Elizabeth Cady Stanton (November 12, 1815 – October 26, 1902) was an activist and a leader of the early women's rights movement. Her Declaration of Sentiments, presented at the first women's rights convention held in 1848 in the village of Seneca Falls, New York is often credited with initiating the organized woman's rights and woman's suffrage movement in the United States.
With her husband, Henry Stanton and cousin, Gerrit Smith, Elizabeth Cady Stanton was an active abolitionist before she made women's issues her primary focus. Until their disagreement over ratification of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, Stanton enjoyed a strong friendship with abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass, and many other prominent leaders of the abolitionist movement.
Elizabeth was an outspoken supporter of the nineteenth century temperance movement. While best known for their work on behalf of women's suffrage, she and Susan B. Anthony were instrumental in founding the Woman's State Temperance Society (1852-1853). During her presidency of the organization, Stanton scandalized many supporters by suggesting that drunkenness be made sufficient cause for divorce. Often a strong critic of religion, particularly Christianity, Stanton distanced herself from the Woman's Christian Temperance Union and her Christian peers in the women's rights movement.
Stanton addressed many women's issues beyond voting rights including women's parental and custody rights, property rights, employment and income rights, divorce laws, the economic health of the family and abortion.
Elizabeth Cady, the eighth of eleven children, was born in Johnstown, New York, to Daniel Cady and Margaret Livingston Cady. Five of her siblings died in early childhood or infancy. A sixth, her brother Eleazar, died at age 20 just prior to his graduation from Union College in Schenectady, New York. Only Elizabeth and her four sisters lived to old age. Later in life, Elizabeth named her two daughters after two of her sisters, Margaret and Harriet.
Daniel Cady was a prominent attorney who served one term in the Congress of the United States (Federalist; 1814-1817) and later became a judge. Judge Cady introduced his daughter to the law. He and her brother-in-law, Edward Bayard (also a lawyer), planted the earliest seeds which grew into her legal and social activism. Even as a young girl, she enjoyed perusing her father's law library and debating legal issues with his law clerks. This early exposure to law caused Stanton to realize how severely the law favored men over women, particularly married women. Her realization that married women had virtually no property rights, income or employment rights, or custody rights over their own children, set her to work on changing these inequities.
Stanton's mother, Margaret, a descendant of early Dutch settlers, was the daughter of Colonel James Livingston, an officer in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. He fought at the Battle of Saratoga and the Battle of Quebec (1775), and assisted in the capture of Benedict Arnold at West Point, New York.
Margaret Cady was a commanding woman, almost six feet tall, whom Stanton routinely described as "queenly." Harriot Eaton Stanton Blatch, Elizabeth's daughter, remembered her grandmother as being fun, affectionate, and lively.  Stanton did not share that view. Emotionally devastated by the loss of so many children, Margaret fell into a depression that prevented her full involvement in the lives of her children. This left a maternal void in Stanton's childhood.
Judge Cady coped with the loss by immersing himself in his work. Many of the childrearing responsibilities fell to Stanton's elder sister Tryphena and Tryphena's husband, Edward Bayard. Tryphena was eleven years older than Elizabeth.
Edward was a Union College classmate of Eleazar Cady's and son of James A. Bayard, Sr., a U.S. Senator from Wilmington, Delaware. At the time of his engagement and marriage to Tryphena, Edward worked as an apprentice in Daniel Cady's law office.
Like many men of his day, Judge Cady was a slave holder. Peter Teabout, a slave in the Cady household and later a freeman, who took care of Elizabeth and her sister Margaret, is remembered with particular fondness by Stanton in her memoir, Eighty Years & More. It was not only her closeness to Peter, but also her exposure to the abolition movement as a young woman during a visit to her cousin, Gerrit Smith, in Peterboro, New York that led to her abolitionist sentiments.
