The Woman's Rights Movement
Elizabeth Cady Stanton & Susan B. Anthony
This is perhaps a study in contrast. What follows below is
NOT an example of NonViolent Action as shown in the movements of Martin Luther
King and Gandhi. In many ways it represents the same words and methods
used by some groups today in their search for Family Law Reform. But was it
effective? There was certainly no shortage of name calling and
petition signatures. There are many similarities to the decisions faced
today. The thoughts expressed below are those of the
Elizabeth Cady Stanton has been called the founder and
philosopher of the Woman's Rights movement. For many years she was its chief
writer and speaker, she helped define many goals. She was born in 1815 in
Upstate New York. She was born into a good home, her father, Judge Daniel
Cady was a distinguished lawyer and a member of the New York Legislature.
She was the fourth of five daughters in the family after the death of the
only son. Her father encouraged her studies and independent
thought. She achieved much more education that was commonly given woman at
that time. He showed her how laws could be changed, and strangely
enough -- while agreeing the laws should be changed, her Father was mostly
reluctant to see her involved in such "non feminine" activities.
She was very suspect of organized religion and the preachers of
the day who used biblical pages to keep "women in their place."
As she says about herself, "My religious superstitions gave place to
rational ideas based on scientific facts and ... as I looked at everything from
a new standpoint, I grew more and more happy."
In 1839 she met Harry Stanton, a man who was quite active in the
anti slavery movement of the time. In a very short time he proposed and
she accepted. Everyone opposed the marriage, especially her father who
objected to the abolitionists and doubted he could support her daughter.
Under the pressure, she broke off the engagement, but a year later, felt she
needed to run her own life. They were married and both understood it was a
marriage of equals, the word "obey" was removed from the ceremony and
she also kept her maiden name, becoming: Elizabeth Cady
Stanton. In the course of their life together they had several
Susan B. Anthony born in 1820 had been given many more
opportunities as a Quaker, a group which had a strong tradition of equality of
women. Her father was quite supportive of his daughters and tried to give
them the best education possible. He encouraged them to be self reliant and self
supporting. Susan soon went to school and worked as a teacher. She
was considered quite honest, and while in youth a bit intolerant and severe in
her moral judgments, these were tempered by her sense of humor and sympathy for
people. She chose never to marry, but dedicated her life to the movement for
She first became active in the Daughters of Temperance (an
anti-drinking organization). Her father had also become a dedicated
abolitionist by the 1840s.
The First Woman's Rights Convention
In 1848 Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, called for a
Woman's Rights Convention to be held in Seneca Falls, NY. They ran the
announcement in a local paper. They decided to develop a "Declaration
of Sentiments and Resolutions." They drew much of the wording as a
parody from the Declaration of Independence. At the last minute Elizabeth
added the following, "It is the duty of the women of this country to
secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective
franchise." Her husband thought that was going too far, and
even Lucretia Mott thought "...you will make us ridiculous! We must
go slowly." Although this was to be a convention of and for women, it was
unthinkable to have a woman serve as the chairman -- a man was chosen.
On the second day the convention voted on the Declaration of
Sentiments, all the resolutions were passed easily except for the one on the
right to vote. This was too extreme for many in the audience. They felt such an
excessive demand would arouse such antagonism and derision that the movement
would be killed. After extensive and angry debate, the resolution
passed by a small margin.
Of all the women in Seneca Falls that day, Charlotte Woodward
would be the only one alive to cast her first vote some seventy two years later
in 1920, when the US Constitution was finally amended.
There was a tremendous public outcry against the goals of the
convention, for a time even Elizabeth was hesitant to continue -- but she agreed
to take part in another meeting to be held two weeks later in Rochester, New
York. Another group of woman organized this event and they insisted the
session be conducted by a woman. This was opposed by Elizabeth and
Lucretia Mott, they called it a "dangerous experiment," and almost
walked out of the meeting before it started -- but they were finally convinced
to stay. Thank goodness for a spirit of compromise!
