Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Author: Caroline Schaeffer

Grade Level: Fourth/Fifth

Related Topics: Women's Rights (Suffrage), Discrimination

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Elizabeth Cady Stanton was born on November 12, 1815 in Johnstown, New York. She had four sisters. The Cady's also had three boys who died before Elizabeth was born. Her father was Judge Cady, and Elizabeth loved going in and sitting in the corner of his office, while his clients talked about their problems. She often got angry, especially when women came in, because her father never seemed to be able to help them. When Elizabeth was eleven years old, her only living brother, who was nine years older than she, died. Her father was very distraught, so Elizabeth, wanting to comfort him, went over to sit on his lap. Her father just sighed and said, "I wish you were a boy." She knew that she could never be a boy, so she decided to become just as good as a boy. She got the preacher next door to give her Greek lessons, she learned to jump her horse over four foot fences, she was put into the highest math and language class at Johnstown Academy, and finally she won a prize for Greek when she was sixteen years old. Instead of being pleased, her father was sad that she had not been born a boy. She was disappointed, but didn't let it keep her down long. She spent two years at Emma Willard's Female Seminary in Troy, and even though she learned much, she was glad when the time was over.

Elizabeth had many friends who were abolitionists, and she enjoyed spending time with them. While at the house of Gerritt Smith in 1839, she met Henry Stanton, a strong abolitionist, who hoped to go into politics. They fell in love and were soon engaged, but her fathers opposition broke up the engagement for a time. They continued to write, and in the spring of 1840, Henry told her that he had been elected as a delegate to the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London. If they got married now, she could go to London and have Henry at the same time. If not, it would be another eight months until he got back. They decided to elope. During the ceremony she told the minister that they would be equal partners and she would not promise to "obey" him.

Immediately after Elizabeth's marriage to Henry, they sailed to London. While there, Elizabeth grew fond of Lucretia Mott, a delegate from Philadelphia. Lucretia was a Quaker and was used to other Quakers treating her as an equal to men. She was twenty-two- years older that Elizabeth and lectured on abolition. Most often her lectures were to women, but sometimes they were to combined audiences.
When Elizabeth and the others arrived in England they were told that the women would not be able to sit with the men as regular delegates. Although Elizabeth was not a delegate, she was very angry. She decided to speak her mind at the boarding house, along with Lucretia Mott and the other American women. Most of the American delegates, both men and women, protested women not being able to sit with the regular delegates, but it didn't do any good. One man was so furious, he went and sat behind the curtain with the women.

Henry was not happy with this outward display of Elizabeth's, and later when the vote came, he voted against women being seated with the regular delegates. He felt it would undermine the effectiveness of the group as a whole. He was also not in favor of Elizabeth's view on women voting.

Elizabeth was a wonderful mother and housekeeper, despite her views on women rights. She raised seven children while following her husband from Boston to upstate New York with his political career. Every time a new child was born, she would raise a colored flag in front of their house. She did not begin to complain until she could not find a reliable babysitter or housekeeper. She eventually began to get fed up with the drudgery and the condition of her life and the limitations that were placed on her.
She felt confined and restricted by the worlds views toward women. At the time of the American Revolution, only white males who were over twenty-one and who owned property were allowed to vote. As the years progressed, attitudes about women became more and more restrictive. They were only allowed certain privileges, and had certain roles they were supposed to carry out. One such role included staying home to take care of their children, their husband, and their house. This was supposedly God ordained, and the clergymen were some of the most violent opposers to the rights and freedoms of women.

The start of Elizabeth's meetings to fight for womens'' rights came in the summer of 1848. She was invited to meet in Waterloo, New York with four other women, all of whom were Quakers and involved with the antislavery cause or the temperance movement.

Elizabeth was upset by the way women were treated in general, and at this meeting discussed a few of her grievances. A husband was legally allowed to beat his wife, but she was not allowed to divorce him. When a woman got married, all of her property, including her children, automatically became her husbands property. While at the meeting these women decided to hold a Woman's Rights Convention five days later, on July 19 and 20. They drew up a declaration of woman's rights and modeled it after the Declaration of Independence. The list of their grievances included such things as: A married woman was treated as if she were civilly dead. She had no right to property, even to the wages she earned. The divorce laws ignored the happiness of women. Only men had the power to divorce. A single woman who owned property was taxed, but, since she couldn't vote, this was taxation without representation. If a woman wanted to work, she had little choice of what she could do, and she wouldn't get much pay. Women were denied an equal education. Last of all, Elizabeth wanted women to have the right to vote. This last demand was a radical one, even for the other women at the meeting. They tried to talk her out of it, but she would not back down on her conviction.

Many people attended the meeting in Seneca Falls, and on the second day, when they had a vote on each item in the declaration, the only one that was opposed, was the one for women to vote. After Frederick Douglas, an ex-abolitionist, spoke to them about it, they even agreed on that one. Sixty eight women and thirty two men signed a petition in support of the declaration.

It took a long time for Elizabeth to become a leader in the women's rights movement, but once she did, she never backed down, even with opposition pouring in from all sides. People were outraged at these women and the views they were taking. Women were seen as secondary and inferior, without the ability to think logically, especially in the political arena. The fact that they would even consider they had the right to vote, let alone demand equal rights, was outrageous.

Elizabeth met Susan B. Anthony in 1851 and they became close friends and partners in the fight for womens' rights. Elizabeth, with her dynamic personality and strong speaking ability, was the brains, the public figure in this partnership. Susan was a natural administrator and always encouraged Elizabeth to write more speeches. Susan was single and had more time to devote to traveling and public speaking. She would often help take care of Elizabeth's children while she worked on her ideas and wrote speeches for Susan to deliver. Elizabeth would also go to conventions and deliver speeches whenever she was able to. This was sometimes difficult during her early years because of family responsibilities. "I forged the thunderbolts and she fires them," is a famous quote written by Elizabeth about their friendship.

Elizabeth was president of the National American Women's Suffrage Association from 1869 until 1892. During the Civil War she spent much time circulating and signing petitions for emancipation. She finally concluded that the only way to gain womens' suffrage would be to gain a constitutional amendment that would state that the sex of a person would not be a deterrent in voting. Even with this view she continued speaking all over the country about every other issue related to women, but she always brought it back to voting.

Even though Elizabeth was not alive to see womens' suffrage come about, she was the stone that got things rolling, and she made sure there were other people around to keep things going. Every time she or Susan or others gave a speech they were recruiting younger women into their membership. These women were less broad minded and they wanted to vote.

In one of Elizabeth's later speeches, "The Solitude of Self," given in 1892, she stated that every individual, male or female, stands alone. One must be responsible for one's own actions, accept consequences, create a moral life, and take a stand or not.

"You Want Women to Vote, Lizzie Stanton?" by Jean Fritz. Copyright 1995. G.P. Putnam's Sons; 200 Madison Ave, NY, NY 10016.

World Wide Web page: The colorful and political life and career of Elizabeth Cady Stanton: An interview with Elizabeth Griffith. WWICS: News/Meeting Report. Available:


Time Allotment: 6-7 days

Resources needed: Information on E. Stanton, guest speaker


1. Participation in group discussions and service project.
2. Completion of questionaire and participation in compiling the information.
3. Story written describing what life would be like if no one had fought for women's rights.
4. Paper describing the contributions of Elizabeth Stanton.