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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 465

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This is the grave of Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Born in 1815 in Johnstown, New York, Stanton’s father was a leading attorney and Federalist who served a term in Congress in the mid-1810s and then became a judge, rising to the New York Supreme Court by the 1840s. He encouraged his daughters to become educated and involved in politics; Elizabeth would read his law books and debate his clerks. She was however mostly raised by her older sister, as most of her siblings died very young, her mother went into a deep depression, and her father poured his grief (over his dead children and that the survivors were mostly girls; he openly told Elizabeth he wished she was a boy) into his work. Moreover, she was partially raised by a slave. People forget that slavery was legal in New York until 1827 and many wealthy families held them until the last possible moment.

Cady went to Troy Female Seminary, chafing against the educational limitations for women in society. There, she heard Charles Grandison Finney preach in the early days of the Second Great Awakening. She nearly went all-in on the evangelical movement of the day that produced much of modern American religion, but her family saw this and rescued her, taking her on a vacation to Niagara Falls. This cured her and she was skeptical of religion for the rest of her life.

However, Stanton was deeply involved with the political movements that also came out of those religious revivals–temperance and abolition mostly. Through this, she met a young attorney and abolitionist named Henry Stanton. They married in 1840 and had seven children by 1859. She was happy to marry and take her husband’s last name, but she would not promise to obey her husband in the traditional marriage ceremony and they changed the language to fit this progressive couple. However, her husband, like her father, was outraged at the idea of women suffrage. Given how all-consuming this cause was about to become to Stanton, this caused tremendous tension in the marriage, though they largely considered theirs a happy one.

In 1847, the couple left Boston, where Henry Stanton was working as an attorney, to Seneca Falls, New York, because of his poor health. Not sure how a town on the Erie Canal was supposed to be more healthful, but hey, it was the 1840s. However, Elizabeth felt isolated. Living on a small farm on the outskirts of town and now deprived of the significant intellectual companionship from radicals such as the Grimk√© sisters that she knew from Boston, she become a bit depressed. But she invited the leading reformers working on women’s suffrage to her town for the foundational convention of women’s rights in 1848. Stanton wrote the Declaration of Sentiments that asserted equal rights for women at the Seneca Falls Convention. She became the most known person in that movement by the early 1850s, traveling around the North and promoting the cause, as well as many others, including temperance. It was actually working on temperance in the 1850s that Stanton and Susan B. Anthony got to know each other and become friends. But even on this, Stanton articulated a strong feminism, angering many other temperance activists by saying that drunkenness should become a legal cause for divorce.

By the mid-1850s, Stanton and Anthony were a team. Stanton’s travel was limited because of all her children. Anthony was unmarried and did not want children. Stanton was the better writer and Anthony the better speaker. So Stanton wrote Anthony’s speeches that the latter gave as traveled across the North fighting for women’s rights. They continued their partnership for as long as they both could work. They remained deeply committed to the cause. Stanton did travel some and in 1868, spoke at the Women’s Suffrage Convention in Washington, D.C. There, she lobbied for a Sixteenth Amendment, one that extended the vote to women. In her speech, she railed against the male-dominated world. The talk ended thus:

With violence and disturbance in the natural world, we see a constant effort to maintain an equilibrium of forces. Nature, like a loving mother, is ever trying to keep land and sea, mountain and valley, each in its place, to hush the angry winds and waves, balance the extremes of heat and cold, of rain and drought, that peace, harmony, and beauty may reign supreme. There is a striking analogy between matter and mind, and the present disorganization of society warns us that in the dethronement of woman we have let loose the elements of violence and ruin that she only has the power to curb. If the civilization of the age calls for an extension of the suffrage, surely a government of the most virtuous educated men and women would better represent the whole and protect the interests of all than could the representation of either sex alone.

Unfortunately, her anger over the suffrage being extended to black men in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendment soon divided her from her own allies in the abolitionist movement, as she and Anthony moved toward a defense of women’s suffrage using open racism, contrasting uneducated black former slaves getting the vote with well-educated white women not having it. She started saying things such as, “a serious question whether we had better stand aside and see Sambo walk into the kingdom [of civil rights] first.” Yikes. It’s not as if Stanton didn’t have allies here; Thaddeus Stevens certainly believed that women should have the right to vote, if Frederick Douglass was a little wishy-washy on it. But the class and racial biases as she moved toward focusing on educated white women contrasted with uneducated black men was pretty awful.

In 1869, the divides in the suffrage movement engendered by the Fifteenth Amendment led to its divide. Stanton and Anthony started the National Women Suffrage Association that year. Stanton would remain president of it until 1890. It’s first big position was opposing the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment until it included women, a position which many other women suffrage advocates such as Lucy Stone could not abide. Yet Sojourner Truth did unite with Stanton and Anthony on this.

When the Fifteenth Amendment did pass, Stanton began articulately the position that in fact the Fourteenth Amendment already gave women the right to vote and needed to be interpreted that way. In her later years, Stanton also began to write publicly against Christianity, arguing that it was religion that kept women in a secondary place and that even her fellow suffragists were too tame because of their evangelical backgrounds that reinforced women’s secondary role in society and family. She wrote The Women’s Bible as a rejection of Christianity, which was a pretty radical position for that time. She began advocating for women to have property rights within marriage, divorce rights, and rights on the job. Moreover, despite her resorting to white supremacy to argue for women’s suffrage, she was one of the few reformers to publicly support Frederick Douglass’ marriage to a white woman after his first wife died, doing this over Anthony’s objections. She fought for statewide votes on women’s suffrage and did see some wins, first in the West and then in New York, with a bill to grant women property rights in marriage. She ran for Congress herself in 1866 and in 1878, got Aaron Sargent, a senator for California, to introduce a constitutional amendment for women’s suffrage.

Stanton remained active until the very end of her life. The causes were not always good–she was a huge supporter of the Spanish-American War for instance, evidently believing the yellow journalism of the time that conned the nation into war (sure am glad that journalism is so much better today….). She last testified before Congress in 1892, urging women’s rights on a skeptical committee. She died in 1902, at her home in New York City.

Elizabeth’s husband Henry, also buried here, is fairly interesting too. Not only was he involved in social causes his whole life, sometimes of course disagreeing with his wife, he served in the New York state senate for a term in the 1850s. He died of pneumonia in 1887 when Elizabeth was on a speaking tour in London.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, New York.

If you would like this series to visit other suffragists, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Matilda Electa Joslyn Gage, who worked very closely with Stanton and Anthony for years, is in Fayetteville, New York while Lucy Stone is in Boston. Previous posts in this series are archived here.


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