Elizabeth Cady Stanton

The writer and reformer Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902) was perhaps the most gifted and versatile feminist leader in American history.

Elizabeth Cady was born in Johnstown, N.Y., on Nov. 12, 1815. The daughter of a judge, she became a feminist while still a child after hearing her father inform abused women that they had no legal alternative but to endure mistreatment by their husbands and fathers. She had the best education then available to women. While completing her studies at the Troy Female Seminary, she experienced a nervous collapse on hearing the great revivalist James Finney preach; henceforth she had an intense hostility toward organized religion.

In 1840 Elizabeth Cady married the abolitionist leader Henry B. Stanton. Although he sympathized with her ambitions, he was not wealthy, and she remained home with her five children for many years. All the same, she was able to do some writing and speaking for the feminist cause. In 1848 she organized America's first woman's-rights convention, held in Seneca Falls, N.Y., where the Stantons resided. She also composed a declaration of principles, which described the history of mankind as one of "repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her." Despite opposition, she persuaded the convention to approve a resolution calling for women's suffrage.

During the Civil War, Stanton and her friend and ally Susan B. Anthony created the National Woman's Loyal League to build support for what became the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. Once the slaves were free, the two worked to ensure that women would be enfranchised along with the freedmen. However, their work was seen as a threat to the black franchise. If the struggle to enfranchise black males was associated with votes for women, it was thought, neither black men nor women of any color would get the vote. But this opposition only made the Stantonites more stubborn. Their campaign finally divided the women's suffrage movement into two camps: their own New York-based band of uncompromising radicals, the National Woman Suffrage Association, and a more conservative group, the American Woman Suffrage Association, which was centered in Boston and accepted the primacy of black suffrage. There were several ideological differences between the two organizations, and a good deal of personal animosity developed. By 1890, however, these were overcome, and the two organizations merged into the National American Woman Suffrage Association, with Stanton as president.

Although Stanton remained active into old age, she was less concerned with suffrage and more interested in divorce reform and other matters during her last years. A fluent and witty writer, she collaborated with Anthony and Matilda Gage on the first three volumes of the massive History of Woman Suffrage and edited The Woman's Bible. Mrs. Stanton also wrote articles on a variety of subjects for the best contemporary magazines. She died on Oct. 26, 1902, in New York City.


Further Reading on Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Mrs. Stanton's autobiography, Eighty Years and More (1898), is engaging; it should be supplemented by Harriet Stanton Blatch and Theodore Stanton, eds., Elizabeth Cady Stanton as Revealed in Her Letters, Diary and Reminiscences (2 vols., 1922). Volumes 1-3 of the History of Woman Suffrage (1881-1888), which she edited with Susan B. Anthony and Matilda Joslyn Gage, contain important material, as does volume 4 (1903), edited by Susan B. Anthony and Ida Husted Harper. A good biography is Alma Lutz, Created Equal: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 1815-1902 (1940).