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Elizabeth Cady Stanton (November 12, 1815 – October 26, 1902) was an American social activist abolitionist, andleading figure of the early woman's movement. Her Declaration of Sentiments, presented at the first women's rights convention held in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York, is often credited with initiating the first organized woman's rights and woman's suffrage movements in the United States.
Before Stanton narrowed her political focus almost exclusively to women's rights, she was an active abolitionist together with her husband, Henry Brewster Stanton and cousin, Gerrit Smith. Unlike many of those involved in the women's rights movement, Stanton addressed a number of issues pertaining to women beyond voting rights. Her concerns included women's parental and custody rights, property rights, employment and income rights, divorce laws, the economic health of the family, and birth control. She was also an outspoken supporter of the 19th-century temperance movement.
After the American Civil War, Stanton's commitment to female suffrage caused a schism in the women's rights movement when she, along with Susan B. Anthony, declined to support passage of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. She opposed giving added legal protection and voting rights to African American men while continuing to deny women, black and white, the same rights. Her position on this issue, together with her thoughts on organized Christianity and women's issues beyond voting rights, led to the formation of two separate women's rights organizations that were finally rejoined, with Stanton as president of the joint organization, approximately 20 years later.
Childhood and family background
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the eighth of 11 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 sibling, her brother Eleazar, died at age 20 just prior to his graduation from Union College in Schenectady, New York. Only Elizabeth Cady and four sisters lived well into adulthood and old age. Later in life, Elizabeth named her two daughters after two of her sisters, Margaret and Harriot.
Daniel Cady, Stanton's father, was a prominent attorney who served one term in the United States Congress (Federalist; 1814-1817) and later became both a circuit court judge and, in 1847, a New York Supreme Court justice. Judge Cady introduced his daughter to the law and, together with her brother-in-law, Edward Bayard, planted the early seeds that 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. It was this early exposure to law that, in part, caused Stanton to realize how disproportionately the law favored men over women, particularly over married women. Her realization that married women had virtually no property, income, employment, or even custody rights over their own children, helped set her course toward changing these inequities.
Stanton's mother, Margaret Livingston Cady, a descendant of early Dutch settlers, was the daughter of Colonel James Livingston, an officer in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. Having fought at Saratoga and Quebec, Livingston assisted in the capture of Major John Andre at West Point, New York where Andre and Benedict Arnold, who escaped aboard the HMS Vulture, were scheming to turn West Point over to the English. Margaret Cady, an unusually tall woman for her time, had a commanding presence, and Stanton routinely described her as "queenly." While Stanton's daughter, Harriot Stanton Blatch, remembers her grandmother as being fun, affectionate, and lively, Stanton herself did not apparently share such memories. Emotionally devastated by the loss of so many children, Margaret Cady fell into a depression, which kept her from being fully involved in the lives of her surviving children and left a maternal void in Stanton's childhood.
Since Stanton's father contended with this loss by immersing himself in his work, many of the childrearing responsibilities fell to Stanton's elder sister, Tryphena, 11 years her senior, and Tryphena's husband, Edward Bayard, 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 Bayard worked as an apprentice in Daniel Cady's law office and was instrumental in nurturing Stanton's growing understanding of the explicit and implicit gender hierarchies within the legal system.
Slavery did not end in New York State until July 10, 1817, and, like many men of his day, Stanton's father was a slaveowner. Peter Teabout, a slave in the Cady household who was later freed in Johnstown, took care of Stanton and her sister Margaret. He is remembered with particular fondness by Stanton in her memoir, Eighty Years & More, where she reminisces about the pleasure she took in attending the Episcopal church with Teabout, where, as Judge Cady's daughters, she and her sister enjoyed sitting with him in the back of the church rather than alone in front with the white families of the congregation. It seems it was, however, not immediately the fact that her family owned at least one slave, but her exposure to the abolition movement as a young woman visiting her cousin, Gerrit Smith, in Peterboro, New York, that led to her staunch abolitionist sentiments.
Education and intellectual development
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-educational classes where she could compete intellectually and academically with boys her age and older. She did this very successfully, winning several academic awards and honors, including the award for Greek language.
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 these were undervalued by her father. Writing of her brother, Eleazar's, death in 1826, Stanton remembers trying to comfort her father, saying that she would try to be all her brother had been. At the time, her father's response devastated Stanton: "Oh, my daughter, I wish you were a boy!" Understanding from this that her father valued boys above girls, Stanton tearfully took her disappointment to Hosack, whose firm belief in her abilities counteracted her father's perceived disparagement. Hosack went on to teach Stanton Greek, encouraged her to read widely, and ultimately bequeathed to her his own Greek lexicon along with other books. His confirmation of her intellectual abilities strengthened Stanton's confidence and self-esteem.
Upon graduation from Johnstown Academy, Stanton received one of 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, as her older brother, Eleazar, had done previously. In 1830, with Union College taking only men, Stanton enrolled in the Troy Female Seminary in Troy, New York, which was founded and run by Emma Willard. (In 1895, the school was renamed the Emma Willard School in honor of its founder, and Stanton, spurred by her respect for Willard and despite her growing infirmities, was a keynote speaker at this event.)
