In preparation for the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, it is appropriate to highlight Elizabeth Cady Stanton, one of the great leaders in the American women’s rights movement and who in 1848 helped organize the first Woman’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls, New York.
It was at this convention Stanton’s “The Declaration of Sentiments” expanded on the Declaration of Independence by adding the word “woman” or ‘women” throughout. This key document called for social and legal changes to elevate women’s place in society and listed 18 grievances from the inability to control their wages and property to lack of the right to vote. Eight members of the Montgomery County League of Women Voters of Montgomery County participated in a “Go See Seneca Falls” trip last summer, sat in the pews of the chapel where Stanton presented her Declaration of Sentiments, and were inspired by the wisdom, tenacity and skills of this remarkable suffrage leader.
Stanton was born Nov. 12, 1815, at Johnstown, New York. She received her formal education at the Johnstown Academy and at Emma Willard’s Troy Female Seminary in New York. She gained informal legal education by talking with her father, a noted lawyer and state assemblyman. Well-educated Stanton married abolitionist lecturer Henry Stanton in 1840. On their honeymoon in London to attend a World’s Anti-Slavery Convention, Elizabeth met Lucretia Mott. However, women were excluded from the proceedings, and Mott and Stanton vowed to call a women’s rights convention when they returned home. This resulted in the 1848 Convention in Seneca Falls. While continuing to work in efforts to gain property rights for married women and ending slavery, the women’s suffrage movement became Stanton’s top priority.
Stanton met Susan B. Anthony in 1851, and the two worked together preparing speeches, articles and books. Their partnership led the woman’s movement for over a half century. While Stanton was raising seven children, she often sent Anthony suffrage speeches to deliver. In 1862, the Stantons moved to New York where Elizabeth became involved in efforts with Anthony to advocate for the 13th Amendment, which ended slavery. After the Civil War, Stanton was able to travel more and she became one of the best-known women’s rights activists in the country presenting speeches addressing maternity, child rearing, divorce law, married women’s property rights, temperance, abolition and the presidential campaign.
A rift occurred among women suffragists when Stanton and Anthony opposed 14th and 15th amendments to US Constitution which gave voting rights to black men but did not extend rights to women. This led to Stanton and Anthony founding the National Woman Suffrage Association in 1868, but the two major women’s suffrage groups reunited in 1890 as the National American Woman’s Suffrage Association.
After turning 65, Stanton focused more on writing than traveling and lecturing, including writing three volumes of The History of Woman Suffrage (with Anthony and Matilda Gage) which documented individual and local activism that built and sustained the women’s suffrage movement.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton died in October 1902, 18 years before the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote was ratified. But our nation and all women are indebted to her insights, skills, and courageous efforts to assure rights for all Americans.
The League of Women Voters, open to men as well as women, is a nonpartisan, multi-Issue political organization which encourages informed and active participation in government. For information about the LWV, visit the website: www.lwvmontcoin.org or send a message to LWV, PO Box 101, Crawfordsville, IN 47933.