Stanton, Elizabeth Cady (1815–1902)

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Stanton, Elizabeth Cady (1815–1902)

American women's rights activist, journalist, reformer, polemicist, and historian, co-convener of the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, whose lifelong efforts on behalf of women's rights won her worldwide admiration. Name variations: "Cady." Born on November 12, 1815, at Johnstown, New York, 40 miles northwest of Albany; died on October 26, 1902, at home in New York City; one of 11 children, 6 of whom died before adulthood, of Daniel Cady (a prosperous lawyer who went on to become an associate justice of the New York Supreme Court for the Fourth District) and Margaret (Livingston) Cady; attended Emma Willard's Troy Female Seminary, 1831–33; married Henry Stanton (a well-known abolitionist and lawyer), on May 1, 1840; children: seven (two daughters and five sons), including Daniel Cady Stanton (b. March 1842), two more sons by 1845, and Harriot Stanton Blatch (1856–1940).

Attended World Anti-Slavery convention in England (June 1840), where she met the Quaker abolitionist and women's rights advocate Lucretia Mott; collaborated with Mott in calling first women's rights convention at Seneca Falls, New York (1848); teamed up with Susan B. Anthony in what would prove a lifelong friendship and women's rights partnership (1851); co-founded and edited The Revolution, a women's rights newspaper, with Anthony (1868–70); co-founded and led National Woman Suffrage Association (1869–90); served as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (1890–92); co-wrote and edited History of Woman Suffrage (1886); wrote The Woman's Bible (1895) and an autobiography, Eighty Years and More (1898).

In her autobiography, Eighty Years and More, Elizabeth Cady Stanton told how at age 11 she tried to console her father, lost in grief over the death of his only son. As he sat before his son's casket in their front parlor, he took no notice of Elizabeth, who had climbed upon his knee and rested her head on his shoulder. At last, he burst out, "Oh, my daughter, I wish you were a boy!" She threw her arms around his neck and cried out, "I will try to be all my brother was." Stanton would endeavor throughout her father's lifetime to be an honorary son. To that end, she became skilled at horseback riding, able to take a horse across four-foot fences; she learned Greek, Latin, and philosophy. She pored over her father's law books, attended court sessions, won second place in the Johnstown Academy Greek competition, and became skilled at debate. She was at the top of her class at Johnstown Academy, the only girl taking higher math and language courses.

Her father Judge Daniel Cady at first seemed proud of his daughter's accomplishments, encouraging her to read and take part in dinner-table debates with the many law clerks and guests who gathered regularly at the Cady household. As she reached young adulthood, however, and began to show interest in women's rights, young Elizabeth often found herself at loggerheads with her autocratic father.

Elizabeth's mother Margaret Livingston Cady was a strong-willed, independent woman who once had insisted upon including the votes of women parishioners in the election of a new pastor, even as she clung to more traditional notions of female accomplishment in the raising of her daughters. To her mother's frustration and consternation, Elizabeth preferred sitting in her father's law office to embroidery, music, dance lessons, and parlor conversation.

Even as a child, Elizabeth recognized the legal disabilities of women. In her autobiography, she told how the "cruelty of the laws" concerning women infuriated her. She decided to cut all laws unfair to women out of her father's legal books. Daniel Cady managed to dissuade her only by pointing out the futility of her gesture, explaining that laws could be changed solely in the legislature. Stanton would later credit this remark with inspiring her to a lifetime of political activism on behalf of women. She would petition and address state legislatures—and ultimately, the U.S. Congress—in favor of laws granting women wider political and legal rights.

Stanton's childhood was passed in an elegant mansion that housed the large Cady family, numerous law students, and the 12 liveried servants employed to keep such a large establishment running. Her mother would have eleven children in all—six girls and five boys. Four of the boys died in childhood, and the fifth son died shortly after graduating from Union College. It was this death that sparked Elizabeth's resolve to fill the place of a son in her father's affections.

At 15, she entered the Troy Female Seminary. Run by Miss Emma Willard , the Troy Female Seminary was one of the premier upperlevel academies for women. Though there were not as yet any colleges open to women in the United States, Emma Willard sought to emulate the curricula of men's colleges, teaching her young charges logic, physiology, and philosophy, as well as mathematics, history, rhetoric, and language.

While progressive in the matter of women's education, Willard was opposed to granting women increased political and legal rights. Though she would grow beyond Emma Willard in her pursuit of women's rights, Elizabeth Cady Stanton retained a lifelong admiration and affection for her early mentor.

