Elizabeth Cady Stanton (November 12, 1815 – October 26, 1902) was a social activist and a leading figure of the early women's rights movement. Her Declaration of Sentiments, presented at the first women's rights convention held in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York, is often credited with initiating the organized woman's rights and woman's suffrage movements in the United States.
Along with her husband, Henry Stanton and cousin, Gerrit Smith, Elizabeth Cady Stanton was an active abolitionist before she settled on women's issues as her primary focus. She was also an outspoken supporter of the 19th century temperance movement.
Unlike many of those involved in the women's rights movement, Stanton addressed a number of issues pertaining to women beyond voting rights. Her concerns included women's parental and custody rights, property rights, employment and income rights, divorce laws, the economic health of the family, and abortion.
Elizabeth Cady, the eighth of eleven children, was born in Johnstown, New York, to Daniel Cady and Margaret Livingston Cady. Five of her siblings died in early childhood or infancy. A sixth, her brother Eleazar, died at age 20 just prior to his graduation from Union College in Schenectady, New York. Only Elizabeth Cady and four sisters lived well into adulthood and old age. Later in life, Elizabeth named her two daughters after two of her sisters, Margaret and Harriot.
Daniel Cady, Stanton's father, was a prominent attorney who served one term in the Congress of the United States (Federalist; 1814-1817) and later became a judge. Judge Cady introduced his daughter to the law and, together with her brother-in-law, Edward Bayard, planted the earliest seeds which grew into her legal and social activism. Even as a young girl, she enjoyed perusing her father's law library and debating legal issues with his law clerks. It was this early exposure to law that, in part, caused Stanton to realize how severely the law favored men over women, particularly over married women. Her realization that married women had virtually no property rights, income or employment rights, or even custody rights over their own children, helped set her course to work toward changing these inequities.
Stanton's mother, Margaret Livingston Cady, a descendant of early Dutch settlers, was the daughter of Colonel James Livingston, an officer in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. Having fought at Saratoga and Quebec, he assisted in the capture of Benedict Arnold at West Point, New York. Margaret Cady, standing nearly six feet tall, was a commanding woman whom Stanton routinely described as "queenly." While Stanton's daughter, Harriot Stanton Blatch, remembers her grandmother as being fun, affectionate, and lively, Stanton herself did not apparenty share such memories. Emotionally devastated by the loss of so many children, Margaret Livingston Cady fell into a depression, which kept her from being fully involved in the lives of her surviving children and left a maternal void in Stanton's childhood.
Since Judge Cady coped with this loss by immersing himself in his work, many of the childrearing responsibilities fell to Stanton's elder sister, Tryphena, eleven years her senior, and Tryphena's husband, Edward Bayard, a Union College classmate of Eleazar Cady's and son of James A. Bayard, Sr., a U.S. Senator from Wilmington, Delaware. At the time of his engagement and marriage to Tryphena, he worked as an apprentice in Daniel Cady's law office and was instrumental in nurturing Stanton's growing understanding of women and the law.
Like many men of his day, Judge Cady was a slave holder in Johnstown. Peter Teabout, a slave in the Cady household and later a freeman in Johnstown, who took care of Elizabeth and her sister Margaret, is remembered with particular fondness by Stanton in her memoir, Eighty Years & More. It seems it was, however, not the fact that her family owned at least one slave, but her exposure to the abolition movement as a young woman visiting her cousin, Gerrit Smith, in Peterboro, New York that led to her abolitionist sentiments.
Unlike many women of her era, Stanton was formally educated. She attended Johnstown Academy, where she studied Latin, Greek and mathematics until the age of 16. At the Academy, she enjoyed being in co-ed classes where she could compete intellectually and academically with boys her age and older. She did this very successfully, winning several academic awards and honors while a student in Johnstown.
In her memoir, Stanton credits the Cadys' neighbor, Rev. Simon Hosack, with strongly encouraging her intellectual development and academic abilities at a time when she felt these were undervalued by her father. Writing of her brother, Eleazar's, death in 1826, Stanton remembers trying to comfort her father, saying that she would try to be all her brother had been. At the time, her father's response devastated Stanton: "Oh, my daughter, I wish you were a boy!" Understanding from this that her father valued boys above girls, Stanton tearfully took her disappointment to Hosack, whose firm belief in her abilities counteracted her father's disparagement. Hosack went on to teach Stanton Greek, encouraged her to read widely, and ultimately bequeathed her his own Greek lexicon along with other books. His confirmation of her intellectual abilities did much to buttress Stanton's belief in her own wide-ranging abilities and prowess.
