Stanton, Elizabeth Cady: Introduction
ELIZABETH CADY STANTON: INTRODUCTION
Stanton was one of the leaders of the women's suffrage movement in the United States during the nineteenth century. More radical in her views than her close friend Susan B. Anthony, Stanton advocated a wide range of feminist reforms in law, society, and religion. Stanton promoted her ideas in both writing and by touring as a public speaker. Many of her speeches and other works were produced in collaboration with Anthony and other suffragists. Her most famous speech, "Solitude of Self" (1892), which details the necessity of women's rights, is regarded as a work of exceptional rhetorical and ideological power. Since the late twentieth century, feminist critics have been especially interested in Stanton's autobiography, Eighty Years and More (1898), because of the insights it provides into the author's views on the female self and body as well her political beliefs.
Born November 12, 1815 in Johnston, New York, the daughter of a politician and jurist Daniel Cady, Stanton developed an early interest in liberal causes, such as abolishing slavery and promoting women's civil rights. She allegedly pledged her life to study in 1826 when, after her brother's untimely death, her father remarked "Oh, my daughter, would that you were a boy!" Stanton received a privileged education, attending Johnstown Academy, where she studied Latin, Greek, and mathematics. During this time, she also frequented her father's law office, which adjoined the house, and gained first-hand knowledge of women who were affected by unfair laws. In 1830, Stanton enrolled in Troy's Female Seminary, where she furthered her study in physiology, geography, higher mathematics, Greek, Latin, French, music, and elocution. In 1840 she married antislavery activist Henry Brewster Stanton; she combined her duties as a housewife and mother of seven with increasing involvement as a writer, public speaker, and political organizer on behalf of women's suffrage. Stanton co-organized the First Woman's Rights Convention held in 1848. The convention took place in Seneca Falls and resulted in several resolutions concerning rights to property and children. In 1851 she met Susan B. Anthony, who became her lifelong partner in working toward voting rights for women. From 1868 to 1870 Stanton edited the Revolution, an influential pro-suffrage newspaper she cofounded with Anthony. She also contributed letters and articles to many other periodicals and went on cross-country lecturing tours to promote her feminist ideas. During the early 1880s Stanton, Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage edited the first three volumes of History of Woman Suffrage (1881-86), which compiled the documents and letters of the suffrage movement for the years 1848-1885. After her husband's death in 1887 Stanton moved to New York City, where she served as president of the American Woman Suffrage Association for two years and later published two controversial books, The Woman's Bible (1895-98) and Eighty Years and More (1815-1897): Reminiscences of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Stanton died October 26, 1902.
Stanton often collaborated with others, usually Anthony, when producing her books, articles, and speeches. When working together, Anthony reportedly contributed facts and ideas, while Stanton, who had stronger rhetorical skills, did most of the actual writing. Indeed, commentators often credit Stanton as the author of the speeches she delivered, noting that her ideas about feminist reform tended to be more wide-ranging and controversial than those of Anthony and her other associates. Her best-known speech, "Solitude of Self," reflects a highly personal philosophical vision, arguing for women's freedom on the grounds that all human beings live and die alone, and so must be responsible for themselves. Although she invited others to contribute to her Woman's Bible, a highly controversial assemblage of feminist revisionist commentaries on biblical passages dealing with women, she edited the work and composed most of it herself. Critics note that Stanton was adept at shaping her own public image as well as expressing her political views. Her autobiography, Eighty Years and More, offers an upbeat portrayal of her career, emphasizing her well-rounded life as both a family woman and political activist.
Stanton's success as a writer and orator was necessarily tied to the political nature of her work. Although she was one of the most famous and influential leaders of the American suffrage movement, her revolutionary ideas often set her at odds with fellow activists as well as more conservative opponents. For instance, the National American Woman Suffrage Association, which she founded, turned against her by passing a resolution disassociating itself from The Woman's Bible. As her immediate influence waned and she retired from public life, emphasis was placed more on her importance as a historical figure than on the merits of her writings. The resurgence of feminist criticism in the late twentieth century stimulated new scholarly interest in both Stanton's political ideas and her literary works. Critics have paid particular attention to the representation of her as an "ordinary" woman and reformer in her autobiography, her notions of selfhood, her religious ideas, her sometimes troubled relationship with other feminists and abolitionists, the rhetorical strategies she uses in her speeches, and her ideas about the female body.