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Elizabeth Cady Stanton

 (1815 – 1902)

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, noted nineteenth women's rights activist, is known for her feminist ethic of independence.  She fought for autonomy in every phase of her own life and advocated self-rule for all women.  Her outspoken commitment to the attainment of absolute freedom for women was dauntless and unwavering.  Stanton spoke out for the Edna Pontelliers of Victorian society, who bravely attempted to free themselves from society's limitations.  She fully understood the power that Victorian convention held over its women and would likely view Edna's death with both anger and compassion.

In 1848 Stanton and fellow rights advocate, Lucretia Mott, organized the first women's rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York.  A wife and the mother of six children, she remained a leading voice in the women's rights and suffrage movement throughout her eighty-five years. Stanton was a gifted writer who authored numerous speeches and newspaper and magazine articles.  She spoke before state and federal legislatures and toured the country on the Lyceum circuit, delivering speeches on women's issues such as motherhood, marriage, and family.  The proceeds from her circuit engagements supported her in her old age, usually a time when most women became even more dependent.  She was a founder of the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), and she became president of the National  American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) when it merged with the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA). During the 1890s, Stanton penned two books; her autobiography, Eighty Years or More, and the controversial The Woman's Bible.

In 1892 she addressed two congressional committees and the annual NAWSA convention with her famous “Solitude of Self” speech, in which she elucidated the basic principles of her feminist ethic; the independence of women and the “solitude of self” that is determined by the “individuality of each human soul.”  She said that women like men must be treated as independent individuals unrelated to “the incidental relations of life, such as mother, wife, sister, daughter.”  “In life's great crises,” Stanton said, “women like men, have only themselves to rely upon.”  She felt that women, too long protected by patriarchal culture, don't own the resources to help themselves.  Independence depends on political, financial, legal, emotional and intellectual freedom.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton rebelled against the conventions that limited her own self realization and independence.  Her words and actions encouraged other women to embrace their autonomy and fight for their self sovereign birthright.  She was uncompromising in her call for universal individual rights and relentless in her pursuit of female equality.  Elizabeth Cady Stanton became a self-sufficient and self-sustaining woman who, prior to her death in 1902, described herself as “a very extraordinary woman, the first of the new women.”


--Content prepared by Sara Shull.

Copyright (c) 1999; all rights reserved.

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