Upon graduation from Johnstown Academy, Stanton received one of her first tastes of sexual discrimination. Stanton watched with dismay as the young men graduating with her, many of whom she had surpassed academically, went on to Union College, as her older brother, Eleazar, had done previously. In 1830, with Union College taking only men, Stanton enrolled in the Troy Female Seminary in Troy, New York, which was founded and run by Emma Willard. (The school was renamed the Emma Willard School in honor of its founder in 1895, and Stanton was a key speaker at this event.)
Early during her student days in Troy, Stanton remembers being strongly influenced by Charles Grandison Finney, an evangelical preacher and revivalist. It seems his influence, combined with the Calvinistic Presbyterianism of her childhood, caused her great stress. After hearing Finney speak, Stanton became terrified of her own possible damnation: "Fear of judgment seized my soul. Visions of the lost haunted my dreams. Mental anguish prostrated my health. Dethronement of my reason was apprehended by my friends." Stanton credits her father and brother-in-law, Edward Bayard, with removing her from the situation and, after taking her on a rejuvenating trip to Niagara Falls, finally restoring her reason and sense of balance. She was never again to return to organized Christianity and, after this experience, always maintained that logic and a humane sense of ethics were the best guides to both thought and behavior.
As a young woman, Elizabeth Cady met Henry Brewster Stanton through her early involvement in the temperance and the abolition movements. Henry Stanton was an acquaintance of Elizabeth Cady's cousin, Gerrit Smith, an abolitionist and member of the "Secret Six" that supported  between 1842 and 1856. The Stantons' seventh and last child, Robert, was an unplanned menopausal baby born in 1859 when Elizabeth Cady Stanton was forty-four.
Soon after returning to the United States from their European honeymoon, the Stantons moved into the Cady household in Johnstown, New York. Henry Stanton studied law under his father-in-law until 1843, when the Stantons moved to Boston, Massachusetts, where Henry joined a law firm. While living in Boston, Elizabeth thoroughly enjoyed the social, political, and intellectual stimulation that came with a constant round of abolitionist gatherings and meetings. Here she enjoyed the company of and was influenced by such people as Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Louisa May Alcott, Robert Lowell, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, among others.
Throughout her marriage and eventual widowhood, Stanton took her husband's surname as part of her own, signing herself Elizabeth Cady Stanton or E. Cady Stanton, but she refused to be addressed as Mrs. Henry B. Stanton. Asserting that women were individual persons, she stated that, "(t)he custom of calling women Mrs. John This and Mrs. Tom That and colored men Sambo and Zip Coon, is founded on the principle that white men are lords of all." 
The Stanton marriage was not entirely without tension and disagreement. Because of employment, travel, and financial considerations, husband and wife lived more often apart than together. Friends of the couple found them very similar in temperament and ambition, but quite dissimilar in their views on certain issues including women's rights. In 1842, abolitionist reformer Sarah Grimke counseled Elizabeth in a letter: "Henry greatly needs a humble, holy companion and thou needest the same." However, both Stantons appeared to consider their marriage an overall success and the marriage lasted for forty-seven years, ending with Henry's death in 1887..
In 1847, concerned about the effect of New England winters on Henry Stanton's fragile health, the Stantons moved from Boston to Seneca Falls, New York, into a house that had been purchased for them by Elizabeth's father. Stanton, age thirty-one at the time, had great diffculty adjusting to her new role as rural housewife. While she loved motherhood and assumed primary responsibility for rearing the children, she found herself increasingly unsatisfied by the lack of intellectual companionship and stimulation in Seneca Falls. The couple's last four children, two daughters and two sons, were born there, with Stanton asserting that her children were conceived under a program she called "voluntary motherhood". She was remembered by her daughter Margaret as "cheerful, sunny and indulgent". 
As an antidote to the boredom and loneliness she experienced in Seneca Falls, Stanton became increasingly involved in the community and, by 1848, had established ties to similarly minded women in the area. By this time, she was firmly committed to the nascent women's rights movement and ready to engage in organized actvism.
Prior to living in Seneca Falls, Stanton had become a great admirer and friend of Lucretia Mott, the Quaker minister, feminist, and abolitionist, whom she met at the International Anti-Slavery Convention in London, England in the spring of 1840. The two women became allies when it was voted that women should be denied participation in the proceedings, even if they, like Mott, had come as official delegates of their respective abolitionist societies. After considerable debate, the women were required to sit in a roped-off section hidden from the view of the men in attendance. They were soon joined by the prominent abolitionist, William Lloyd Garrison, who arrived after the vote had been taken and, in protest of the outcome, refused his seat, electing instead to sit with the women.
