Elizabeth Cady Stanton
November 12, 1815 ~ October 26, 1902
Elizabeth Cady Stanton was an abolitionist, human rights activist and one of the first leaders of the woman’s rights movement. She came from a privileged background and decided early in life to fight for equal rights for women. Stanton worked closely with Susan B. Anthony—she was reportedly the brains behind Anthony’s brawn—for over 50 years to win the women’s right to vote. Still, her activism was not without controversy, which kept Stanton on the fringe of the women’s suffrage movement later in life, though her efforts helped bring about the eventual passage of the 19th Amendment, which gave all citizens the right to vote.
Stanton helped write the Declaration of Sentiments, a document modeled after the Declaration of Independence that laid out what the rights of American women should be and compared the women’s rights struggle to the Founding Fathers’ fight for independence from the British.
The Declaration of Sentiments offered examples of how men oppressed women such as:
preventing them from owning land or earning wages
preventing them from voting
compelling them to submit to laws created without their representation
giving men authority in divorce and child custody proceedings and decisions
preventing them from gaining a college education
preventing them from participating in most public church affairs
subjecting them to a different moral code than men
aiming to make them dependent and submissive to men
Stanton read the Declaration of Sentiments at the convention and proposed women be given the right to vote, among other things. Sixty-eight women and 32 men signed the document—including prominent abolitionist Frederick Douglass—but many withdrew their support later when it came under public scrutiny.
The seeds of activism had been sown within Stanton, and she was soon asked to speak at other women’s rights conventions.
In 1851, she met feminist Quaker and social reformer Susan B. Anthony. The two women could not have been more different, yet they became fast friends and co-campaigners for the temperance movement and then for the suffrage movement and for women’s rights.
As a busy homemaker and mother, Stanton had much less time than the unmarried Anthony to travel the lecture circuit, so instead she performed research and used her stirring writing talent to craft women’s rights literature and most of Anthony’s speeches. Both women focused on women’s suffrage, but Stanton also pushed for equal rights for women overall.
Her 1854 “Address to the Legislature of New York,” helped secure reforms passed in 1860 which allowed women to gain joint custody of their children after divorce, own property and participate in business transactions.
When the Civil War broke out, Stanton and Anthony formed the Women’s Loyal National League to encourage Congress to pass the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery.
In 1866, they lobbied against the 14th Amendment and 15th Amendment giving Black men the right to vote because the amendments didn’t give the right to vote to women, too. Many of their abolitionist friends disagreed with their position, however, and felt that suffrage rights for Black men was top priority.
In the late 1860s, Stanton began to advocate measures that women could take to avoid becoming pregnant. Her support for more liberal divorce laws, reproductive self-determination and greater sexual freedom for women made Stanton a somewhat marginalized voice among women reformers.
A rift soon developed within the suffrage movement. Stanton and Anthony felt deceived and established the National Woman Suffrage Association in 1869, which focused on women’s suffrage efforts at the national level. A few months later some of their former abolitionist peers created the American Woman Suffrage Association, which focused on women’s suffrage at the state level.
By 1890, Anthony managed to reunite the two associations into the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) with Stanton at the helm. By 1896, four states had secured woman’s suffrage.