When Elizabeth Cady Stanton popped up in our family tree while researching my CADY line, I knew who she was, but I knew very little about the woman herself. Though she is overshadowed in history today by her friend and colleague, Susan B. Anthony, there is yet a wealth of information about Elizabeth. What brought Elizabeth's personality to life for me personally was this blurb: One discontented pupil was Elizabeth Cady Stanton (class of 1832), who only attended school here when the all-male Union College would not admit her. She found the two years the "dreariest of my whole life" and amused herself with such mischievous tricks as kicking the prayer bell down a flight of stairs and waking the entire dormitory. The administrators never caught her. I could relate, having attended a women's college myself and having (I admit somewhat shame-faced) painted a mustache on a portrait of the woman my dormitory was named after.
Elizabeth Smith Cady7 (Judge Daniel6, Eleazer5, Ebenezer4, John3, James2, Nicholas1) was born into an affluent family in Johnstown, New York on November 12, 1815, one of five daughters of Daniel and Mary (Livingston) Cady. (Three more daughters would be born after her.) At a very young age, Elizabeth realized the discrimination women faced. The first event engraved on my memory was the birth of a sister when I was four years old... I heard so many friends remark, "What a pity it is she's a girl!"... I did not understand at the time that girls were considered an inferior order of beings.
Daniel Cady was a lawyer and judge, a member of the State Supreme Court, and young Elizabeth heard many sad complaints, made by women, of the injustice of the laws. Told that giving a drunken husband the wife's property or the guardianship of children stemmed from statutes in her father's law books, the ten-year-old reformer one day marked them with a pencil, and decided to take a pair of scissors and cut them out of the book... I thought that if I could only destroy those laws, those poor women would have no further trouble. Fortunately for his library, her father caught her in time and preserved his books. Elizabeth vowed that when she grew up, she would change the "abominable" laws.
Elizabeth's only brother, a brilliant student at Union College, died (another brother had died in infancy) and she set about trying to copy his achievements. Her father's stables were full of horses and she learned to ride. For Greek she applied to their aging clergyman, a Presbyterian who had been schooled at a Scots university. He found his young pupil an apt student and a deep affection grew between them. On his death the old minister willed his Greek library to her. Elizabeth attended Johnstown Academy where she won the Greek prize and became a skilled debator.
Even though she kept ahead of the boys at the Academy, Elizabeth experienced a great bitterness after graduation in 1830 that she would not go, like them, to Union College. Instead she was relegated to the Troy Female Seminary in Troy, NY, the first endowed institution for the education of women, founded by Emma Hart Willard. It was not a happy compromise. Years later she declared, If there is one thing on earth from which I pray God to save my daughters, it's a girls' seminary. The two years at Mrs. Willard's must have been an endurance test for both pupil and faculty, for Elizabeth deliberately set about breaking the rules, as previously noted. She did, however, reach graduation.
The final urge to feminism was administered by Elizabeth's father. Although he would never admit her to any equality with the son he had lost, when she returned home he could not bear to see her busied genteelly at water-coloring or embroidery. He would stop her, present her with a heavy tome of law, and bid her read it, so as to have "something sensible to say" to the various legal dignitaries who dined with Judge Cady. Thus Elizabeth began a home-study law course which was to stand her in good stead during her long years as an agitator.
She also become involved at this time with the abolitionist movement, stemming from encounters with fugitive slaves at the home of her cousin Gerrit Smith. It was at Smith's house also that she met her husband, Henry Brewster Stanton, whom she married in 1840. She insisted on the omission of "obey" from the marriage vows.
Soon after their marriage they traveled to London where Henry was a delegate to the World Anti-Slavery Convention. Also in attendance was Lucretia Coffin Mott, the Quaker teacher and accredited delegate from the Female Antislavery Society of Philadelphia, and give other women representing their own organizations. The lady delegates were received politely by their British hosts, but they were denied their seats and not permitted to vote. Smarting under this injustice, Elizabeth and Lucretia Mott resolved to call a woman's convention as soon as they returned to the United States, a purpose, however, which could not be carried out for eight years. After returning home, someone asked Elizabeth what she had seen abroad that impressed her the most and Elizabeth promptly answered, "Lucretia Mott."
In the Stanton home, the ensuing eight years between London and the Seneca Falls convention represented the birth of three of their seven children. In 1847, the Stantons moved to Seneca, New York. Their house, now an historic monument, at the time was in desperate need of paint, paper and a new kitchen. Weeds covered the five-acre lot. Elizabeth's father handed her a check and told her, "You believe in woman's capacity to do and dare; now go ahead and put your place in order."
The young mother's first year in Seneca Falls was plagued with the chores of housekeeping, child care, drunken neighbors, and muddy roads. Elizabeth stated, I now fully understand the practical difficulties most women had to contend with in the isolated household, and the impossibility of woman's best development if in contact, the chief part of her life, with servants and children... my only thought was a public meeting for protest and discussion.
