Monday, November 12, 2012

Elizabeth Cady Stanton

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal.

—Declaration of Sentiments, Seneca Falls Convention, 1848    

Born this day in 1815: Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815–1902), founder of the women’s rights movement in the United States. 

Elizabeth Cady received about the best education offered to women at the time—both at home and by attending Johnstown Academy and Emma Willard’s Troy Female Seminary. She learned in detail about the discrimination against women embedded in U.S. law while studying law books in the office of her father, Judge Daniel Cady.  
In 1840 she married Henry Brewster Stanton (with whom she would have seven children), striking the word obey from her wedding vows. The newlywed’s honeymoon was a trip to London to attend the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention. The convention’s refusal to seat the female delegation convinced Stanton that women must claim their equal rights.
Stanton began speaking and lobbying for women’s rights. In 1848 she and Lucretia Mott issued a call for a women’s rights convention. It was held on July 19–20, 1848, in Seneca Falls, New York. Stanton wrote a Declaration of Sentiments, modeled on the Declaration of Independence, for the convention. Stanton insisted on demanding suffrage for women, a radical notion even among feminists. The Seneca Falls Convention launched the women’s movement in the United States. 
In 1851 she met Susan B. Anthony, and they embarked on a lifelong collaboration to secure equal rights for women. They formed the National Woman Suffrage Association, and Stanton served as its first president.
Stanton was a driving force behind the quest for suffrage, but her quest for women’s rights were all-encompassing. Her causes ranged from married women’s property rights and rights to their own wages to custody and divorce rights to the right to ride a bicycle. She even rewrote the Bible.

She was a powerful speaker and writer. In addition to the Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments, Stanton drafted the Declaration of Rights of the Women of the United States. It was presented by the National Woman Suffrage Association on the nation’s centennial (July 4th, 1876). She, along with Anthony and Matilda Joslyn Gage, crashed the centennial celebration at Independence Hall and presented the declaration to the acting vice-president. It reads in part:
The history of our country the past hundred years, has been a series of assumptions and usurpations of power over woman, in direct opposition to the principles of just government, acknowledged by the United States at its foundation, which are:
First. The natural rights of each individual.
Second. The exact equality of these rights.
Third. That these rights, when not delegated by the individual, are retained by the individual.
Fourth. That no person can exercise the rights of others without delegated authority.
Fifth. That the non-use ofthese rights does not destroy them.

The declaration goes on to list articles of impeachment against the government, much like the Declaration of Independence did 100 years before it. Stanton invoked the words of Abigail Adams (the standard-bearer and inspiration for Femilouge):
To all these wrongs and oppressions woman has not submitted in silence and resignation. From the beginning of the century, when Abigail Adams, the wife of one President and the mother of another, said, “we will not hold ourselves bound to obey laws in which wehave no voice or representation,” until now, woman’s discontent has been steadily increasing, culminating nearly thirty years ago in a simultaneous movement among the women of the nation, demanding the right of suffrage. In making our just demands, a higher motive than the pride of sex inspires us; we feel that national safety and stability depend on the complete recognition of the broad principles of our government.

In a speech delivered on her 80th birthday, well over 100 years ago,  Stanton said words that one could well speak today:

The question is no longer the sphere of a whole sex but of each individual. Women are now in the trades and professions, everywhere in the world of work. They have shown their capacity as students in the sciences, their skill as mariners before the mast, their courage as rescuers in lifeboats. They are close on the heels of man in the arts, sciences and literature; in their knowledge and understanding of the vital questions of the hour, and in the every day practical duties of life. Like man, woman’s sphere is in the whole universe of matter and mind, to do whatever she can…”

For more, visit the Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Papers Project.

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