Article abstract: Stanton was one of the founders of the organized women’s rights movement in the United States, and she served as one of its chief leaders during the second half of the nineteenth century.
Elizabeth Cady was born November 12, 1815, in Johnstown, New York. She was the fourth of six children born to Daniel and Margaret Cady who survived childhood. Through her mother she was descended from a wealthy family, the Livingstons, who were part of the political elite of New York. Her mother’s father, James Livingston, was an officer in George Washington’s army during the American Revolution and a member of the New York state legislature. Elizabeth’s father, Daniel Cady, was a successful lawyer who served in the New York state legislature and the United States House of Representatives, and, after 1847, he was a member of the New York State Supreme Court. Daniel Cady was a conservative in his political views and became an active member of the Federalist Party. Elizabeth’s parents were very strict Presbyterians who held firmly to traditional Calvinist doctrines of predestination and the depravity of human nature. As a child, Elizabeth found this version of religion frightening, even to the point of having nightmares that the Devil was attempting to possess her.
Several events in Elizabeth’s childhood helped awaken her to the realization that women held a subordinate position in American society. Her father wanted very much to have a son, but each of Elizabeth’s three brothers died young. At the death of his third son, Daniel Cady openly lamented to Elizabeth that she was not a boy. Part of the impetus for Elizabeth’s refusal to accept a traditional female sex role may have stemmed from her attempt to be the son her father so fervently desired. A second instance which brought a new awareness of the disadvantage of being female occurred in her father’s law office. Hearing of a case in which a female friend sought unsuccessfully to reclaim property she had purchased with her own money, but of which she had been deprived because of a state law transferring a woman’s property to her husband when she married, Elizabeth became so upset that she attempted to cut the relevant pages out of her father’s law books.
Even as a child, Elizabeth displayed intellectual ability considerably beyond that of the average youth. Believing that becoming a learned person was essential if she were to be equal to boys, she began the study of Greek at age eleven, later winning a prize at the Johnstown Academy for her achievements in this area. In spite of her outstanding academic record, she was not allowed to enroll at Union College, which admitted only boys, and had to be content with a girls’ boarding school, Troy Female Seminary, which she attended from 1830 to 1833. Although most girls’ boarding schools at this time were primarily finishing schools, concentrating on developing their students’ social skills, Troy was unusual in that it attempted to provide academic training comparable to that which colleges provided men. The seminary encouraged its students to be self-reliant and provided careful training in writing skills, which Elizabeth later believed to have contributed to her success as an author.
After graduation from Troy Female Seminary, Elizabeth did not seek a career and at this point displayed little evidence that she would become a reformer. Even in this period, however, she occasionally displayed those qualities of independence and a militant opposition to efforts to place women in a subordinate position which marked her later life. She became the head of a young women’s association which raised funds to enable an aspiring minister to attend seminary. When the recipient of their funds was invited to deliver a special sermon and chose to speak on women’s inferiority, Elizabeth rose from her seat in the front pew and led the other young women out...
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