Historical Research

        Elizabeth Cady Stanton, born in Johnstown, New York, on November 12, 1815,

was a pioneering figure in the women’s suffrage movement.  From

an early age, her father exposed Elizabeth to the study of law, where

she learned the truth about the oppression of women.  Her father’s

words, after the death of her older brother, had a profound and lasting

impact on her life.  When mourning the death of his only son, Judge

Daniel Cady stated, “Oh, my daughter, I wish you were a boy”

(Stanton 20) .  Elizabeth Cady Stanton spent her early years trying to prove her

importance to her father.  She was well educated, fascinated with learning and

revolutionary ideas.  Prohibited from attending college because of her gender, she

was able to graduate from the Troy Female Seminary in 1832.  At this point in her

life, her attempt to get acceptance from her father turned into a life-long struggle to

obtain equality for women.

        On May 11, 1840, she married Henry Stanton, a lawyer and anti-slavery activist.

That same year she attended the World Anti-Slavery convention and met Lucretia

Mott.  Elizabeth explained, “As Mrs. Mott and I walked home, arm and arm,

commenting on the incidents of the day, we resolved to hold a convention as soon as we

returned home, and form a society to advocate the right of women” (Stanton 83) .  It was

the conversation between Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton that originated the idea for

the women’s rights movement.  However, the idea was not carried out until eight years

later.

        Unquestionably, it all began with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the convention in

Seneca Falls, New York, on July 19, 1848.  It was the first women’s rights convention in

the United States, beginning the struggle that would last for 72 years.  The Declaration of

Sentiments delivered by Stanton was a way to emphasize “that the rights demanded in the

Declaration of Independence must be extended to women” (Gurko 96) .  In the

Declaration, Elizabeth Cady Stanton outlined all the ways that women were being

oppressed and presented a solution.  In the resolution , she called for equality and freedom

for women.  She discussed equal opportunities in education, and professions, the right to

divorce and custody of children, as well as the most controversial idea of the right to

vote.  Elizabeth explained, “Strange as it may seem to many, we now demand our right to

vote according to the declaration of the government under which we live…The right is

ours.  Have it we must.  Use it we will.  The Pens, the tongues, the fortunes, the

indomitable wills of many women are already pledged to secure this right” (Griffith 56) .

        However, Stanton’s suggestion that the right to vote should be part of the

resolution was not a popular one: “This was too extreme not only for many in the

audience but even for the other ladies who, with Mrs. Stanton, had organized the

convention” (Gurko 101) .  The ones who disagreed argued that the idea was too extreme

and would arouse such hostility and mockery that the movement would be killed before it

even got under way.  However, Elizabeth Cady Stanton would not back down.  She

explained that by getting the right to vote, women would be able to achieve their goals

much more quickly.  After a great deal of debate and persuasion, the declaration and the

resolution passed, beginning the struggle for women’s rights in America.

        The convention not only began the fight for women’s rights, but it also had a

personal effect on Elizabeth Cady Stanton.  Because of her appearance at the convention, in

1851, she was introduced to Susan B. Anthony.  The two women became great friends,

forming a bond that would last for over fifty years.  As Stanton explained, “In thought

and sympathy we were one, and in the division of labor we exactly complemented each

other....She supplied the facts and statistics, I the philosophy and rhetoric” (Gurko 155) .

It was thanks to Anthony that Elizabeth Cady Stanton was able to continue being a part of

the struggle for women’s suffrage, while raising seven children.

        The two women made a remarkable team.  With Anthony by her side, Stanton

launched an organized women’s rights movement.  Beginning in 1850, national

conventions were held annually.  In 1853, at one of the conventions in New York, 13,000

women and men signed a petition requesting a public audience with the New York State

legislature.  The legislature agreed, and on February 14, 1854, Elizabeth spoke on behalf

of women to the legislature.

        In her speech, Elizabeth Cady Stanton explained the resentment that women had

toward the laws that discriminated against them.  She explained, “Would to God you

could know the burning indignation that fills a woman’s soul when she turns over the

pages of your statute books, and sees there how like feudal barons you freemen hold your

women” (Cullen-DuPont 69) .  She continued the speech, explaining what women

considered as even more humiliating and resentful.  Elizabeth Cady Stanton talked about

the fact that the laws were not being changed, but were being taught to new generations

of men, who eventually accepted the “one-sided justice” as true justice. Once more she

explained, “Would that you could know the humiliation she feels for her sex, when she

thinks of all the beardless boys in your law offices, learning these ideas of one-sided

justice” (Cullen-DuPont 69) .

        Even though the speech didn’t bring about any changes,  an organized women’s

movement was clearly underway in America.  Every year national conventions

were held attracting more and more women, as well as men.  From 1854 to 1860,

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Anthony worked on reforming New York State laws that

discriminated against women.  In 1860, Elizabeth Cady Stanton spoke for a second time

to the New York Legislature.  She succeeded in having the New York’s Married

Woman’s Property Act passed, “giving women much greater legal and economic rights,

particularly the right to keep their own earnings” (Gurko 201) .

         In 1861, women’s rights activities stopped with the beginning of the Civil War.

However, women played an important role in the war.  The nurses provided medical

attention to the wounded, set up tents in the midst of soldiers’ camps, and staffed hospitals.

Other women made shirts, blankets, socks and bandages.  Some women even managed

family businesses, became clerks, printers and factory workers.  Elizabeth Cady Stanton

felt that all these contribution would confirm women as full and equal citizens.  However,

when the war came to an end Stanton was disappointed by the outcome.

