Eighty Years and More
Eighty Years and More
About the Author: Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815–1902), along with her close friend Susan B. Anthony (1820–1906), was a leader of the women's rights movement in the nineteenth century. She was a cosponsor of the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, a landmark meeting that laid out a women's rights agenda. Primarily an advocate for women's suffrage, Stanton also supported more liberal divorce laws and coeducation.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton may well have been the most influential supporter of the American women's rights in the nineteenth century. Chiefly a theorist, she authored a number of books that challenged the low status of women.
Born in upstate New York on November 12, 1815, Elizabeth Cady came from a well-to-do family. Her father, a judge, once told her it was a shame that she was not born a boy because she had a fine mind. As a girl, however, she was expected to only keep house and raise children. When her brother died shortly after graduating from college, she vowed to ease her father's sorrow by becoming all that he had hoped for his son.
After graduating from Troy Female Seminary in 1832, she became active in both the temperance and antislavery movements. When she married abolitionist Henry B. Stanton in 1840, the couple chose to delete the word "obey" from their marriage vows. They honeymooned at the World's Anti-Slavery Convention in London, where some American delegates were refused entry because they were women. One of these, Lucretia Mott, introduced Stanton to emerging ideas about women's equality.
Stanton began her women's rights career by lobbying the state legislature of New York for married women's property rights. A voracious reader, she had studied her father's law books and became adept at crafting legal arguments. However, Stanton gave birth to seven children, and her increasing family obligation left little time to travel. So she organized the Seneca Falls convention in her hometown of Johnstown, New York. The first women's rights convention in the United States, the meeting called for social, religious, economic, professional, and political equality for women.
In 1869, Stanton and Susan B. Anthony founded the National Woman Suffrage Association. The two also collaborated to write the three-volume History of Woman Suffrage in 1888. Stanton argued that women's equality was based on the political philosophy of natural rights. Believing that religion was largely to blame for women's oppression, she wrote the enormously controversial Woman's Bible (1895) to challenge biblical and clerical authority. Stanton continued to advocate for women's rights until her death in 1902.
EIGHTY YEARS AND MORE
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In the nineteenth century the world was clearly divided into separate spheres for men and women. While men were engaged in business and politics, women were expected solely to be keepers of the home and children. Masculine privilege included controlling property in marriage, sole custody of children after divorce, the right to serve in public office, and the right to vote.
Woman suffrage, with temperance and abolition, was a major nineteenth-century reform movement. Initially, women sought only to reform property, divorce, and child custody laws. Stanton and other activists soon realized that suffrage would give women access to the public arena and help them fight injustices protected by unfair laws. She challenged male domination in a manner that set the stage for greater equality between the sexes in the twentieth century.
Women in the United States fought for seventy-five years to gain the right to vote. Although she died before seeing victory, Elizabeth Cady Stanton began this struggle and ably led the woman suffrage movement for decades.
DuBois, Ellen Carol. Feminism and Suffrage: The Emergence of an Independent Women's Movement in America, 1848–1869. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1978.
Wellman, Judith. Road to Seneca Falls: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the First Women's Rights Convention. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004.