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Elizabeth Cady Stanton


Birth: November 12, 1815 in New York, United States

Death: October 26, 1902
Occupation: Feminist, Reformer
Source: Dictionary of American Biography Base Set. American Council of Learned Societies, 1928-1936.


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Stanton, Elizabeth Cady (Nov. 12, 1815 - Oct. 26, 1902), reformer and leader in the woman's rights movement, was born in Johnstown, N. Y. Her parents were Daniel Cady [q.v.] and Margaret (Livingston) Cady, daughter of Col. James Livingston [q.v.]. A stern religious atmosphere pervaded her home, and as a child Elizabeth feared rather than loved her parents, who seem to have had little positive influence upon the shaping of her personality and character. Simon Hosack, minister of the Presbyterian church to which the Cady family belonged, had a larger share in her affections and did much to give a serious, purposeful bent to her life. Her education was superior to that of most girls of her time. Encouraged by Simon Hosack, she studied Greek, Latin, and mathematics with classes of boys in the academy in Johnstown, where she spent several years, and took second prize in Greek. At the age of fifteen she was sent to the famous seminary of Emma Willard [q.v.] at Troy, N. Y., from which she graduated in 1832. For a time she studied law with her father. She early learned that she was living in an imperfect world. As a small child, hearing women in her father's law office pour forth recitals of wrongs supported by existing law, she was troubled by the handicaps and discriminations existing against her sex. In her young womanhood, under the influence of her cousin Gerrit Smith [q.v.] of Peterboro, N. Y., she likewise became deeply interested in temperance and anti-slavery, but it was not until somewhat later that she was fully launched as a reformer.

It is significant that on May 10, 1840, when she married Henry Brewster Stanton [q.v.], the word "obey" was at her insistence omitted from the ceremony. Stanton, who later became known as a lawyer and journalist, was already a noted abolitionist and immediately after his wedding went as a delegate to the world anti-slavery convention held in London in the summer of 1840. There his wife, who accompanied him, met Lucretia Coffin Mott [q.v.] and was much influenced by conversations with her. When Mrs. Mott and a few other American women who were delegates to the anti-slavery gathering were refused official recognition by the convention on the ground of their sex, Mrs. Mott and Mrs. Stanton resolved to hold a woman's rights convention upon their return to the United States. Though the execution of this resolve was delayed, Mrs. Stanton began to work for temperance and abolition, and used her influence for the passage of the married woman's property bill of New York State, which finally became a law in 1848. Two years before this she moved with her husband and their children from Boston, where they had been living, to Seneca Falls, N. Y., and the handicaps she was aware of in this small frontier-like community made her thoughts turn more seriously to the hard, circumscribed lot of woman. Her mind was full of the subject when, on July 13, 1848, she again met Lucretia Mott. To Mrs. Mott and a few others she poured out her indignation at the established order and succeeded in so rousing herself as well as the others that a week later, July 19 and 20, they held a woman's rights convention in the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Seneca Falls. Mrs. Stanton, who made the opening speech, read a "Declaration of Sentiments," modeled after the Declaration of Independence, setting forth the grievances of women against existing law and custom, and she was wholly responsible for a resolution demanding suffrage. When Lucretia Mott protested against the last, "Why, Lizzie, thee will make us ridiculous," the author of the resolution defended it as the key to all other rights for women, and with the help of Frederick Douglass [q.v.] it was adopted with ten other resolutions.

