Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Grade Level: 
6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
Stanton forever changed the social and political landscape of the United States of America by succeeding in her work to guarantee rights for women and slaves. Her unwavering dedication to women's suffrage resulted in the 19th amendment to the Constitution, which granted women the right to vote.

Biographical Highlights

Elizabeth Cady Stanton forever changed the social and political landscape of the United States of America by succeeding in her work to guarantee rights for women and slaves.  Among the abolitionists, Stanton was one of many whose participation was limited because of her gender.  Among those fighting for women’s rights, she was a primary leader.  Though she was interested in women’s rights from many perspectives, Elizabeth realized that success hinged on women’s right to vote.  Stanton’s unwavering dedication to women’s suffrage resulted in the 19th amendment to the Constitution, which granted that right.

Historic Roots

Elizabeth Cady was born to a wealthy family on November 12, 1815, in Johnstown, New York.  One of the defining moments of Elizabeth’s life was the death of her brother, Eleazar, when she was eleven years old.  As Elizabeth sat on her grieving father’s lap, trying to comfort him shortly after Eleazer’s death, Daniel Stanton said, “My daughter, I wish you were a boy.”  Elizabeth replied, “I will try to be all my brother was.”  Though Elizabeth excelled in many areas, her father’s reaction was always the same, “I wish you were a boy” (PBS) (4).

During Elizabeth’s lifetime, the lives of men and women—their rights and responsibilities—were delineated.  “In the middle of the nineteenth century, women were, by custom, barred from the pulpit and the professions, prevented from attending college and those who dared speak in public were thought indecent.  By law, married women were prohibited from owning or inheriting property. In fact, wives were the property of their husbands, entitled by law to her wages and her body” (PBS) (4).  Elizabeth Cady Stanton was determined to expand women’s rights.

In the early 1830s, Elizabeth attended Troy Female Seminary, which offered the best education of the time to women.  In 1840, Elizabeth married Henry Brewster Stanton, an abolitionist.  When the family moved from Boston to the small town of Seneca Falls, New York, Elizabeth felt starved for intellectual companionship (PBS) (2) and was dissatisfied with the role assigned to women.  Ever progressive, she shocked the townspeople by raising a flag each time one of her seven children was born (PBS) (4). 

Elizabeth Cady Stanton met Susan B. Anthony in March 1851, starting a friendship and working relationship that survived 51 years (PBS) (2).  On occasion, Anthony, who never married, would work at Stanton’s home.  She cared for her five children so that Stanton could focus on her writing, one of her major contributions to women’s suffrage.  At eighty-six years old, Elizabeth Cady Stanton died of heart failure on October 26, 1902 (Ibid.). 


As a result of her intellectual drought after moving to Seneca Falls, New York, Stanton worked with Lucretia Mott, who was a Quaker.  Stanton also worked with three other women to organize the first women’s rights convention, which was held in Seneca Falls in July 1848.  For the convention, Stanton wrote a Declaration of Rights and Sentiments, which demanded social, political, and professional equality for women, including the right the vote—the most controversial resolution in the Declaration (Ibid.).  This was Stanton’s first significant effort in women’s rights.

In 1860, Stanton enjoyed a victory after working on the issue of married women’s rights.  The New York legislature enacted the Married Women’s Property Law of 1860, giving “married women the right to own property, engage in business, manage their wages and other income, sue and be sued, and be joint guardian of their children” (Ibid.). 

From 1848 until her death in 1902, Elizabeth Cady Stanton worked tirelessly for women’s rights.  She was a recognized leader in the women’s rights revolution and wrote innumerable speeches for herself and other activists as well as gave presentations to groups.  Her dream of women having the right to vote wasn’t realized until August 26, 1920, when the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified (Ibid.).  This was seventy-two years after the first women’s rights convention at Seneca Falls, New York, and almost eighteen years after Elizabeth Cady Stanton died.

Because of Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s efforts, all women in the United States have the right to vote.  Voting women have shaped the policies of this country for the past eighty-four years.

Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

Elizabeth Cady Stanton began the organized women’s rights movement in 1848 and continued to be a leader in the effort.  An intelligent and motivated activist, Stanton started several associations, which encouraged many women to work for women’s rights as well as the rights of others who were disenfranchised.  These associations empowered women, giving them the opportunity to speak in public, vote on issues within the associations, and make their own decisions of how the associations should proceed.

Stanton and Susan B. Anthony initiated the first national women’s political organization, the Women’s Loyal National League, during the Civil War.  The women in this organization fought for the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which freed slaves (Ibid.).  When the 13th amendment was passed, the organization disbanded, but the women had gain invaluable experience in organizing a movement (Britannica Online) (2).  Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a mentor for many women, training them on effectively advocating for a cause.

Key Related Ideas

The abolition movement was a training ground for women who supported suffrage.  Almost all women’s rights supporters were also abolitionists, though the reverse was not true.  When the proposed 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution made black men citizens and granted the right to vote to all men, the abolitionists told the suffragists that women would have to wait for their time, leading to a split among suffragists (PBS) (1).

The cult of true womanhood, a popular attitude in the nineteenth century, relegated women to home and family.  Women were “protected” from evil influences in the world and from hard labor by their husbands.  Ironically, it is said that very wealthy women achieved the cult status only by standing on the backs of women who worked very hard for them (PBS) (3).