In 1848, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott met again. With several other women, they organized a convention in about a week's time. Elizabeth wrote a Declaration of Sentiments which followed the form of the American Declaration of Independence. It included a women's bill of rights and listed demands for social equality, including the right to vote. Elizabeth had the full backing of her husband, and James Mott, Lucretia's husband, presided at the first "women's rights" convention in the Wesleyan chapel. Their declaration was printed and widely circulated, for by 1848 railroads were facilitating a brisk exchange of newspapers. To editors of the period the women's charter was good comedy. Throughout the country, the general reaction was gigantic laughter, such as is apt to greet those who see too far ahead. Nonetheless, this event marked the beginning of the Women's Rights Movement and the laughter had little effect on Elizabeth and Lucretia. They both survived it, to continue campaigning actively for more than three decades.
In 1851, Elizabeth met the woman who would become her closest friend and co-worker for the next half century...Susan B. Anthony. Susan, who had read about the 1848 convention in the newspaper and was intrigued but as yet uncommitted to the suffrage cause, had come to town to attend an antislavery meeting and was staying at the home of fellow Temperance worker Amelia Bloomer. Elizabeth wrote about first seeing Susan on a Seneca Falls street corner, with her good earnest face and genial smile. Susan stayed with the Stantons often, planning their strategy for the social revolution known as the suffrage movement. Whenever I saw that stately Quaker girl coming across my lawn, wrote Elizabeth, I knew that some happy convocation of the sons of Adam was to be set by the ears, by one of our appeals or resolutions. Elizabeth described their lifelong collaboration: I am the better writer, she the better critic. She supplied the facts and statistics, I the philosophy and rhetoric, and together, we have made arguments that have stood unshaken through the storms of long years. Her husband, Henry, described it more succinctly. Reading of yet another successful speech, he told his wife, "You stir up Susan, and she stirs the world."
While Elizabeth was unwilling to commit to a vigorous travel schedule until her children were grown, she wrote many of her speeches for delivery by Susan B. Anthony. Nevertheless, she addressed the New York legislature in 1854 on the rights of married women, and in 1860, advocating divorce for drunkenness, and again in 1867. Elizabeth was also president of the Women's Loyal League in 1863 and of the National Association in 1873. She even ran for Congress in 1866.
In 1868, Elizabeth began co-editing the newspaper Revolution, advocating women's rights, which she saw as part of a larger reform movement, encompassing other social, economic and political changes. Her ideas included less restrictive clothing for women, coeducation, and the right of married women to control their property, and more liberal divorce laws. She believed marriage was a contract like anything else, and did not see it as a religious sacrament. Much later in 1895 and in a storm of controversy, she published The Woman's Bible, believing that the church and theology were major obstacles for women.
The women's movement still remained a part of the larger antislavery moment, and when slavery ended, so did abolitionist support for women's rights. It struck me as very remarkable that abolitionists, who felt so keenly the wrongs of the slave, should be so oblivious to the equal wrongs of their own mothers, wives and sisters. The 14th and 15th Amendments passed, and black men were given the right to vote, but not women. This betrayal led Elizabeth and Susan to creating the National Woman Suffrage Association in 1869. Elizabeth was its first president and remained as such until 1890 when NWSA merged with a more conservative group and became the National American Woman Suffrage Association. She was the new group's president until 1892.
The Stantons moved to Tenafly, New Jersey and in 1876 Susan B. Anthony shipped cartons of letters, clippings and documents here...research material for their monumental History of Woman Suffrage. Susan and Elizabeth actually wrote the first volumes here, with contributions from Matilda Joslyn Gage. The monumental undertaking overwhelmed Elizabeth. I had never thought that the publication of a book required the consideration of such endless details, she wrote in her autobiography. We stood appalled before the mass of material, growing higher and higher with every mail, and the thought of all the reading involved made us feel as if our lifework lay before us. Susan was equally engulfed, writing a friend that she would "rather make history than write it." Fortunately for us, they did both.
In 1878, Elizabeth Cady Stanton persuaded Senator Aaron A. Sargent of California to sponsor a Suffrage Amendment to the Constitution. This Amendment was introduced every year until it was finally adopted by Congress in 1920 and became the 19th Amendment—which unfortunately, Elizabeth did not live to see pass. She died in New York City on October 26, 1902 at the age of 86. She is buried there at Woodlawn Cemetery with her husband and the entire Stanton family.
Susan B. Anthony & Elizabeth Cady Stanton
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See lineage of Cady Family
Read the Biography of Elizabeth's earliest Cady ancestor, Nicholas Cady
Read the Biography of Nicholas's son, Joseph Cady
Read the Biography of Nicholas's grandson, Benjamin Cady
Read the Biography of Nicholas's great grandson, Benjamin Cady
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