Women's Rights, Abolition, and the Christian Temperance
These three movements were quite connected, and at times
appeared to have conflicting goals. Women like Stanton and Anthony got
much of there early experience in the efforts against Slavery and Drinking --
these groups had many female member and provided for "networking" to
develop between women. Many times their speaking engagements during
"road trips" were devoted to both abolition and the cause of women's
rights. However -- there were conflicts and differences in goals.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton's ideas about "religious superstitions' and easier
divorce did not sit well with some female members of the Christian Temperance
Movement. At times, women were also asked to delay their search for
equality and the vote until those rights could be secured by Black men
first. It was argued that to link the two together would put both in
jeopardy. It would put the groups in conflict and caused divisions to
With the coming of the Civil War, all woman's rights activity
stopped. Susan B. Anthony wanted to call more meetings, but the other
woman wouldn't hear of it in a time of national crisis. They were sure that when
peace was restored the women would be rewarded for their patriotic
contributions. An appreciative government would give them their right to
vote. Susan thought this was a naive expectation.
Stanton would speak forcefully in words that are amazingly
similar to what many "men" say today in their quest for reform:
as organized today under the man power, is one grand rape of womanhood, on the
highways, in our jails, prisons, asylums, in our homes, alike in the world of
fashion and of work. Hence, discord, despair, violence, .... until the
mother of the race be made dictator in the social realm. To this end we
need every power to lift her up, and teach mankind that in all God's universe
there is nothing so holy and sacred as womanhood."
Civil War & Reconstruction
During Reconstruction, the
demand for woman suffrage moved from the state legislatures to the U.S.
Congress. "Up to this hour we have looked to State action only for the
recognition of our rights," Anthony explained, "but now ... the whole
question of suffrage reverts back to Congress and the U.S. Constitution."
In 1865, she and Stanton petitioned Congress for reform for the very first
time. Many feminists now believed that the federal government could become
a major force for increasing democratization and social reform. Stanton
& Anthony wanted "national citizenship" not only because it was
more efficient that state by state action, but also because it seemed more
consistent with their claim that women had the same natural rights as men.
Progress halts: ignored by Political parties and damaged by the Supreme Court.
movement was growing and in the national elections of 1872 Stanton and Anthony
supported the Republicans, who had a plank in their platform (some called it a
sliver), promising "respectful consideration for women's demands for
additional rights." The Republican victory of 1872 solidified the
party's control and proved to be the end for this era for reform. It
showed no interests in furthering women's rights. In 1875, the US
Supreme Court ruled against the argument that the 14th and 15th Amendments gave
women the right to vote. That "voting" was a privilege
which each state granted to whom it deemed fit. It took almost 50 years for
the effort to refocus and to achieve Constitutional Amendment.
B. Anthony made a clear argument that the Government does NOT give us our
"The Declaration of Independence, the United
States Constitution, the constitutions of the several states and the organic
laws of the Territories, all alike propose to protect the people in the exercise
of their God-given rights. Not one of them pretends to bestow
Organizational Struggles & Death
The movement always suffered from divisions in the ranks. After
a split in 1869 there was the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), led by
Stanton and Anthony, and the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA), led by
Lucy Stone and Harry Blackwell. Susan B. Anthony sought unification behind
a single goal of the national right to vote. The groups joined to form the
National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) in 1890. The goal was
to ignore some of their other differences and just focus on the vote. This
would later cause conflict with Stanton who still sought a "larger"
solution to setting women free. She would be forced to a peripheral role,
especially because of her increased antipathy toward organized religion of the
Stanton died in 1902 and Anthony four years later -- never
gaining the right to vote. They were remembered quite differently. Many
devoted followers made Anthony into a "suffrage saint." Stanton
was not nearly as glorified. Their common conviction about the importance
of the vote had developed into two quite different approaches. Stanton's
perspective had been defeated. Her insistence that suffragists have a
common political program for social reform had been discredited. Instead,
Anthony's belief that no other issue must be allowed to intrude on the political
equality for women had come to predominate.