Elizabeth Cady Stanton's Philosophy of Social Justice in Education

By Beaubien, Brigid; Tonso, Karen L. | Advancing Women in Leadership, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Elizabeth Cady Stanton's Philosophy of Social Justice in Education


Beaubien, Brigid, Tonso, Karen L., Advancing Women in Leadership


Historical discussions of social justice in education and its impact on society tend to focus on Brown v. The Board of Education (1954), as an antidote to Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), which enshrined the infamous "separate but equal" dictum for racially segregated schools. One person rarely considered in the discussion, yet critical because of her enormous public influence in her day, is Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Most know Cady Stanton as a founder of the Women's Movement in America , and as an advocate for women. However, Cady Stanton also provided a well-documented, systematically developed theory on social justice in education. This surprised us, since her work received enormous scrutiny when feminists of the 1960s and 1970s worked to unearth forgotten women. Believing that advancing women's place in educational thought requires understanding the contributions of women to educational thought, we set out to understand Cady Stanton's philosophy of social justice in education.

This article begins with a brief introduction to Elizabeth Cady Stanton (Griffith, 1984; Ward & Burns, 1999) and examines her philosophy of social justice in education. Then, the article turns to contemporary implications of her writings, especially the philosophical ideals of equal educational opportunity and social justice to: 1) examine how her views of equal educational opportunity fit in relation to contemporary thought regarding social justice, and 2) investigate the forms of oppression that interested her and guided her work relative to educational opportunity for women. In the final section, a case is made to add Cady Stanton to the growing list of women who historically contributed to philosophy of education.

A two-step research process proved an especially effective approach to examining Cady Stanton's ideas, as represented in her published works (Holland & Gordon, 1991). In the first step, patterned on historical research, each piece of her published writing from 1855-1902 was screened for its relevance to research interests in early childhood education and social justice in education, the topic of this paper. From a comprehensive table indicating central conceptual issues for each area of interest, the most relevant writings were analyzed using an ethnomethodology patterned after Spradley (1980). A comprehensive list of those items analyzed in a fine-grained fashion is included in Beaubien, 2003. Here, semantic domain analysis-a way of following patterns of sameness in qualitative data; taxonomic analysis-a way of organizing within and between domains; and componential analysis-a way of developing patterns of contrast across domains-underpinned the work. Preliminary taxonomies, outlines or webs of meaning drawn from Cady Stanton's writings, preserved her way of thinking about issues and provided a starting point for a constant-comparison approach (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) through which reading less relevant writings (which had not been analyzed) refined findings. Using this approach preserved ideas in Cady Stanton's own voice, which made it possible to liberally quote from her writings. Thus, trustworthiness was built into the process via referential adequacy, holding some data to the side and using it to check findings derived from other data, and by triangulating across different pieces of data (Lincoln & Guba, 1985).

Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Elizabeth Cady Stanton was the often-unknown political partner of Susan B. Anthony, famous women suffragette. Born in 1815 and raised in a family that endowed her with unprecedented access to informal and formal education, she possessed both the desire to seek knowledge and abundant practice in forming and debating her own ideas and thoughts. Cady Stanton held a unique position for men and women in that time, learning-among other things-logic, physiology, and the law. Throughout her childhood Cady Stanton was encouraged to think for herself, to form her own opinions, and to articulate them clearly. …

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