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Elizabeth Cady Stanton (November 12, 1815 – October 26, 1902) was an American suffragist, social activist, abolitionist, and leading figure of the early women's rights movement. Her Declaration of Sentiments, presented at the Seneca Falls Convention held in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York, is often credited with initiating the first organized women's rights and women's suffrage movements in the United States. Stanton was president of the National Woman Suffrage Association from 1892 until 1900.
Before Stanton narrowed her political focus almost exclusively to women's rights, she was an active abolitionist with her husband Henry Brewster Stanton (co-founder of the Republican Party) and cousin Gerrit Smith. Unlike many of those involved in the women's rights movement, Stanton addressed various issues pertaining to women beyond voting rights. Her concerns included women's parental and custody rights, property rights, employment and income rights, divorce, the economic health of the family, and birth control. She was also an outspoken supporter of the 19th-century temperance movement.
After the American Civil War, Stanton's commitment to female suffrage caused a schism in the women's rights movement when she, together with Susan B. Anthony, declined to support passage of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. She opposed giving added legal protection and voting rights to African American men while women, black and white, were denied those same rights. Her position on this issue, together with her thoughts on organized Christianity and women's issues beyond voting rights, led to the formation of two separate women's rights organizations that were finally rejoined, with Stanton as president of the joint organization, about twenty years after her break from the original women's suffrage movement.
Stanton died in 1902, having written both The Woman's Bible and her autobiography Eighty Years and More, and many other articles and pamphlets about female suffrage and women's rights.
Prior to living in Seneca Falls, Stanton had become an admirer and friend of Lucretia Mott, the Quaker minister, feminist, and abolitionist whom she had met at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London, England in the spring of 1840 while on her honeymoon. The two women became allies when the male delegates attending the convention voted that women should be denied participation in the proceedings, even if they, like Mott, had been nominated to serve as official delegates of their respective abolitionist societies. After considerable debate, the women were required to sit in a roped-off section hidden from the view of the men in attendance. They were soon joined by the prominent abolitionist, William Lloyd Garrison, who arrived after the vote had been taken and, in protest of the outcome, refused his seat, electing instead to sit with the women.
Mott's example and the decision to prohibit women from participating in the convention strengthened Stanton's commitment to women's rights. By 1848, her early life experiences, together with the experience in London and her initially debilitating experience as a housewife in Seneca Falls, galvanized Stanton.
In 1848, acting on these feelings and perceptions, Stanton joined Mott, Mott's sister Martha Coffin Wright, Jane Hunt and a handful of other women in Seneca Falls. Together they organized the Seneca Falls Convention held in Seneca Falls on July 19 and 20. Over 300 people attended. Stanton drafted a Declaration of Sentiments, which she read at the convention. Modeled on the United States Declaration of Independence, Stanton's declaration proclaimed that men and women are created equal. She proposed, among other things, a then-controversial resolution demanding voting rights for women. The final resolutions, including female suffrage, were passed, in no small measure, because of the support of Frederick Douglass, who attended and informally spoke at the convention.
Soon after the convention, Stanton was invited to speak at the second women's rights convention, the Rochester Convention of 1848, in Rochester, New York, solidifying her role as an activist and reformer. Paulina Kellogg Wright Davis invited her to speak at the first National Women's Rights Convention in 1850, but because of pregnancy, Stanton chose instead to lend her name to the list of sponsors and send a speech to be read in her stead. In 1851, Stanton was introduced to Susan B. Anthony on a street in Seneca Falls by Amelia Bloomer, a feminist and mutual acquaintance who had not signed the Declaration of Sentiments and subsequent resolutions despite her attendance at the Seneca Falls convention.
Although best known for their joint work on behalf of women's suffrage, Stanton and Anthony first joined the temperance movement. Together, they were instrumental in founding the short-lived Woman's State Temperance Society (1852–1853). During her presidency of the organization, Stanton scandalized many supporters by suggesting that drunkenness be made sufficient cause for divorce. But the relationship between the women's suffrage movement and the temperance movement was hardly accidental. The two movements had common interests, with women's suffrage filling the role of cause and prohibition becoming the effect. Later, in state after state, once women gained the right to vote, they could press for various political measures to reduce drunkenness, perceived to be largely a problem involving the male sex. Thus the two movement became frequently allied.
Stanton and Anthony's focus, however, soon shifted to female suffrage and women's rights, activities which inexorably brought them into acquaintance with Alice Cary and Phoebe Cary; for a short time Phoebe Cary served as editor of Anthony's newspaper, Revolution.
Single and having no children, Anthony had the time and energy to do the speaking and traveling that Stanton was unable to do. Their skills complemented each other; Stanton, the better orator and writer, scripted many of Anthony's speeches, while Anthony was the movement's organizer and tactician. Stanton once wrote to Anthony, "No power in heaven, hell or earth can separate us, for our hearts are eternally wedded together." Likewise, when writing a tribute that appeared in The New York Times when Stanton died, Anthony described Stanton as having "forged the thunderbolts" that she (Anthony) "fired." Unlike Anthony's relatively narrow focus on suffrage, Stanton wanted to push for a broader platform of women's rights in general. While their opposing viewpoints led to some discussion and conflict, no disagreement threatened their friendship or working relationship; the two women remained close friends and colleagues until Stanton's death some 50 years after their initial meeting. While always recognized as movement leaders whose support was sought, Stanton and Anthony's voices were soon joined by others who began assuming leadership positions within the movement. These women included, among others, Matilda Joslyn Gage.
Stanton died of heart failure at her home in New York City on October 26, 1902, 18 years before women were granted the right to vote in the United States. She was interred in Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York City, the grave upon which there is a monument for her and her husband. Although Elizabeth Cady Stanton had been unable to attend a formal college or university, her daughters did. Margaret Livingston Stanton Lawrence attended Vassar College (1876) and Columbia University (1891), and Harriot Stanton Blatch received both her undergraduate and graduate degrees from Vassar College in 1878 and 1891 respectively.