On November 12, 1815, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, spokesperson for the rights of women, was born in Johnstown, New York. Stanton formulated the philosophical basis of the woman suffrage movement, blazing a trail many feared to follow.
The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world…wherever we turn, the history of woman is sad and dark, without any alleviating circumstances, nothing from which we can draw consolation.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, “Declaration of Sentiments.” In The First Convention Ever Called to Discuss the Civil and Political Rights of Women, Seneca Falls, N. Y., July 19, 20, 1848. Votes for Women: Selections from the National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection, 1848-1921. Rare Book & Special Collections Division
In advocating suffrage for women as a central point in her manifesto of woman’s rights, the “Declaration of Sentiments,” Stanton forged ahead of Quaker minister Lucretia Mott and other organizers of the Seneca Falls Convention of July 19 and July 20, 1848. As the suffragists gathered adherents to the cause, however, Stanton refused to limit her demands solely to the vote. She remained in the movement’s vanguard, arguing vigorously for a woman’s right to higher education, to a professional life, and to a legal identity that included the right to own property and to obtain a divorce.
Stanton’s verbal brilliance combined with the organizational ability and mental focus of her lifelong collaborator Susan B. Anthony made the two women a formidable resource to the early cause.
Miss Anthony…invariably gave Mrs. Stanton credit for all that was accomplished. She often said that Mrs. Stanton was the brains of the new association, while she herself was merely its hands and feet; but in truth the two women worked marvelously together, for Mrs. Stanton was a master of words and could write and speak to perfection of the things Susan B. Anthony saw and felt but could not herself express.
The Story of a Pioneer, by Anna Howard Shaw. New York, London: Harper & Brothers  p. 240. Pioneering the Upper Midwest: Books from Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, ca. 1820-1910
Although Stanton served as president of the “radical” National Woman Suffrage Association and its successor the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), she found it increasingly difficult to maintain her leadership role. Interestingly, her agenda was far more radical than that of many younger, more conservative feminists.
Stanton’s belief that organized religion subjugated women alienated some supporters. In The Woman’s Bible, she brought considerable notoriety upon herself by criticizing the treatment of women in the Old Testament.
She expressed her philosophy of the natural rights of woman in an address she delivered before the Committee of the Judiciary of the United States Congress at the venerable age of seventy-seven:
The strongest reason for giving woman all the opportunities for higher education, for the full development of her faculties…complete emancipation from all forms of bondage, of custom, dependence, superstition; from all the crippling influences of fear, is the solitude and personal responsibility of her own individual life…
To guide our own craft, we must be captain, pilot, engineer; with chart and compass to stand at the wheel; to match the wind and waves and know when to take in the sail, and to read the signs in the firmament over all. It matters not whether the solitary voyager is man or woman.
“Solitude of Self: address delivered by Mrs. Stanton before the Committee of the Judiciary of the United States Congress, Monday, January 18, 1892. [Washington, D.C.: G.P.O., 1915]. Votes for Women: Selections from the National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection, 1848-1921. Rare Book & Special Collections Division
Elizabeth Cady was educated at Johnstown Academy, where she was the only girl in the higher classes studying Latin, Greek, and mathematics. Barred from obtaining a college degree because of her gender, she continued her studies at Emma Willard’s academy, where she discovered natural rights philosophy. She read law with her father, Judge Daniel Cady, but was not admitted to the New York Bar because women were excluded. Her legal and philosophical studies and her own experiences convinced her of the discriminatory nature of the laws regarding women, and she resolved to work for the reform of those laws.
In 1840, Cady married anti-slavery activist Henry Stanton, refusing to use the word “obey” in the ceremony. The mother of seven children, she lectured on the subjects of family life and child rearing, abolition, temperance, and women’s rights until her death at the age of eighty-seven. Her daughter Harriot Stanton Blatch followed in her footsteps to continue the fight for women’s rights.
Mrs. Stanton was the most brilliant conversationalist I have ever known…Most of the conversation…was contributed by Mrs. Stanton and Miss Anthony, while the rest of us sat…at their feet…Mrs. Stanton…was rarely accurate in giving figures or dates, while Miss Anthony was always very exact in such matters. She frequently corrected Mrs. Stanton’s statements, and Mrs. Stanton usually took the interruption in the best possible spirit…On one occasion I recall, however, she held fast to her opinion that she was right…
“No, Susan,” she insisted, “you’re wrong for once. I remember perfectly when that happened, for it was at the time I was beginning to wean Harriet.” Aunt Susan, though somewhat staggered by the force of this testimony, still maintained that Mrs. Stanton must be mistaken, whereupon the latter repeated, in exasperation, “I tell you it happened when I was weaning Harriet…What event have you got to reckon from?” Miss Anthony meekly subsided.
The Story of a Pioneer, by Anna Howard Shaw. New York, London: Harper & Brothers . pp. 240+. Pioneering the Upper Midwest: Books from Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, ca. 1820-1910
Elizabeth Cady Stanton died October 26, 1902, before the Woman’s Suffrage Amendment was passed by Congress in 1919. Her papers were donated to the Library of Congress’ Manuscript Division.
- Search the collection Votes for Women: Selections from the National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection, 1848-1921 on the name Elizabeth Cady Stanton to find a wealth of documents drafted by Stanton in support of women’s rights.
- Browse the collection Votes for Women– The Struggle for Women’s Suffrage: Selected Images from the Collections of the Library of Congress for additional photographs of famous suffragists.
- Additional online collections documenting the woman suffrage campaign include the following:
- American Women: A Gateway to Library of Congress Resources for the Study of Women’s History and Culture in the United States is simultaneously a guide, an online magnet for digitized women’s history materials drawn from a plethora of Library sources, and a gateway. One section of the guide describes the Women’s Suffrage collections held by the Manuscript Division.
- Search the collection Words and Deeds in American History: Selected Documents Celebrating the Manuscript Division’s First 100 Years on Stanton to view the draft manuscript of The Woman’s Bible.
- Search Today in History on women’s rights to access features on the Seneca Falls Convention and individual feminist activists, including Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony, and Alice Paul.
- The Teachers Page offers teachers Lesson Plans and Collection Connections designed for use with Votes for Women: Selections from the National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection, 1848-1921.