Elizabeth Cady Stanton Biography
Alexander Stuart Boyd, "The Ladies' Battle," Quiz, 10 November 1882, by courtesy of the Mitchell Library, Culture and Leisure Services, Glasgow City Council
Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902) was the nineteenth century's most prominent proponent of women's legal and social equality. In 1848, she and others organized the first national woman's rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York. She co-authored that meeting's Declaration of Sentiments, a document modeled on the Declaration of Independence, and introduced the most radical demand—for woman suffrage. Stanton's arguments for woman's rights began where the American Revolution left off. Women were endowed with the same natural rights and rational minds as men, Stanton argued; as men's equals, they should be treated as such in law and in political participation. From that starting point, Stanton also explored how true equality would transform interpersonal relations and pervasive cultural norms.
Born on 12 November 1815 in Johnstown, New York, Stanton was the daughter of Margaret Livingston and Daniel Cady, the town's most prominent citizens. She received her formal education at the Johnstown Academy and at Emma Willard's Troy Female Seminary. She also acquired a considerable informal legal education from her father, who trained many of New York's lawyers.
Her marriage to the antislavery orator Henry B. Stanton in 1840 introduced her to the most advanced circles of reform as well as to motherhood and domestic life. She gave birth to seven children between 1842 and 1859. Although rearing her five sons and two daughters limited her early activism, Stanton managed during their childhood to polish her gifts as a writer, exerting great influence over the antebellum woman's rights movement even though she rarely attended its meetings.
Stanton met Susan B. Anthony in 1851, and their remarkable collaboration began at once. As a single woman Anthony was free to travel and earn her living from her reform work, providing Stanton with more active ways to educate and agitate for her reforms. Anthony, it turned out, was also more skillful than Stanton at organizing people to carry out their shared ideas.
After the Civil War, when Stanton felt free to travel, she became one of the best-known women in the United States. As president of the National Woman Suffrage Association, she was an outspoken social and political commentator, who debated the major political and legal questions facing the U.S. As a witty and popular lecturer touring the nation, she spoke on topics like maternity, the woman's crusade against liquor, child rearing, and divorce law, as well as constitutional questions and presidential campaigns. Thriving on controversy, she championed notorious victims of the double standard like Abby McFarland Richardson and Laura Fair. While she entertained her audiences, she challenged them to examine how inequality had distorted American society and consider how equality might be achieved.
By the 1880s Stanton had tired of travel and organizational leadership. Already sixty-five years old, she became more sedentary and focused on her writing, producing one of her greatest legacies, three volumes of the History of Woman Suffrage (1881-85) with Anthony and Matilda Joslyn Gage. In this work, published several decades before women won the right to vote, the authors documented the individual and local activism that built and sustained a movement for woman suffrage.
Stanton also returned to her lifelong examination of the relationship between organized religion and women's subordination. Along with scores of articles on the subject, she prepared her controversial biblical commentaries, published as the Woman's Bible (1895, 1898). There she affirmed her own faith in a secular state and urged women to recognize how religious orthodoxy and masculine theology obstructed their chances to achieve self-sovereignty, to become independent souls.
Stanton died in October 1902 in an apartment in New York City that she shared with two of her grown children.