Elizabeth Cady graduated in 1833. Her family wealth and social status meant that she need not work, either within the home or outside. She joined a church auxiliary, but for the most part, the years following her graduation were filled with parties, family visits, hayrides, and parlor entertainments. Stanton played the piano and guitar and took long rides on her horse. She was an avid reader who enjoyed the intellectual camaraderie of her older sister Tryphena 's husband, Edward Bayard.

By 1838, Elizabeth had become a frequent visitor at the home of Gerrit Smith, a first cousin on her mother's side. Gerrit and Ann Smith were wealthy philanthropists and ardent reformers. They supported prison reform, dress reform, and equal rights for women, among other reform movements of the 1820s and 1830s. Their most ardent interest, however, was the antislavery cause. At their home, a stop on the Underground Railroad, Elizabeth met abolitionist agents, runaway slaves, politicians, and reformers. She was awakened to the challenge of reform ideas, though her position as Judge Cady's daughter prevented her from taking an active role in any of her cousin's crusades.

The strongest reason why we ask for woman a voice in the government under which she lives; in the religion she is asked to believe; equality in social life, where she is the chief factor; a place in the trades and professions, where she may earn her bread, is because of her birthright to self-sovereignty; because, as an individual, she must rely on herself.

—Elizabeth Cady Stanton

At the Smiths' home, Elizabeth met and fell in love with Henry Stanton. Ten years older than she, Henry had earlier trained for the ministry, studying at Lane Seminary in Cincinnati. Following the walkout of the "Lane Rebels," Stanton became a paid abolitionist agent, a dangerous occupation in the mid-1830s. He went on to become a member of the executive committee of the national antislavery society. Urbane, handsome, eloquent, and intelligent, Henry Stanton met his match in the high-spirited, equally intellectual Elizabeth Cady. He proposed within a month of their first meeting, and Elizabeth accepted.

Judge Cady objected to the match on the grounds of both Stanton's antislavery activity and his social inferiority. Elizabeth was forced to postpone her marriage, but on May 1, 1840, she and Henry were married in Johnstown. By mutual consent, they omitted the words "and obey" from the ceremony. On May 12, 1840, they set off for London to attend the international gathering of antislavery activists. Fellow boarders at their London establishment included the highly controversial female delegates, among these Lucretia Mott . This charming and vivacious wife and mother of six, who was as well a Quaker minister, abolitionist, and women's rights advocate, would prove crucial to Stanton's development over the next decade. Stanton, raised in the conservative Scotch Presbyterian religion, heard Lucretia Mott preach a sermon in the Unitarian chapel in London. It marked the first time she had ever heard a woman make a public address. Filled with admiration, Stanton sought Mott's company at every available opportunity. In her autobiography, she wrote, "Mrs. Mott was to me an entire new revelation of womanhood."

On the day that the male delegates voted to exclude the female antislavery delegates from the convention's proceedings, Stanton sat beside Mott. Afterward, they walked home arm in arm, their indignation fired, talking about plans to form a society "to advocate the rights of women." It would be eight years before their plans were realized. In the meantime, after their return to America, Stanton and Mott corresponded about women's rights. For the Stantons, the next few years were busy ones. Henry Stanton studied law with Judge Cady, clerking in his office, while Elizabeth read law, philosophy, and history. She gave birth to the first of her seven children, Daniel Cady Stanton, in March 1842. By 1845, she was the mother of three sons, busy with domestic affairs. Her sole foray into the public arena was to petition and lobby for passage of the New York Married Women's Property Act of 1848, a women's rights first in the United States.

In June 1848, Henry, Elizabeth, and their three lively sons moved to a large home on two acres in Seneca Falls, New York. There, chance would bring her in contact again with Lucretia Mott and her sister, Martha Coffin Wright , who were visiting nearby. On July 13, Stanton, Mott, Wright, their hostess Jane Hunt , and a fifth woman—Mary Ann McClintock —met and decided to hold a public conclave to discuss the position of women in society. They inserted an invitation in the Seneca County Courier calling all women to a "convention to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of women" to be held July 19–20.

In their attempt to set an agenda, the five women adopted the Declaration of Independence as their model. Elizabeth Cady Stanton was chosen to prepare the document, which came to be called "A Declaration of Rights and Sentiments." It called for equality in property rights, education, employment, equity at law, and the "sacred right to the elective franchise." The older women worried about the suffrage plank, but Stanton was adamant about its inclusion. Without political rights, she argued, women would continue to be powerless. More than a hundred people crowded into the Wesleyan Chapel on the day of the convention, and after a lively debate, Stanton's suffrage resolution passed.

