Remember the Ladies: Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (November 12, 1815 – October 26, 1902) was an American social activist, abolitionist, and leading figure of the early woman’s movement. Her Declaration of Sentiments, presented at the first women’s rights convention held in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York, is often credited with initiating the first organized woman’s rights and woman’s suffrage movements in the United States. [Wikipedia]

Stanton has never been as widely admired as her protegee Susan B. Anthony, for two reasons. The first is a justifiable accusation: Stanton was a snob and very probably a racist, who believed that only the educated citizenry should be allowed to vote and who used almost any argument she thought would work to sway an audience. Anthony, while she condoned such tactics as necessary political realities, made a clear distinction between her personal beliefs and political behavior. Stanton did not make such a distinction.

This criticism of Stanton is a recent one. Previously she was ignored not because she was hypocritical but because she was radical. What the militant feminist is today, Stanton was in her own time; she was considered outrageous, horrifying, monstrous, unwomanly, depraved, ridiculous, and practically untouchable. Yet it was she who was feminism’s most articulate proponent. and it was she who initiated reforms we take for granted today.

At her insistence, when she married abolitionist Henry Stanton, the word ‘obey’ was omitted from the ceremony. Their honeymoon journey was to the great World’s Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840. After the women delegates were denied seats at that convention, Stanton became convinced that women should hold a convention demanding their own rights. This decision was delayed until her move to Seneca Falls, where she was isolated and increasingly exhausted by a growing family. Finally in July, 1848, she met with Lucretia Mott and three other Quaker women in nearby Waterloo, New York. Together they issued the call for the first woman’s rights convention.

She would always support reforms long before they became popular. She urged laws which would allow married women to own property. She wanted divorce to be allowed on the same grounds for both men and women, and for a husband’s alcoholism or the loss of love to be considered grounds for divorce. Most terrifying of all, she dared to claim that religion helped to oppress women, and she issued The Woman’s Bible, a feminist commentary on all Biblical passages pertaining to women. Gradually, she was abandoned by almost everyone except Anthony, and she grew more and more bitter. Once, in a moment of irritation, she wrote to Anthony: “as anything from my pen is necessarily radical no one may wish to share with me the odium of what I may choose to say. If so, I am ready to stand alone. I never write to please any one.”

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