Early during her student days in Troy, Stanton remembers being strongly influenced by Charles Grandison Finney, an evangelical preacher and central figure in the revivalist movement. His influence, combined with the Calvinistic Presbyterianism of her childhood, caused her great unease. After hearing Finney speak, Stanton became terrified at the possibility of her own 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 convincing her to ignore Finney's warnings and, after taking her on a rejuvenating trip to Niagara Falls, restoring her reason and sense of balance. She never returned to organized Christianity and, after this experience, always maintained that logic and a humane sense of ethics were the best guides to both thought and behavior.
Marriage and family
As a young woman, Elizabeth Cady met Henry Brewster Stanton through her early involvement in the temperance and the abolition movements. Henry Stanton was an acquaintance of Elizabeth Cady's cousin, Gerrit Smith, an abolitionist and member of the "Secret Six" that supported John Brown's raid at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Stanton was a journalist, an antislavery orator, and, after his marriage to Elizabeth Cady, an attorney. Despite Daniel Cady's reservations, the couple were married in 1840. At their wedding, Elizabeth Cady refused to promise to "obey" her husband in the vows, later writing "I obstinately refused to obey one with whom I supposed I was entering into an equal relation." They had six children, carefully planned, between 1842 and 1856. The Stantons' seventh and last child, Robert, was an unplanned menopausal baby born in 1859 when Elizabeth Cady Stanton was forty-four.
Soon after returning to the United States from their European honeymoon, the Stantons moved into the Cady household in Johnstown. Henry Stanton studied law under his father-in-law until 1843, when the Stantons moved to Boston, Massachusetts, where 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. Here she enjoyed the company of and was influenced by such people as Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Louisa May Alcott, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, among others. Throughout her marriage and eventual widowhood, Stanton took her husband's surname as part of her own, signing herself Elizabeth Cady Stanton or E. Cady Stanton, but she refused to be addressed as Mrs. Henry B. Stanton. Asserting that women were individual persons, she stated that, "[t]he custom of calling women Mrs. John This and Mrs. Tom That and colored men Sambo and Zip Coon, is founded on the principle that white men are lords of all."
The Stanton marriage was not entirely without tension and disagreement. Henry Stanton, like Daniel Cady, disagreed with the notion of female suffrage. Because of employment, travel, and financial considerations, husband and wife lived more often apart than together. Friends of the couple found them very similar in temperament and ambition, but quite dissimilar 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." However, both Stantons considered their marriage an overall success, and the marriage lasted for 47 years, ending with Henry Stanton's death in 1887.
In 1847, concerned about the effect of New England winters on Henry Stanton's fragile health, the Stantons moved from Boston to Seneca Falls, New York, situated at the northern end of Cayuga Lake, one of the Finger Lakes found in upstate New York. Their house, purchased for them by Daniel Cady, was located some distance from town. The couple's last four children, two sons and two daughters, were born there, with Stanton asserting that her children were conceived under a program she called "voluntary motherhood." In an era when it was commonly held that a wife must submit to her husband's sexual demands, Stanton firmly believed that women should have command over their sexual involvements and childbearing. As a mother who advocated homeopathy, freedom of expression, lots of outdoor activity, and a solid, highly academic education for all of her children, Stanton nurtured a breadth of interests, activities, and learning in both her sons and daughters. She was remembered by her daughter Margaret as being "cheerful, sunny and indulgent".
Although she enjoyed motherhood and assumed primary responsibility for rearing the children, Stanton found herself unsatisfied and even depressed by the lack of intellectual companionship and stimulation in Seneca Falls. As an antidote to the boredom and loneliness, Stanton became increasingly involved in the community and, by 1848, had established ties to similarly-minded women in the area. By this time, she was firmly committed to the nascent women's rights movement and was ready to engage in organized activism.
Early activism in the Women's Rights Movement
Prior to living in Seneca Falls, Stanton had become a great admirer and friend of Lucretia Mott, the Quaker minister, feminist, and abolitionist whom she had met at the International Anti-Slavery Convention in London, England in the spring of 1840 while on her honeymoon. The two women became allies when the male delegates attending the convention voted that women should be denied participation in the proceedings, even if they, like Mott, had been nominated to serve as official delegates of their respective abolitionist societies. After considerable debate, the women were required to sit in a roped-off section hidden from the view of the men in attendance. They were soon joined by the prominent abolitionist, William Lloyd Garrison, who arrived after the vote had been taken and, in protest of the outcome, refused his seat, electing instead to sit with the women.
Mott's example and the decision to prohibit women from participating in the convention strengthened Stanton's commitment to women's rights. By 1848, her early life experiences, together with the experience in London and her initially debilitating experience as a housewife in Seneca Falls, galvanized Stanton. She later wrote:
In 1848, acting on these feelings and perceptions, Stanton joined Mott, her sister Martha Coffin Wright, and a handful of other women in Seneca Falls. Together they organized the first women's rights convention held in Seneca Falls on July 19 and 20. Over 300 women attended. 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 female suffrage, were passed, in no small measure, because of the support of Frederick Douglass, who attended and informally spoke 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 an activist and reformer. In 1851, Stanton was introduced to Susan B. Anthony 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.