While the Seneca Falls convention has come to be regarded as marking the formal beginning of the movement for women's rights in the United States, it would be two more years before an organized national convention on the subject would take place in Worcester, Massachusetts. This would be followed by a series of local and national conventions which Stanton, mired in domestic responsibilities, would not attend. Indeed, it was 1860 before Stanton would attend another women's rights convention. In the meantime, she continued to correspond and had begun to send anonymous articles to reform journals.

A Seneca Falls neighbor, Amelia Bloomer , had begun publication of a temperance magazine called The Lily. In it, under the pseudonym "Sunflower," Stanton published a series of articles. Emboldened by their warm reception, Stanton was soon affixing her own initials to her magazine pieces. During the 1850s, she gave birth to four more children. Henry Stanton was elected to the New York State Senate, and with seven children and an oft-absent husband, Stanton had little time for the rapidly growing women's rights cause other than as an occasional correspondent.

In 1851, Elizabeth Cady Stanton adopted the Bloomer costume, the modified pantaloon dress popularized by her friend Amelia Bloomer. She was wearing this costume on an evening in March 1851 when she was introduced to Susan B. Anthony . "I liked her thoroughly," Stanton would recall in her autobiography. The friendship that resulted would endure for 50 years. Anthony, unmarried, organized, fervent, and tireless, would prove the perfect counterpart to Stanton's theoretical brilliance and rhetorical prowess. Together, they would help to change the course of history.

The other continuing influence on Stanton through the early years of women's rights activity was Lucretia Mott. Mott repeatedly urged Stanton to take part in the conventions and activities that burgeoned throughout the country under the leadership of Lucy Stone . She was less successful than Anthony, who first urged Stanton to write a speech for the 1852 meeting of the Woman's State Temperance Society and then convinced her to deliver it herself. Again at Anthony's urging, Stanton agreed to testify before the New York State Senate on behalf of an expansion of the 1848 Married Woman's Property Act in February 1854. She had 50,000 copies of her testimony printed with the intention of selling them as tracts. The logic and power of her arguments brought her repeated invitations to speak, most of which Stanton declined. In addition to the burden of domestic responsibilities, she had to contend with the infuriated opposition of her father, who believed that women's public activity was deplorable. It would be 1860, a year after her father's death, before Stanton would re-emerge as a public figure.

Stanton's seventh and last child was born in 1859. In that same year, her father died. A substantial inheritance from her father and the end of childbearing freed Elizabeth Cady Stanton from the burden of domestic responsibilities. She was able to hire domestic help, and she resumed public activity in 1860, addressing the Judiciary Committee of the New York legislature. This was followed by a contentious appearance at the Tenth National Woman's Rights convention, at which Stanton introduced ten resolutions favoring divorce. Other women's rights leaders, among them Lucy Stone, had urged Stanton not to introduce the topic of divorce, fearing that the highly controversial subject would serve to discredit what had been until then a rapidly growing national movement. Characteristically, Stanton refused to modify her views. Although Stanton's speech was widely censured and brought an outraged response from friends and foes of women's rights, she refused to drop the subject. First, last, and always, Stanton—far ahead of her time—would have the courage of her convictions.

The onset of the Civil War temporarily halted women's rights activity. With Susan B. Anthony and Lucy Stone, Stanton founded the Woman's National Loyal League, which succeeded in obtaining almost half a million signatures on a petition calling for passage of a 13th Amendment abolishing slavery. After the war, the women's rights organizers urged a merger with the antislavery society, hoping to hitch the rising star of woman suffrage sentiment to the push for increased suffrage rights for former slaves. The resulting organization, the American Equal Rights Association, split on the issue of supporting woman suffrage. The AERA leaders preferred to divide the two suffrage causes, seeing black (male) suffrage as having both more immediacy and more likelihood of ratification in the states.

Bitterly disappointed, Stanton and Anthony turned on their former allies. In 1867, they accepted money and aid from a notoriously racist Democratic politician, George Francis Train, in a Kansas campaign for woman suffrage. Train and a fellow Democrat would later finance the publication of a women's rights newspaper, The Revolution, which Stanton and Anthony edited from 1868 until its demise early in 1870. Stanton used its editorial columns to urge universal suffrage and to implore readers to reject the 14th and 15th amendments. The racist and inflammatory language of the editorials exacerbated earlier tensions over the Train alliance; the result was a split in the women's movement, culminating in the formation in 1869 of two separate woman suffrage organizations. Stanton and Anthony headed the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA); Lucy Stone and Julia Ward Howe headed the American Woman Suffrage Association—an unfortunate division that would last until 1890, when the two organizations would merge to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Under Stanton and Anthony's leadership, the NWSA led an annual drive for a 16th Amendment.

