her as key members of the women’s suffrage movement, as well as recognition as being founder of the broader women’s rights movement that included not only suffrage, but legal and social reform as well.
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