        After the war, nationwide suffrage became Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s main goal.

In 1865, Stanton, along with Susan B. Anthony, collected 10,000 signatures on a petition

asking that women be included in the Fourteenth Amendment.  Elizabeth wrote, “I would

call the attention of the women of the nation to the fact that, under the Federal

Constitution, as it now exists, there is not one word that limits the right of suffrage to any

privileged class” (Stanton 244) .  However, they were turned down, and in 1868, the

Fourteenth Amendment became part of the Constitution of the United States, giving

voting rights to all men in the country.  Disappointed, Stanton and Anthony decided to

take action.  From 1868 to 1870, the two determined women published a newspaper,

Revolution, that focused on injustices suffered by women.  In May, 1869, the National

Women Suffrage Association was founded by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Anthony.

The organization set out to win a national amendment, which would grant voting rights to

women.

        That same year, in November 1869, another organization was also formed: The

American Woman Suffrage Association.  This organization, whose president was Henry

Ward Beecher, sought state amendments which would grant woman suffrage.  In 1890,

the two organizations merged as the National American Woman Suffrage Association,

and fought for both state and national woman suffrage movement.  Elizabeth Cady

Stanton became the president, serving from 1890 to 1892.

        Elizabeth Cady Stanton fought to the end of her life to gain equal rights for

women.  She was successful in many ways and had great hope for the coming

generations.  Elizabeth Cady Stanton had full confidence that women would continue

fighting for equality and freedom.  In a diary entry, in 1862, Elizabeth wrote,

“Our successors… have a big work before them—much bigger, in fact, than they

imagine.  We are only the stone that started the ripple but they are the ripple that is

spreading and will eventually cover the whole pond” (Gurko 305) . Elizabeth, in the

diary entry, is comparing herself and her colleagues to “the stone that started the

ripple,” predicting that future generations of women will expand the movement

and continue the struggle.

        Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a well-rounded individual.  She was a great writer and

charismatic speaker.  Along with Susan B. Anthony and Matilda Joslyn Gage, Stanton

compiled and published the four-volume The History of Woman Suffrage.  She wrote

The Woman’s Bible , an analysis of the Bible and how women are portrayed in it.  The

book was a true reflection of her beliefs, in which she questioned religion and its teachings.

In her old age, she also wrote her autobiography Eighty Years and More (1815-1897),

giving its readers a personal insight into her incredible life, and in 1878, she drafted a

federal suffrage amendment.

        In addition to being an activist, a historian, a writer and a speaker, Elizabeth Cady

Stanton was also a wife and a mother of seven.  Being a mother was a huge part of her

life. With Henry often away, she was the prime figure in her children’s lives and the one

in control of all the household affairs.  She explained, “It is a proud moment in a woman’s

life to reign supreme within four walls, to be the one to whom all question of domestic

pleasure and economy are referred, and to hold in her hand that little family book in

which the daily expenses, the outgoings and incomings, are duly registered” (Stanton 136) .

Elizabeth Cady Stanton was often very occupied by the roles of a housekeeper, a

mother, and a wife.  However, thanks to her dear friend, Susan B. Anthony, she was also

able to be an important and crucial figure in the women’s suffrage movement.

        Elizabeth Cady Stanton died on October 26, 1902, but, her struggle lived on.  On

January 10, 1918, the United State House of Representatives passed the women’s

suffrage amendment.  The Senate approved the amendment on June 4, 1919, and fourteen

months later, Tennessee became the thirty-sixth state to ratify it.  On August 26, 1920,

the Nineteenth Amendment was officially added to the Constitution of the United States:

"The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the

United States or any state on account of sex" (Sochen 233).

        This amendment gave women one of the most basic rights of citizens in a

democracy.  Not only did it permit women to vote, but it also allowed women to continue

fighting for their rights.  Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s determination and controversial

ideas led to many great changes for American women.  She was an amazing woman,

who, along with Susan B. Anthony, put on a great fight.

        Thanks to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, women in America today are able to work,

own property, vote and do whatever they please.  She is a mother to the suffrage

movement and a crucial figure in women’s history.  Elizabeth Cady Stanton called for

equality and freedom for women on the first convention in 1848, and even though she

didn’t experience it herself, her fight changed the lives of women today.

        Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a well-rounded individual.  A wife, a mother of seven

and an activist, she truly was a renaissance woman. "All of this was in addition to her

importance as founder and philosopher, as she has been called, of the woman’s rights

movement.  For years she was its chief writer and speaker, formulating its principles,

defining its goals, exploring the nature and causes of woman’s subordinate position.

Her lively and flexible mind produced ideas and insights that stirred her contemporaries

and seem fresh and applicable today.  If any one individual could be called a prime

mover toward woman’s full self-realization, that person would be Elizabeth Cady

Stanton" (Gurko 57) .

         Elizabeth Cady Stanton, undeniably, was a prime figure in the struggle for

women’s rights, one of the biggest social movements of our time.  Her controversial

ideas, including women’s equality, the right to vote and her analysis of the Bible

“stirred her contemporaries and seem fresh and applicable today” (Gurko 57) .

Stanton’s ideas were often too radical for both men ad women of her time, yet

she never failed to express them.  She believed that it was time for women to be

considered equals in a male-dominated society, and she spent her life devoted to

the struggle.  Elizabeth Cady Stanton is one of the most controversial, intelligent,

courageous, and inspirational individuals in women’s history, as well as a perfect

role model for women today.
 

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