An early leader of the women’s rights movement, Elizabeth Cady Stanton was born on November 12, 1815 in Johnstown, New York. Stanton’s father, a lawyer and judge, reportedly did not care for daughters, openly preferring sons. Her father’s favoritism for boys, perhaps due to none of his sons surviving into adulthood, undoubtedly fueled Stanton’s later desire in life to participate - and excel - in activities that were considered to be male-centric during that era, such as petitioning and advocating for various legal, political, social and religious reforms.
Born into a privileged and prominently wealthy family, Stanton formally received the best quality female education at both the Johnstown Academy and Emma Willard’s Troy Female Seminary for young women, studying and reading widely in a variety of subjects. While she did not go on to college, as many other women of leisure and her stature at the time, she eventually received an informal legal education from her father, who later became one of her biggest supporters long with her brother-in-law throughout her lifetime as an activist.
In 1840, Stanton married abolitionist and journalist, Henry Stanton, with whom she had seven children. The newly married Stanton soon found out that society and the law was biased against women - married women, in particular, were not privy to the same rights as their male counterparts, from property ownership to their own incomes, children and even bodies. For this reason, she requested to omit the word “obey” from her marital vows to Stanton, declaring that they were entering marriage as equals, and that she remained an individual person with individual rights.
In fact, during the Stantons’ honeymoon in London, Elizabeth became furious that women were barred from attending a World’s Anti-Slavery convention. Years later, fueled by this same passion and great lack of intellectual stimulation she did not find in motherhood and child-rearing, Stanton rallied like-minded women and held the very first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848.
To further fight for, and elevate, all women’s status, as well as to call for legal and societal
changes to be implemented, Stanton authored and presented “The Declaration of Sentiments” for signature by all convention attendees calling for women’s equality. While accounts and perspectives vary, this convention has often been regarded as the first organized women’s rights event in the early women’s suffrage movement. Stanton also petitioned for the State of New York’s Congress to pass the New York Married Women’s Property Act that same year.
In 1851, Stanton met and partnered with fellow activist, Susan B. Anthony, and their efforts for women’s rights gained more momentum straight through the Civil War era, including several decades following the war, such as founding the National Woman Suffrage Association together in 1869, for which Stanton served as President for over twenty years.
While a great orator and speaker herself, Stanton was often relegated to writing and scripting Anthony’s speeches as her single and childless counterpart did not have family and traveling restrictions as she did. This did not stop Stanton’s activism efforts, as she further developed and expanded her writings in spite of being her seven children’s primary caregiver.
In addition to authoring The Woman’s Bible, challenging the notion of women’s subservience towards men, with several other like-minded, progressive women of her time, Stanton published extensive works addressing specific social and legal rights for women, including their right to divorce and refuse their husbands’ sexual demands, just as much as their rights to vote and serve on juries.
While Stanton’s views were often cited as racist, including her petitioning against the right for African American men to vote, Stanton and those closest to her insist that her opposition was motivated by gender alone and not skin color. In fact, her support for interracial marriage was publicly known and shunned upon by her social equals, while her bold ideas eschewing religion eventually alienated her from more traditional suffragists.
Stanton passed in 1902 at her home in New York, due to heart complications. Women were granted the right to vote in the United States 18 years later.
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