Against the Tide: Women Reformers in American Society

By Paul A. Cimbala; Randall M. Miller | Go to book overview
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Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Woman's Rights Movement

ANN D. GORDON

Advocates of woman's rights in nineteenth-century America declared no new or special rights, but claimed rights that were acknowledged for men within the family and outside it in civic life. Exact legal parallels between men and women could not be drawn. The women's realization that their relationship to men was prescribed in both spheres--in the family circle and the political arena--drove woman's rights activists to explore new and multiple meanings of equality. They attacked men's arbitrary power in familiar language derived from the colonial protest against a king and in new language aimed at the patriarchal authority preserved in common law, customs, and cultural institutions.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton was the chief writer and intellectual of the woman's rights movement during the decade before the Civil War, when the new reform found its voice and revealed its objectives. After the war, her renown spread beyond reformers. On the national lecture circuit she commanded high fees and drew good audiences year after year. Editors sought her opinion not only about women but also about street cleaning, child rearing, and fashion. Her name became synonymous internationally with the cause of women's equality. Stanton also served as an officer of national associations representing the movement's interests, beginning with the Women's Loyal National League ( 1863-1864), rallying support to outlaw slavery; the American Equal Rights Association ( 1866-1869), advocating universal suffrage; and both the National Woman Suffrage Association ( 1869-1890) and its successor, the National American Woman Suffrage Association ( 1890-1892), pressing for federal protection of woman's right to vote. She presided over the founding meeting of the International Council of Women in 1888.

Historians usually reserve the term "woman's rights" for the antebellum phase of the nineteenth-century movement, replacing it after the war with the

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