Mott's example and the decision to prohibit women from participating in the convention strengthened Stanton's commitment to women's rights. By 1848, her early life experiences together with the experience in London and her initially debilitating experience as a housewife in Seneca Falls, galvanized Stanton. She later wrote:
In 1848, acting on these feelings and perceptions, Stanton joined Mott and a handful of other women in Seneca Falls. Together they organized the first women's rights convention. Stanton drafted a Declaration of Sentiments, which she read at the convention. Modeled on the United States Declaration of Independence, Stanton's declaration proclaimed that men and women are created equal. She proposed, among other things, a then-controversial resolution demanding voting rights for women. The final resolutions, including feminine voting rights, were passed, in no small measure, because of the support of Frederick Douglass, who attended and informally spoke at the convention.
Soon after the convention, Stanton was invited to speak at a second women's rights convention in Rochester, New York, solidifying her role as activist and reformer. In 1851, Stanton met Susan B. Anthony. They were introduced on a street in Seneca Falls by Amelia Bloomer, a feminist and mutual acquaintance who had not signed the Declaration of Sentiments and subsequent resolutions despite her attendance at the Seneca Falls convention.
Although best known for their joint work on behalf of women's suffrage, Stanton and Anthony first joined the temperance movement. Together, they were instrumental in founding the short-lived Woman's State Temperance Society (1852-53). During her presidency of the organization, Stanton scandalized many supporters by suggesting that drunkenness be made sufficient cause for divorce. Their focus, however, soon shifted to female sufferage and women's rights.
Single and having no children, Anthony had the time and energy to do the speaking and traveling Stanton was unable to do. Their skills complemented each other. Stanton, the better orator and writer, scripted many of Anthony's speeches. Anthony was the movement's organizer and tactician. Writing a tribute that appeared in the New York Times when Stanton died, Anthony described Stanton as having "forged the thunderbolts" that she (Anthony) "fired." Unlike Anthony's relatively narrow focus on suffrage, Stanton wanted to push for a broader platform of women's rights in general. While their opposing viewpoints led to some discussion and conflict, no disagreement threatened their friendship or working relationship; the two women remained close friends and colleagues until Stanton's death some fifty years after their initial meeting.
While always recognized as movement leaders whose attendance at meetings and whose support was sought, it soon happened that Stanton and Anthony's voices were joined by others who began assuming leadership positions within the movement. These women included, among others, Lucy Stone and Matilda Joslyn Gage.
|The prejudice against color, of which we hear so much, is no stronger than that against sex. It is produced by the same cause, and manifested very much in the same way. |
—Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
After the American Civil War, both Stanton and Anthony broke with their abolitionist backgrounds and lobbied strongly against ratification of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the US Constitution granting African American men the right to vote. They believed that so largely expanding the male franchise in the country would only increase the number of voters prepared to deny female franchise. Stanton was angry that the abolitionists, her former partners in working for both African American and women's rights, refused to demand that the language of the amendments be changed to include women.
Eventually, Stanton's rhetoric took on a potentially racist tone. Arguing on behalf of female suffrage, Stanton posited that women voters of "wealth, education, and refinement" were needed to offset the effect of former slaves and immigrants whose "pauperism, ignorance, and degradation" might negatively effect the American political system. Another time she declared it to be "a serious question whether we had better stand aside and see 'Sambo' walk into the kingdom [of civil rights] first." While her frustration was understandable, it has been argued that Stanton's position fragmented the civil rights movement by pitting African American men against women and, in part, established a basis for the literacy requirements that followed the Black male franchise. Whether or not this assessment is accurate, Stanton's position caused a significant rift between herself and many civil rights leaders, particularly Frederick Douglass, who believed that women, empowered by their ties to fathers, husbands, and brothers, at least vicariously had the vote, and that horrifying treatment as slaves entitled now free African American men, who lacked women's indirect empowerment by association to men, to voting rights before women were granted the franchise.
Thaddeus Stevens, a Republican congressman from Pennsylvania and ardent supporter of abolition and, after the Civil War, Reconstruction, agreed that voting rights should be universal. In 1866, Stanton, Anthony, and several other suffragists drafted a universal suffrage petition demanding that both women and African American men be granted the right to vote. The petition was introduced in the United States Congress by Stevens. Despite these efforts, the Fourteenth Amendment was passed, without adjustment, in 1868.
By the time the Fifteenth Amendment was making its way through Congress, Stanton's position led to major schism in the women's rights movement itself. Many leaders in the women's rights movement, including Lucy Stone, Elizabeth Blackwell, and Julia Ward Howe strongly argued against Stanton's "all or nothing" position. By 1869, disagreement over ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment gave birth to two separate women's suffrage organizations. The National Woman's Suffrage Association (NWSA) founded in May, 1869 by Stanton and Anthony, opposed passage of the Fifteenth Amendment without it being changed to include female suffrage. The American Woman's Suffrage Association (AWSA), founded the following November and led by Stone, Blackwell, and Howe, supported the amendment as written.
