Elizabeth Cady Stanton, one of the most influential leaders of the Nineteenth Century Feminist movement, was one of the most famous women of her day and a seemingly tireless force in reform. Her very beginnings
as a young girl growing up in Johnstown, New York contributed to this endless sense of determination. Fortunate to be born into an affluent political family, her horizons were forever broadened by the vast amount of subjects she was able to study independently in her family’s home and at a women’s seminary. Furthermore, her encounters with fugitive slaves and the Quaker movement forever changed her life. Even after her marriage to abolitionist Henry Stanton, and raising 7 children, she was still very much involved in the fight for the rights of not only women, but of slaves and of the poor. Her meeting with fellow suffragette Susan B. Anthony sealed her fate, and the two women became the best of friends and worked together closely for the next 50 years.
The history of our country has, in part, been one of struggle to achieve justice and rights for all Americans. Stanton worked along with her fellow suffragettes to obtain justice and rights for women, not only in public life, but within the home is well. Interestingly enough, Stanton not only strove for equality for her gender but for the ending of slavery as well. Upon further reading, I found that many of the sympathetic abolitionists in Stanton’s day, were strangely enough, quite ignorant of the same injustices that women faced. Stanton wrote in her autobiography, “Eighty Years and More,” “It struck me as very remarkable that abolitionists, who felt so keenly the wrongs of the slave, should be so oblivious to the equal wrongs of their own mothers, wives, and sisters, when, according to the common law, both classes occupied a similar legal status.”
These ‘wrongs’ covered more than not being allowed to vote. Women were limited in many aspects of their lives, including . They were not allowed to hold property in their name, obtain a divorce, could neither buy nor sell, no right to their own earnings, make contracts or own anything, and had no right to even their own children. In her writings and speeches, she even went as far as to compare the plight of the ‘Negro’ with that of the ‘woman” in her Address to the New York State Legislature in 1860. What interested me immensely is that Stanton pointed to the Bible as the primary source of the many injustices that her gender and African Americans faced. Ms. Stanton held that suffrage for women would be pointless if religion still controlled their sex in the home and in society. She wrote,
“When women understand that governments and religions are human inventions; that bibles, prayer-books, catechisms, and encyclical letters are all emanations from the brains of man, they will no longer be oppressed by the injunctions that come to them with the divine authority of ‘Thus sayeth the Lord.’”
Stanton found the Bible so archaic and irrelative to her time, that she and a group of other women went to the point of writing her own Bible, “The Woman’s Bible,” which of course, had the effect of starting a great controversy of sorts among her own supporters. She stated that both Paul and Jesus Christ, two of the main figures of the New Testament were both celibate and unmarried, and “condemned marriage by both precept and example.”
Another aspect of Stanton’s views that piqued my interest and was is her implication that the ‘white male’ has been overburdened or more specifically, over ‘granted’ too many rights. I agree with her in the aspect that man should not be able to determine the fates of anyone but themselves. She also held true that woman as a gender had never asked or begged of man to represent them and hold control over their lives, and that women were indeed self-supplicant and could show evidence of such if given a chance.
Though Stanton worked a very ‘behind the scenes role’ she was able to still play a vital role in the women’s rights movement, and penned many of the documents and writings that Anthony delivered. Stanton, along with others, was able to bring to fruition the first woman’s rights convention in the United States, co-authored the Declaration of Rights of the Women of the United States, but unfortunately, never lived to see her life’s mission fully achieved. The woman’s right to vote was instituted into this country’s constitution some 10 – 20 odd years after she passed away. However, her efforts were not in vain, and she is still seen as one of the most influential people in the long and weary road towards equal rights for women not0. only in the United States, but also all over the world.