From its English beginning in 1650, the Quakers, also called the Religious Society of Friends, believed in spiritual equality for women; Quaker women were even allowed to be preachers.  The progressive social action of Quakers led them to free their slaves in the 1750s and to pioneer “…American reform movements on slavery, temperance, peace, asylums, penitentiaries, public education, and native-American (Indian) rights. Their activities in the women’s movement should be seen as growing out of earlier reform activities, particularly anti-slavery” (PBS) (5).

In 1873 and 1874, women were concerned with temperance, the moderation or abstinence of alcoholic drink, focused on soul-saving.  They prayed outside of saloons, where they sometimes had water thrown on them.  In 1881, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), founded in 1874, decided to work for suffrage to improve their success in prohibition, which is the forbidding by law of alcoholic liquor.  The WCTU developed a “do everything” policy and worked on forty different social issues, all relating to prohibition (State University of New York at Binghamton).

Important People Related to the Topic

  • Susan Brownell Anthony (1820 - 1906):  Raised as a Quaker in a family with a social activist background, Anthony was a teacher for fifteen years before becoming active in temperance.  Never marrying, Anthony traveled extensively to promote women’s rights including suffrage; the right to own property and wages self-earned; opportunities for education; the development of women’s labor unions; abolition; and temperance (The Susan B. Anthony House).  She was a close friend and colleague of Elizabeth Cady Stanton for 51 years, visiting Stanton’s home to care for her five children so Elizabeth could write for the women’s rights movement (PBS) (2).
  • Lucretia Coffin Mott (1793 - 1880):  Mott, a Quaker and abolitionist who housed runaway slaves in her home (Britannica Online) (1), was a mentor to Elizabeth Cady Stanton (PBS) (4).  Because she was a woman, Mott received half the salary of male teachers at the Friends’ boarding school, which motivated her to become active in women’s rights issues.  Mott was committed to temperance, abolition, women’s rights, and peace (Britannica Online) (1).
  • Frederick Douglass (1818 - 1895):  Douglass started life as a slave, but escaped to the North where he became a staunch abolitionist and lecturer.  He spoke at the Seneca Falls Convention, supporting women’s suffrage (University of Rochester).  However, when the 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution were considered, he held the same view as Wendell Phillips:  the Negro’s time had come and women would have to wait (PBS) (4).
  • Wendell Phillips (1811 - 1884):  Phillips, a radical abolitionist, condemned the Constitution for promoting slavery and said that the South should be removed from the Union as long as slavery continued (The National Park Service).  Knowing Elizabeth Cady Stanton through their work as abolitionists, Phillips was also active in women’s suffrage.  However, when the 14th and 15th Constitutional amendments were considered, which made black men citizens and granted them the right to vote, he told Stanton that it was the Negro’s time and that women’s suffrage would have to wait (PBS) (4).

Related Nonprofit Organizations

  • The League of Women Voters was founded in 1920, six months before ratification of the 19th Constitutional amendment, which granted women the right to vote.  It was formed to educate women in their new civic responsibility of voting.  A nonpartisan organization, current primary efforts include increasing citizen participation in voting, campaign finance reform, civic education and participation, diversity among elected officials, and voting rights for the District of Columbia (www.lwv.org).
  • The National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) was formed by the merger of the NWSA with the less radical American Woman Suffrage Association in 1890, with Elizabeth Cady Stanton as the first president.  The two groups joined because Susan B. Anthony felt that a split among suffragists would result in women never obtaining the vote.  NAWSA ceased to exist in 1920 when the vote was won, but it was the foundation for the League of Women Voters.
  • The National Organization for Women (NOW), founded in 1966, is the largest women’s rights group in the United States.  The women who founded NOW felt that women were discriminated in all areas of life, even though they had the vote.  Current priorities include passing a Constitutional amendment that guarantees women’s equal rights, advancing abortion rights, fighting racism, ensuring rights for gays and lesbians, and ending violence directed toward women (www.now.org).
  • The National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) was founded in 1869 by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony after women were excluded from the 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution, which granted citizenship and suffrage to black men.  This organization was female-led and fought for women’s suffrage via an amendment to the Constitution.

Bibliography and Internet Sources

  • Britannica Online. (1).  Mott, Lucretia Coffin.  https://www.britannica.com/women/articles/Mott_Lucretia_Coffin.html.
  • Britannica Online. (2). Women’s National Loyal League.    https://academic.eb.com/.
  • The National Park Service.  Wendell Phillips (1811 – 1884).   https://www.nps.gov/boaf/wendellphillips.htm.
  • PBS.  Not for Ourselves Alone:  The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.  Ken Burns and Paul Barnes.  http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/not-for-ourselves-alone/resources.
  • State University of New York at Binghamton.  Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000.  How Did the Reform Agenda of the Minnesota Woman’s Christian Temperance Union Change, 1878-1917?  Kathleen Kerr, May 1993. https://womhist.binghamton.edu/wctu/doclist.htm.
  • The Susan B. Anthony House.  Biography of Susan B. Anthony.  https://susanb.org/.
  • University of Rochester.  A biography of the life of Frederick Douglass.  Sandra Thomas. http://www.history.rochester.edu/class/douglass/home.html.

This paper was developed by a student taking a Philanthropic Studies course taught at Grand Valley State University. It is offered by Learning To Give and Grand Valley State University.