By the late 1860s, Stanton was in great demand as a public speaker. She traveled and lectured throughout the United States, earning handsome fees for her speeches. During the decade of the '70s, Stanton devoted herself to writing and public speaking, often championing wildly unpopular causes with the same brilliant logic and acerbic language that guaranteed large audiences wherever she went.

The fortunes of woman suffrage and of the National Association suffered in the early 1870s following a NWSA alliance with Victoria Woodhull , a free-love advocate and blackmailer who outraged and shocked public sensibility. Woodhull's involvement of Stanton and Anthony in the Henry Ward Beecher-Elizabeth Tilton scandal of the mid-'70s also brought notoriety to woman suffrage organizations, and for some years the "National" association was reduced to parlor meetings in New York City. Through it all, Stanton traveled widely, her lectures organized by the New York Bureau. She had 12 prepared lectures; in addition to woman suffrage, she spoke on co-education, marriage and maternity, the subjection of women, and divorce, among other topics dear to her heart.

By 1880, Stanton had begun to spend more time in the Tenafly, New Jersey, home she had purchased. A bout with pneumonia and an omnibus accident led her to sharply curtail her traveling. At 65, she was ready for a new challenge—the writing and editing of History of Woman Suffrage. Anthony had come to Tenafly to help with the enormous task of assembling the papers, speeches, convention proceedings, legal documents, and biographies that would eventually run to six large volumes. In 1880, Stanton's attempt to vote in the November election was thwarted, despite her reasoned protest that she owned property, paid taxes regularly, was literate, etc.

After six months of intensive labor, in May 1881, they published the first volume of History of Woman Suffrage, chronicling the movement up to 1860. Stanton and Anthony had been joined in the effort by Matilda Joslyn Gage , a wealthy suffragist from upstate New York. Now the three women immediately went to work on volume two. Stanton's daughter Harriot Stanton (Blatch) , who had graduated from college and was studying mathematics in France, came back to help with completion of the second volume. Immediately following its completion in May 1882, the two Stanton women sailed for France.

Returning in 1883 at Anthony's urging, Stanton began work on volume three of History of Woman Suffrage; in October 1886, she returned to Europe. There she remained until summoned home by Anthony in the winter of 1888. Anthony had planned an international meeting to be held in Washington for the purpose of celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Seneca Falls meeting. At the International Council of Women meeting, Stanton received a standing ovation. She went on to address a Senate hearing on suffrage, urging other women to continue their legislative efforts.

In February 1890, the National and American Woman Suffrage associations held their first joint meeting. Elizabeth Cady Stanton was elected president of the merged organizations, a position largely honorary, as immediately after the convention Stanton returned to England, where she remained for 18 months. In 1892, she was present at her last NAWSA meeting, at which she delivered what many regard as her greatest speech, "The Solitude of Self." Women, she argued with her usual eloquence, must rely upon themselves; they must be permitted independence in all things. She received a standing ovation, and 10,000 copies of the speech were made for wide distribution. She also appeared for the last time before Congress, giving the same speech before the Senate Committee on Woman Suffrage.

By now, Stanton was widowed, plagued by rheumatism, severely overweight, and ready for a more sedentary life. She continued to write speeches for Anthony, although in later years, it appeared to Stanton that her old friend had become too conservative. Nonetheless, Anthony made heroic efforts to arrange an 80th birthday celebration for Stanton. It took place at New York's Metropolitan Opera House, and it was a great success. Flowers filled the hall, and tributes to Stanton went on through an entire evening. Though she was not strong enough to deliver her own address and had to have it read for her, its stinging indictment of religious tradition and superstition showed that Stanton had not lost the power to outrage friends and critics alike.

Just two weeks later, Stanton published The Woman's Bible, which attacked the patriarchal bias of the Bible's male creators. In questioning traditional religious scholarship, Stanton stirred up a hornet's nest of angry response. Highly controversial, The Woman's Bible went through seven printings. At the next NAWSA convention, a resolution censuring it passed, marking the end of Stanton's association with the organized suffrage movement. She continued to write and publish articles and in 1898 published her autobiography, Eighty Years and More. Reporters and pundits continued to ask her opinion on matters ranging from politics to immigration.

Blatch, Harriot Stanton (1856–1940)

American reformer. Born Harriot Eaton Stanton in Seneca Falls, New York, on January 20, 1856; died in Greenwich, Connecticut, on November 20, 1940; daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815–1902, the suffragist) and Henry B. Stanton (an abolitionist, politician, and journalist); attended private schools; attended Boston School of Oratory; Vassar College, B.A., 1878, M.A., 1894; studied in Berlin and Paris; married William Henry Blatch (an English businessman), in 1882 (died 1915); children: two daughters (one died in infancy).