Unlike many women of her era, Stanton was formally educated. She attended Johnstown Academy, where she studied Latin, Greek and mathematics until the age of 16. At the Academy, she enjoyed being in co-ed classes. She competed intellectually and academically with boys her age and older. She did this very successfully, winning several academic awards and honors while a student in Johnstown.
In her memoir, Stanton credits the Cadys' neighbor, Rev. Simon Hosack with strongly encouraging her intellectual development and academic abilities at a time when she felt they were undervalued by her father. Writing of her brother Eleazar's death in 1826, Stanton remembers trying to comfort her father. She told him that she would try to be all her brother had been. He exclaimed, "Oh, my daughter, I wish you were a boy!" Her father's response devastated Stanton. Stanton concluded that her father valued boys above girls. Stanton confided her disappointment to Hosack. His firm belief in her abilities counteracted her father's disparagement. Hosack taught Stanton Greek, encouraged her to read widely, and ultimately bequeathed his Greek lexicon and other books to her. His belief in her intellectual abilities buttressed Stanton's belief in her own wide-ranging abilities and prowess.
Upon graduation from Johnstown Academy, Stanton experienced her first tastes of sexual discrimination. Stanton watched with dismay as the young men graduating with her, many of whom she had surpassed academically, went on to Union College. In 1830, Union College only admitted men. Stanton's only option was to enroll in the Troy Female Seminary in Troy, New York.
Early in her days at Troy, Stanton encountered Charles Grandison Finney, an evangelical preacher and revivalist. After hearing Finney speak, Stanton became terrified of her own possible damnation, "Fear of judgment seized my soul. Visions of the lost haunted my dreams. Mental anguish prostrated my health. Dethronement of my reason was apprehended by my friends." Stanton credits her father and brother-in-law, Edward Bayard, with removing her from the situation. After taking her on a rejuvenating trip to Niagara Falls, they finally restored her reason and sense of balance. She never returned to organized Christianity. After this experience she maintained that logic and a humane sense of ethics were the best guides to thought and behavior.
As a young woman, Elizabeth Cady met Henry Brewster Stanton through her early involvement in the temperance and abolition movements. Henry was an acquaintance of Elizabeth Cady's cousin, Gerrit Smith, an abolitionist and member of the "Secret Six" that supported John Brown at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Henry was a journalist, and an antislavery orator. Despite Daniel Cady's reservations, the couple married in 1840.
Soon after returning to the United States from their European honeymoon, the Stantons moved into the Cady household in Johnstown, New York. Henry studied law under his father-in-law until 1843, when the Stantons moved to Boston, Massachusetts. There, Henry joined a law firm.
While living in Boston, Elizabeth thoroughly enjoyed the social, political and intellectual stimulation that came with a constant round of abolitionist gatherings and meetings. She enjoyed the company of Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Louisa May Alcott, Robert Lowell and Ralph Waldo Emerson, among others.
Throughout her marriage and eventual widowhood, Stanton used her husband's surname as part of her own. She signed her name Elizabeth Cady Stanton or E. Cady Stanton. But she refused to be addressed as Mrs. Henry B. Stanton, finding this title to be patronizing.
The Stanton marriage had its tension and disagreement. Because of employment, travel, and finances, husband and wife lived apart often. The couple were very similar in temperament and ambition, but differed in their views on certain issues, including women's rights. In 1842, abolitionist reformer Sarah Grimke counseled Elizabeth in a letter: "Henry greatly needs a humble, holy companion and thou needest the same." In spite of the challenges, the marriage lasted forty-seven years, until Henry's death in 1887..
In 1847, the Stantons moved from Boston to Seneca Falls, New York. Henry's health was fragile and the New England winters had been hard on him. Elizabeth's father purchased their new home for them. Elizabeth, at age 31, loved motherhood and assumed primary responsibility for rearing the children. But she had great difficulty adjusting to her new role as rural housewife. She was increasingly unsatisfied by the lack of intellectual companionship and stimulation in Seneca Falls.