Although best known for their joint work on behalf of women's suffrage, Stanton and Anthony first joined the temperance movement. Together, they were instrumental in founding the short-lived Woman's State Temperance Society (1852-53). During her presidency of the organization, Stanton scandalized many supporters by suggesting that drunkenness be made sufficient cause for divorce. Stanton and Anthony's focus, however, soon shifted to female suffrage and women's rights.
Single and having no children, Anthony had the time and energy to do the speaking and traveling that Stanton was unable to do. Their skills complemented each other; Stanton, the better orator and writer, scripted many of Anthony's speeches, while Anthony was the movement's organizer and tactician. Writing a tribute that appeared in the New York Times when Stanton died, Anthony described Stanton as having "forged the thunderbolts" that she (Anthony) "fired." Unlike Anthony's relatively narrow focus on suffrage, Stanton wanted to push for a broader platform of women's rights in general. While their opposing viewpoints led to some discussion and conflict, no disagreement threatened their friendship or working relationship; the two women remained close friends and colleagues until Stanton's death some 50 years after their initial meeting.
While always recognized as movement leaders whose support was sought, Stanton and Anthony's voices were soon joined by others who began assuming leadership positions within the movement. These women included, among others, Lucy Stone and Matilda Joslyn Gage.
Ideological divergence with abolitionists and the women's rights movement
After the American Civil War, both Stanton and Anthony broke with their abolitionist backgrounds and lobbied strongly against ratification of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the US Constitution, which granted African American men the right to vote. Believing that African American men, by virtue of the Thirteenth Amendment, already had the legal protections, except for suffrage, offered to white male citizens and that so largely expanding the male franchise in the country would only increase the number of voters prepared to deny women the right to vote, both Stanton and Anthony were angry that the abolitionists, their former partners in working for both African American and women's rights, refused to demand that the language of the amendments be changed to include women.
Eventually, Stanton's oppositional rhetoric took on racial overtones. Arguing on behalf of female suffrage, Stanton posited 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 affect the American political system. She declared it to be "a serious question whether we had better stand aside and see 'Sambo' walk into the kingdom [of civil rights] first." Some scholars have argued that Stanton's emphasis on property ownership and education, opposition to black male suffrage, and desire to hold out for universal suffrage fragmented the civil rights movement by pitting African-American men against women and, together with Stanton's emphasis on "educated suffrage," in part established a basis for the literacy requirements that followed in the wake of the passage of the fifteenth amendment.
Stanton's position caused a significant rift between herself and many civil rights leaders, particularly Frederick Douglass, who believed that white women, already empowered by their connection to fathers, husbands, and brothers, at least vicariously had the vote. According to Douglass, their treatment as slaves entitled the now liberated African-American men, who lacked women's indirect empowerment, to voting rights before women were granted the franchise. African-American women, he believed, would have the same degree of empowerment as white women once African-American men had the vote; hence, general female suffrage was, according to Douglass, of less concern than black male suffrage.
Disagreeing with Douglass, and despite the racist language she sometimes resorted to, Stanton firmly believed in a universal franchise that empowered blacks and whites, men and women. Speaking on behalf of black women, she stated that not allowing them to vote condemned African American freedwomen "to a triple bondage that man never knows," that of slavery, gender, and race. She was joined in this belief by Anthony, Olympia Brown, and most especially Frances Gage, who was the first suffragist to champion voting rights for freedwomen.
Thaddeus Stevens, a Republican congressman from Pennsylvania and ardent abolitionist, agreed that voting rights should be universal. In 1866, Stanton, Anthony, and several other suffragists drafted a universal suffrage petition demanding that the right to vote be given without consideration of sex or race. The petition was introduced in the United States Congress by Stevens. Despite these efforts, the Fourteenth Amendment was passed, without adjustment, in 1868.
By the time the Fifteenth Amendment was making its way through Congress, Stanton's position led to a major schism in the women's rights movement itself. 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 had given birth to two separate women's suffrage organizations. The National Woman's Suffrage Association (NWSA) was founded in May 1869 by Anthony and Stanton, who served as its president for 21 years. The NWSA opposed passage of the Fifteenth Amendment without changes to include female suffrage and, under Stanton's influence in particular, championed a number of women's issues that were deemed too radical by more conservative members of the suffrage movement. The American Woman's Suffrage Association (AWSA), founded the following November and led by Stone, Blackwell, and Howe, supported the Fifteenth Amendment as written and preferred to focus only on female suffrage rather than advocate for broader women's rights such as gender-neutral divorce laws, a woman's right to sexually refuse her husband, increased economic opportunities for women, and the right of women to serve on juries, issues which were espoused by Stanton.
Believing that men should not be given the right to vote without women also
being granted the franchise,
Sojourner Truth, a former slave and feminist, affiliated herself with
Stanton and Anthony's organization.
Stanton, Anthony, and Truth were joined by Matilda Joslyn Gage, who later
worked on The Women's Bible with Stanton. Despite Stanton's position
and the efforts of her and others to expand the Fifteenth Amendment to include
voting rights for all women, this amendment
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