In Her Own Right: The Life of Elizabeth Cady Stanton

By Elisabeth Griffith | Go to book overview

8
Revolution and Schism
1865-70

For Elizabeth Cady Stanton and advocates of women's rights, Reconstruction would be more divisive and destructive than the Civil War. The fight over postwar reconstruction policy began before Lee had surrendered or Lincoln had been shot. It inflamed the summer of 1865. Its outcome would determine the future of the women's movement in America.

In the five years following the Civil War feminists found themselves pitted against the Republican majority in Congress, against their longtime allies in antislavery, and against the former slaves they had worked to free. The women were defeated in every encounter. By insisting on primacy for women's rights and parity for female suffrage, Stanton and her associates angered everybody. Having failed to promote suffrage in coalition efforts, Stanton and Anthony finally formed a separate organization, the National Woman Suffrage Association. But because of Stanton's radical rhetoric and her wide-ranging demands, conservative feminists formed a rival group, the American Woman Suffrage Association. This division lasted twenty years and diminished the impact of feminists in the Gilded Age.

During the postwar period Elizabeth Cady Stanton was engaged in the public arena. Fifty years old in 1865, she was more active and controversial than at any other time in her life. Even before the end of the war she had traveled independently as an abolitionist speaker, addressed the New York legislature on married women's property rights and divorce, established the National Woman's Loyal League, and organized the largest petition drive to date in support of the Thirteenth Amendment to end slavery. After the war she reconvened the annual women's rights conventions; started four organizations (the American Equal Rights Association, the

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