The Stantons had six carefully planned children,  between 1842 and 1856. The couple's last four children, two daughters and two sons, were born in Seneca Falls. Stanton asserted that her children were conceived under a program she called "voluntary motherhood." Even though she firmly believed in achieving rights for women, her choice to be a mother was a deliberate one. The Stantons' seventh and last child, Robert, was an unplanned baby born in 1859. Elizabeth was age 44.
As an antidote to the boredom and loneliness she experienced in Seneca Falls, Stanton became increasingly involved in the community. By 1848, she had established ties to like-minded women in the area. Also, she was firmly committed to the nascent women's rights movement and ready to engage in organized activism.
The prejudice against color, of which we hear so much, is no stronger than that against sex. It is produced by the same cause, and manifested very much in the same way." -Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
Over the years, Stanton had become a great admirer and friend of Lucretia Mott, the Quaker minister, feminist, and abolitionist. They had met in spring of 1840 at the International Anti-Slavery Convention in London, England. The two became allies when the Convention voted to deny women participation in the proceedings, even those, like Mott, who were official delegates of their respective abolitionist societies. After considerable debate, the women were required to sit in a roped-off section hidden from view of the men. They were joined by William Lloyd Garrison, who arrived after the vote had been taken. He refused his seat in protest over the outcome, electing to sit with the women instead. 
The decision to prohibit women from participating in the convention strengthened Stanton's commitment to women's rights. Mott's example of strength and activism also fortified her. By 1848, her early life experiences, the experience in London and her initially oppressive experience as a housewife galvanized Stanton. She wrote:
"The general discontent I felt with woman's portion as wife, housekeeper, physician, and spiritual guide, the chaotic conditions into which everything fell without her constant supervision, and the wearied, anxious look of the majority of women, impressed me with a strong feeling that some active measures should be taken to remedy the wrongs of society in general, and of women in particular. My experience at the World Anti-slavery Convention, all I had read of the legal status of women, and the oppression I saw everywhere, together swept across my soul, intensified now by many personal experiences. It seemed as if all the elements had conspired to impel me to some onward step. I could not see what to do or where to begin—my only thought was a public meeting for protest and discussion."
In 1848 Stanton, Mott and a handful of other women in Seneca Falls organized the first women's rights convention. Stanton drafted a Declaration of Sentiments, which she read at the convention. Modeled on the United States Declaration of Independence, Stanton's declaration proclaimed that men and women are created equal. She proposed, among other things, a then-controversial resolution demanding voting rights for women. The final resolutions, including feminine voting rights, were passed, in no small measure, because of the support of Frederick Douglass, who attended and spoke informally at the convention.
Soon after the convention, Stanton was invited to speak at a second women's rights convention in Rochester, New York, solidifying her role as activist and reformer. In 1851, Stanton met Susan B. Anthony. They were introduced on a street in Seneca Falls by Amelia Bloomer, a feminist and mutual acquaintance who had not signed the Declaration of Sentiments and subsequent resolutions despite her attendance at the Seneca Falls convention.
Single and without children, Anthony had time and energy to speak and travel. Stanton could not. Their skills complemented each other. Stanton, the better orator and writer, scripted many of Anthony's speeches. Anthony was the movement's organizer and tactician. Anthony wrote a tribute when Stanton died that appeared in the New York Times. Anthony described Stanton as having "forged the thunderbolts" that she (Anthony) "fired". Unlike Anthony's relatively narrow focus on suffrage, Stanton pushed for a broader platform of women's rights in general. Their opposing viewpoints led to some discussion and conflict. But no disagreement threatened their friendship or working relationship. They remained close friends and colleagues until Stanton's death some fifty years after their initial meeting.
Stanton and Anthony were recognized as movement leaders. Their attendance at meetings and support was sought. Then Stanton and Anthony's voices were joined by others who began assuming leadership within the movement. This included Lucy Stone, Matilda Joslyn Gage and others.