The Seneca Falls convention, which promptly became the object of sarcasm, ridicule, and denunciation from press and pulpit, formally launched the modern woman's rights movement. Other conventions devoted to the same purpose soon followed, and in many of them Mrs. Stanton played a leading part. In addition she gave much time to writing articles, protests, and petitions, lecturing in public, and speaking before legislative bodies in the interest of temperance, abolition, and woman's rights, but as the years passed she devoted more and more of her time to the cause of women. From 1851, when she first met Susan B. Anthony and induced her to enlist in the crusade for woman's rights, the two women worked together, a remarkably efficient pair whose association ended only with Mrs. Stanton's death. Together they planned campaign programs, organization work, and speeches and addresses; together they appeared upon public and convention platforms, and before legislative bodies and congressional committees to plead for woman's rights. Miss Anthony had the greater persistence and was the better organizer and executive, but her colleague was the more eloquent and graceful speaker and writer, and in general had a more charming and persuasive personality. Both were hard fighters and both were long considered rather dangerous radicals, though Mrs. Stanton was at first more conspicuous in this latter regard because of her pioneer stand for suffrage and her demand a little later that women be permitted to secure divorce on the grounds of drunkenness and brutality. Though she hated war as stupid and wicked, she saw the Civil War as a struggle for the abolition of slavery, and helped to organize and became president of the Women's Loyal National League, which supported the Union and fostered the complete emancipation of slaves. The war ended, she and her colleagues first strove to secure suffrage for women in connection with the enfranchisement of negro men, but they later renewed and enlarged their earlier activities directly in behalf of woman's rights. When in May 1869 the National Woman Suffrage Association was founded, she was chosen president, an office which for the most part she held until 1890; at that time the organization was united with the American Woman Suffrage Association to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association, of which she was also elected president. These twenty-one years at the head of the more radical of the two woman's rights organizations covered the period of Mrs. Stanton's greatest activity for the cause to which she had dedicated herself. Partly from a suggestion of hers came the first International Council of Women, held in Washington in 1888 under the auspices of the National Woman Suffrage Association, and it was she who sent out the call, and made the opening and closing addresses before the Council.

In addition to her suffrage work, from 1869 to 1881 she devoted eight months annually to lyceum lecturing throughout the country, usually on family life and the training of children, of whom she had borne and reared seven. She also found time to write for publication. In 1868 she and Parker Pillsbury [q.v.] as joint editors started the Revolution, a weekly devoted especially to woman's rights, and many of the best articles and editorials appearing during her connection of about two years with the publication were from her pen. She was largely responsible, too, for the Woman's Bible, published in two parts in 1895 and 1898. To newspapers and magazines, especially the North American Review, she contributed many articles. In 1898 she published her reminiscences, Eighty Years and More. But her monumental undertaking was the compilation, in conjunction with Susan B. Anthony and Matilda Joslyn Gage [q.v.], of the first three ponderous volumes of the History of Woman Suffrage (1881-86). In the cause of woman's rights she was undoubtedly one of the most influential leaders of her day. Her strong and undaunted manner made her very impressive, though she was short in stature, not exceeding five feet three inches. Her skin was fresh and fair, and the good-natured expression of her face was accentuated by the merry twinkle rarely absent from her clear, light blue eyes. In youth her curly hair was black, but it began early to turn gray and by middle age was snowy white. She died at her New York City home when she was closing her eighty-seventh year. She was survived by six of her children.

-- Mary Wilhelmine Williams


[See O. P. Allen, Descendants of Nicholas Cady of Watertown, Mass., 1645-1910 (1910), where Mrs. Stanton's name is given as Elizabeth Smith Cady; Who's Who in America, 1901-02; Elizabeth Cady Stanton as Revealed in Her Letters, Diary and Reminiscences (2 vols., 1922), ed. by Theodore Stanton and Harriot Stanton Blatch; Hist. of Woman Suffrage (6 vols., 1881-1922), ed. by E. C. Stanton, etc.; Alice S. Blackwell, Lucy Stone, Pioneer of Woman's Rights (1930); obituary in N. Y. Times, Oct. 27, 1902. In the Lib. of Cong., Washington, D. C., are some unpublished letters of minor importance.]


"Elizabeth Cady Stanton."Dictionary of American Biography Base Set. American Council of Learned Societies, 1928-1936.
Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale. 2005.

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