Harriot Stanton Blatch's career as a reformer is hardly surprising given the political activities of her parents, reformers Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Henry Stanton. Blatch attended private schools and graduated from Vassar in 1878, after which she spent a year at the Boston School of Oratory and two years abroad. Upon her return, she assisted her mother and Susan B. Anthony on their book History of Woman Suffrage, contributing a 100-page chapter on Lucy Stone 's American Woman Suffrage Association, a rival of Stanton's and Anthony's own National Woman Suffrage Association. In 1882, Harriot married English businessman William H. Blatch, whom she had met on her European voyage. She lived in England for the next 20 years, during which time she was prominent in the reform work of the Fabian Society and also collaborated with British sociologist Charles Booth on a statistical study of English villages, for which she received her master's degree from Vassar in 1894.

After her return to the United States in 1902, the year of her mother's death, Blatch became involved with the Women's Trade Union League and the National American Woman Suffrage Association. In 1907, partly in reaction of the apathy and infighting she found in the latter organization, she founded the Equality League of Self Supporting Women. Initiating a British-style political approach that incorporated open-air meetings, parades, and poll watchers, the newly formed group was able to attract thousands of new working women to the cause of suffrage. In 1910, they changed their name to the Women's Political Union, and in 1916 merged with the Congressional Union (later the National Woman's Party) under Alice Paul .

Following the death of her husband in 1915, Blatch spent two years in England settling his affairs before returning to the United States to become head of the speakers bureau of the wartime Food Administration and a director of the Woman's Land Army. After the war and the successful outcome of the suffrage campaign, she continued to champion women's rights and socialist causes. Opposing protective legislation for women, she worked with the National Woman's Party for a federal equalrights amendment.

Blatch's writings include a book on the war work of European women, Mobilizing Woman-Power (1918), and A Woman's Point of View and Roads to Peace (both 1920). In 1922, with her brother, she published Elizabeth Cady Stanton, as Revealed in Her Letters, Diary and Reminiscences. Her autobiography, Challenging Years, written with Alma Lutz , a popular journalist of the day, was published in 1940. After suffering an injury in 1927, Harriot Blatch was confined to a nursing home until her death on November 20, 1940, at the age of 83.

Barbara Morgan, Melrose, Massachusetts

Stanton spent her final years reading, writing, and dictating letters and articles, her mind clear, her reasoning cogent, her passion for the cause of women's rights unspent. On October 22, 1902, she dictated a letter to President Theodore Roosevelt, urging him to support a federal woman suffrage amendment. On October 25, she wrote a similar letter to the first lady, Edith Kermit Roosevelt . The next day, October 26, 1902, Elizabeth Cady Stanton died—her intellectual vigor and her intense devotion to the cause of women with her to the last. The world mourned her passing.


DuBois, Ellen Carol, ed. The Elizabeth Cady Stanton-Susan B. Anthony Reader: Correspondence, Writings, Speeches. Rev. ed. Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press, 1992.

Griffith, Elisabeth. In Her Own Right: The Life of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. NY: Oxford University Press, 1984.

Lutz, Alma. Created Equal: A Biography of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 1815–1902. NY: John Day, 1940.

Stanton, Elizabeth Cady. Eighty Years and More: Reminiscences, 1815–1897. NY: T. Fisher Unwin, 1898 (reprinted, NY: Schocken, 1971).

——. The Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1997.

Stanton, Theodore, and Harriot Stanton Blatch, eds. Elizabeth Cady Stanton as Revealed in Her Letters, Diary and Reminiscences. NY: Harper & Bros., 1922.

suggested reading:

Flexner, Eleanor. Century of Struggle: The Woman's Rights Movement in the United States. NY: Atheneum, 1970.

Gordon, Ann D., ed. The Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony: Volume One: In the School of Anti-Slavery, 1840–1866. NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1996.

History of Woman Suffrage vols. 1–3. NY: Arno and the New York Times reprint, 1969, of Fowler and Wells, 1881 original.


Elizabeth Cady Stanton Collection, Library of Congress; NAWSA Collection, Library of Congress; Elizabeth Cady Stanton Papers, Schlesinger Library of Radcliffe College; Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, microfilm edition edited by Patricia G. Holland and Ann D. Gordon.

related media:

"One Woman, One Vote," a documentary on suffrage history available from Education Films, Inc.

Andrea Moore Kerr , Ph.D., women's historian and independent scholar, Washington, D.C., and author of Lucy Stone: Speaking Out for Equality

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Stanton, Elizabeth Cady (1815–1902)

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