After the American Civil War, Stanton and Anthony broke with their abolitionist backgrounds. The two lobbied strongly against ratification of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the US Constitution granting African American men the right to vote.  They believed that expanding the male franchise in the country would only increase the number of voters prepared to deny female franchise. Stanton was angry that the abolitionists, her former partners refused to demand that the language of the amendments be changed to include women. Stanton declared, "I will cut off this right arm of mine before I will ever work for or demand the ballot for the Negro and not the woman."
Eventually, Stanton's rhetoric took on what was perceived by some as a racist tone. Stanton took the position that women voters of "wealth, education, and refinement" were needed to offset the effect of former slaves and immigrants whose "pauperism, ignorance, and degradation" might negatively effect the American political system. She declared it "a serious question whether we had better stand aside and see 'Sambo' walk into the kingdom of civil rights first." While her frustration was understandable, it has been argued that Stanton's position fragmented the civil rights movement by pitting African American men against women. In addition, her comments may have established a basis for the literacy requirements that followed the Black male franchise.  This position caused a significant rift between Stanton and many civil rights leaders, particularly Frederick Douglass. He believed that women, empowered by their ties to fathers, husbands, and brothers, at least vicariously had the vote. He also believed that the horrifying treatment as slaves entitled the now free African American men to acquire voting rights before women.
Thaddeus Stevens, a Republican congressman from Pennsylvania and ardent supporter of abolition, agreed following Civil War Reconstruction, that voting rights should be universal. In 1866, Stanton, Anthony, and several other suffragists drafted a universal suffrage petition demanding that both women and African American men be granted the right to vote. The petition was introduced in the United States Congress by Stevens. Despite these efforts, the Fourteenth Amendment was passed in 1868 without revision to include women.
By the time the Fifteenth Amendment made its way through Congress, Stanton's position led to a major schism in the women's rights movement. Many leaders in the women's rights movement, including Lucy Stone, Elizabeth Blackwell, and Julia Ward Howe strongly argued against Stanton's "all or nothing" position. By 1869, disagreement over ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment gave birth to two separate women's suffrage organizations. The National Woman's Suffrage Association (NWSA) founded in May 1869 by Stanton and Anthony, opposed passage of the Fifteenth Amendment unless it was revised to include female suffrage. The American Woman's Suffrage Association (AWSA), founded the following November and led by Stone, Blackwell, and Howe, supported the amendment as written.
Sojourner Truth, a former slave and feminist, affiliated herself with Stanton and Anthony's organization. She believed that men should not receive the right to vote unless women were included.  They were joined by Matilda Joslyn Gage, who later worked on The Woman's Bible with Stanton. Despite the efforts of Stanton and her colleagues to expand the Fifteenth Amendment to include voting rights for women, this amendment also passed as originally written, in 1870. It was another 50 years before women obtained the right to vote throughout the United States.
After passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, supported by the Equal Rights Association and prominent suffragists such as Stone, Blackwell, and Howe, the gap between Elizabeth Cady Stanton and other leaders of the women's movement widened. Stanton took issue with the fundamental religious leanings of several movement leaders. Unlike many of her colleagues, Stanton believed organized Christianity relegated women to an unacceptable position in society.
She explored this view in The Woman's Bible, which elucidated a feminist understanding of biblical scripture. "The Woman's Bible" sought to correct the fundamental sexism Stanton saw as inherent in organized Christianity. Stanton supported divorce rights, employment rights and property rights for women. The more conservative suffragists preferred to avoid these issues.
Stanton's perspective on religion did not limit her. She wrote many of the more important documents and speeches of the women's rights movement. She was instrumental in promoting women's suffrage in New York, Missouri, Kansas and Michigan. It was included on the ballot in Kansas in 1867, and Michigan in 1874.
In 1868, Stanton made an unsuccessful bid for a U.S. Congressional seat from New York. She was also the primary force behind passage of the "Woman's Property Bill," that was eventually passed by the New York State Legislature.
