Women Public Speakers in the United States, 1800-1925: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook

By Karlyn Kohrs Campbell | Go to book overview

ELIZABETH CADY STANTON
(1815-1902). woman's rights philosopher, speaker, and writer

KARLYN KOHRS CAMPBELL

Elizabeth Cady Stanton was one of the great public advocates of the nineteenth century, but she remains a controversial figure for several reasons. First, she espoused positions that were radical for her time, some of which, such as anticlericalism, have remained controversial. Moreover, she distanced herself from woman's rights organizations for much of her life, first because she was burdened with many young children and later because she preferred to take the case for woman's rights to the public in lectures. However, throughout her life she remained the movement's preeminent public spokeswoman. Finally, she is sometimes damned by contemporary feminist scholars because, despite strong support for the abolition of slavery, in the aftermath of struggles over the wording of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments, which excluded women, she espoused ethnocentric and elitist positions. Yet she identified with the plight of slave women in advocating abolition, launched what became the social movement for woman's rights including woman suffrage, and was the early movement's preeminent philosopher and rhetorician.

Because her parents were landed gentry and her father a judge, Elizabeth Cady had opportunities available to few women of her time. She was the only girl to graduate from the Johnstown, New York, high school, and, although barred from higher education by her sex, for two years she attended Troy Female Seminary, a finishing school with a somewhat enlarged curriculum. (See EMMA HART WILLARD.) A clergyman neighbor tutored her in Greek, and by her own report, she read some law in her father's office. However, she was largely self-educated, and she was a voracious reader throughout her life.

Because she fulfilled traditional expectations for women of her time, she was a more credible woman's rights advocate. In 1840, she married Henry Brewster Stanton and traveled with him to London where she met LUCRETIA COFFIN MOTT and observed the refusal of the World's Anti-Slavery Society to seat women delegates ( Tilton, 1868:344). The Stantons were the parents of seven children. Despite family responsibilities, which were unusually onerous for her because her husband was often absent on business for months at a time, she became an active reformer. In addition to being the moving force behind the first woman's rights convention in 1848 at Seneca Falls, New York, she was a founder and president of the New York Woman's Temperance Society, 1851- 1853, a founder and president of the AERA, 1867-1869, a founder and president of NWSA, 1869-1890, and president of the merged NAWSA, 1890-1892. In 1866, she became the first woman to run for the U.S. Congress (from the Eighth District of New York), exploiting the inconsistency that prohibited women from voting but not from running for office ("To the Electors of the Eight Congres

-76-

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