Elizabeth Cady Stanton was the best known and most conspicuous advocate of women's rights in the nineteenth century. For almost fifty years she led the first women's movement in America. She set its agenda, drafted its documents, and articulated its ideology. Her followers grew from a scattered network of local reform groups into a national constituency of politically active women. Her statements and actions were recorded in the national press; her death in 1902 made international headlines. Newspapers called her "America's Grand Old Woman."
On November 12, 1895, six thousand people celebrated Stanton's eightieth birthday. The "Queen Mother" of American suffragists was enthroned on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House. As usual, her rotound form was swathed in yards of black silk. White lace set off her carefully coifed thick white curls and bright blue eyes. Though no longer pretty, Mrs. Stanton radiated humor and intelligence. Behind her on the stage, under a canopy of evergreens, red carnations spelled out her name in a field of white chrysanthemums; dozens of roses banked her red velvet chair. Nearly immobile from overweight and old age, Mrs. Stanton surveyed her domain with delight. She sat through three hours of tributes and ovations from representatives of national and international women's groups. Mormon women from the Utah Territory gave her an onyx and silver ballot box; much to Stanton's amusement, it could not be opened. Finally, with the help of her children and two canes, she hobbled to the podium to acknowledge her audience of admirers. Too weak to speak for long, she could only remark, "I am well aware that all these public demonstrations are not so much tributes to me as an individual as to the great idea I represent—the enfranchisement of women." 1 The hall exploded with cheers for the cause and the crusader.