Unlike many modern feminists, Stanton believed that abortion was infanticide She addressed the issue in various editions of The Revolution. In an 1873 letter to Julia Ward Howe recorded in Howe's diary at Harvard University Library, she wrote: "When we consider that women are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit." She suggested that solutions to abortion would be found, at least in part, in the elevation and enfranchisement of women.
Stanton was active internationally in her later years. She spent a great deal of time in Europe, where her daughter and fellow feminist, Harriot Stanton Blatch, lived. In 1888 she helped prepare for the founding of the International Council of Women.
Two years later, Stanton opposed the merger of the National Woman's Suffrage Association with the more conservative and religious American Woman Suffrage Association. Over her objections, the organizations merged, creating the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Despite her opposition to the merger, Stanton became its first president, because of Susan B. Anthony's intervention. As a result of the Woman's Bible, Stanton was never popular among the religiously conservative members of the 'National American'.
On January 17, 1892, Stanton, Anthony, Lucy Stone, and Isabella Beecher Hooker addressed the issue of suffrage before the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. In contrast to prevailing attitude earlier in the century, the suffragists were cordially received. Members of the House listened carefully to their prepared statements. Stanton emphasized the value of the individual, and that value was not based on gender. Stanton eloquently expressed the need for women's voting rights and the importance of a new understanding of women's position in society and the fundamental value of women:
"The isolation of every human soul and the necessity of self-dependence must give each individual the right to choose his own surroundings. The strongest reason for giving woman all the opportunities for higher education, for the full development of her faculties, her forces of mind and body; for giving her the most enlarged freedom of thought and action; a complete emancipation from all forms of bondage, of custom, dependence, superstition; from all the crippling influences of fear—is the solitude and personal responsibility of her own individual life. The strongest reason why we ask for woman a voice in the government under which she lives; in the religion she is asked to believe; equality in social life, where she is the chief factor; a place in the trades and professions, where she may earn her bread, is because of her birthright to self-sovereignty; because, as an individual, she must rely on herself…."
Stanton died at her home in New York City on October 26, 1902. It would be nearly 20 years before women were finally granted the right to vote in the United States. She was interred in Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, New York.
She was survived by six of her seven children and six grandchildren. Although Elizabeth Cady Stanton had been unable to attend a formal college or university, her daughters did. Margaret Livingston Stanton Lawrence attended Vassar College (1876) and Columbia University (1891). Harriot Stanton Blatch received both her undergraduate and graduate degrees from Vassar College in 1878 and 1891 respectively.
After Stanton's death, her radical ideas led many suffragists to focus on Susan B. Anthony more than Stanton as founder of the women's suffrage movement. By 1923, at the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention, only Harriot Stanton Blatch paid tribute to the role her mother had played in instigating the movement. Even as recently as 1977, Susan B. Anthony was recognized as the founder of the women's rights movement. Elizabeth Cady Stanton was not mentioned. By the 1990s, interest in Stanton was substantially rekindled when American film maker Ken Burns, among others, presented the life and contributions of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. He drew attention to her central, founding role in shaping the women's rights movement in the United States.
In 1868, Stanton and Anthony founded the women's rights newsletter The Revolution. Stanton served as co-editor with Parker Pillsbury and frequently contributed to the paper. Stanton also wrote countless letters and pamphlets, as well as articles and essays for numerous periodicals, including Amelia Bloomer's Lily, Paulina Wright Davis's Una, and Horace Greeley's New York Tribune.
Starting in 1881, Stanton, Anthony and Matilda Joslyn Gage published the first of three volumes of the History of Woman Suffrage, an anthology of writings about the women's movement. This anthology reached six volumes in 1922 and featured a variety of writers.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton's papers are archived at Rutgers University.
Stanton's individual writings include:
All links retrieved September 13, 2017.
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