Believing that men should not be given the right to vote without women also being granted the franchise, Sojourner Truth, a former slave and feminist, affiliated herself with Stanton and Anthony's organization. They were joined by Matilda Joslyn Gage, who later worked on The Women's Bible with Stanton. Despite Stanton's position and the efforts of herself and others to expand the Fifteenth Amendment to include voting rights for women, this amendment also passed, as originally written, in 1870. It would be another fifty years before women obtained the right to vote throughout the United States.
After passage of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870 and its support by the Equal Rights Association and prominent suffragists such as Stone, Blackwell, and Howe, the gap between Elizabeth Cady Stanton and other leaders of the women's movement widened as Stanton took issue with the fundamental religious leanings of several movement leaders. Unlike many of her colleagues, Stanton believed organized Christianity relegated women to an unacceptable position in society.
She explored this view in The Woman's Bible, which elucidated a feminist understanding of biblical scripture and sought to correct the fundamental sexism Stanton saw as being inherent to organized Christianity. Likewise, Stanton supported divorce rights, employment rights, and property rights for women, issues in which the more conservative suffragists preferred not to become substantially involved.
Clearly not limited by her perspective on religion, however, Stanton went on to write many of the more important documents and speeches of the women's rights movement and was instrumental in promoting women's suffrage in various states, particularly New York, Missouri, Kansas, where it was included on the ballot in 1867, and Michigan, where it was put to the vote in 1874. In 1868, Stanton made an unsuccessful bid for a U.S. Congressional seat from New York, and she was the primary force behind passage of the "Woman's Property Bill," that was eventually passed by the New York State Legislature.
In a view different from many modern feminists, Stanton believed that abortion was infanticide She addressed the issue in various editions of The Revolution and, in an 1873 letter to Julia Ward Howe recorded in Howe's diary at Harvard University Library, she wrote: "When we consider that women are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit." She suggested that solutions to abortion would be found, at least in part, in the elevation and enfranchisement of women.
As she aged, Stanton was also active internationally, spending a great deal of time in Europe, where her daughter and fellow feminist, Harriot Stanton Blatch, lived. In 1888 she helped prepare for the founding of the International Council of Women. In 1890, Stanton opposed the merger of the National Woman's Suffrage Association with the more conservative and religiously based American Woman Suffrage Association. Over her objections, the organizations merged, creating the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Despite her opposition to the merger, Stanton became its first president, largely because of Susan B. Anthony's intervention. In good measure because of the Women's Bible, she was, however, never popular among the more religiously conservative members of the 'National American'.
On January 17, 1892, Stanton, Anthony, Lucy Stone, and Isabella Beecher Hooker addressed the issue of suffrage before the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. In contrast to the response common earlier in the century, the suffragists were cordially received and members of the House listened carefully to their prepared statements. Stanton made a strong point when speaking of the value of the individual, noting that value was not based on gender. As with the Declaration of Sentiments she had penned some forty-five years earlier, Stanton's statement eloquently expressed not only the need for women's voting rights in particular, but the need for a revamped understanding of women's position in society and even of women in general:
Stanton died at her home in New York City on October 26, 1902 nearly twenty years before women were granted the right to vote in the United States. She was interred in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, New York. She was survived by six of her seven children and six grandchildren. Although Elizabeth Cady Stanton had been unable to attend a formal college or university, her daughters did. Margaret Livingston Stanton Lawrence attended Vassar College (1876) and Columbia University (1891), and Harriot Stanton Blatch received both her undergraduate and graduate degrees from Vassar College in 1878 and 1891 respectively.
After Stanton's death, her radical ideas about religion and emphasis on female employment and other women's issues led many suffragists to focus on Anthony rather than Stanton as the founder of the women's suffrage movement. By 1923, in celebrating the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention, only Harriot Stanton Blatch paid tribute to the role her mother had played in instigating the women's rights movement. Even as late as 1977, attention was paid to Susan B. Anthony as the founder of the movement, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton was not mentioned. By the 1990's, interest in Stanton was substantially rekindled when Ken Burns, among others, presented the life and contributions of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, once again drawing attention to her central, founding role in shaping the women's rights movement in the United States.
In 1868, Stanton and Anthony founded the women's rights newsletter The Revolution. Stanton served as co-editor with Parker Pillsbury and frequently contributed to the paper. Stanton also wrote countless letters and pamphlets, as well as articles and essays for numerous periodicals, including Amelia Bloomer's Lily, Paulina Wright Davis's Una, and Horace Greeley's New York Tribune.
Starting in 1881, Stanton, Anthony and Matilda Joslyn Gage published the first of three volumes of the History of Woman Suffrage, an anthology of writings about the movement in which they were so prominent. This anthology reached six volumes by various writers in 1922.
Her papers are archived at Rutgers University.
Stanton's individual writings include: