(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

Elizabeth Cady Stanton 1815-1902

(Born Elizabeth Cady) American social critic, nonfiction writer, and editor.

Stanton was one of the leaders of the women's suffrage movement in the United States during the nineteenth century. More radical in her views than her close colleague Susan B. Anthony, Stanton advocated a wide range of feminist reforms in law, society, and religion. Stanton promoted her ideas both in writing and by touring as a public speaker. Many of her speeches and other works were produced in collaboration with Anthony and other fellow suffragists.

Biographical Information

Born in Johnstown, New York, the daughter of politician and jurist Daniel Cady, Stanton developed an early interest in liberal causes such as abolishing slavery and promoting women's civil rights. Married in 1840 to the antislavery activist Henry Brewster Stanton, she combined her duties as a housewife and mother of seven with increasing involvement as a writer, public speaker, and political organizer on behalf of women's suffrage. In 1851 she met Susan B. Anthony, who became her life-long partner in working on behalf of voting rights for women. From 1868 to 1870 Stanton edited the Revolution, an influential pro-suffrage newspaper she cofounded with Anthony. She also contributed letters and articles to many other periodicals and went on cross-country lecturing tours to promote her feminist ideas.

Major Works

Stanton often collaborated with others, usually Anthony, when producing her books, articles, and speeches. When working together, Anthony reportedly contributed facts and ideas, while Stanton, who had stronger rhetorical skills, did most of the actual writing. Indeed, commentators usually credit Stanton as the author of the speeches she delivered, noting that her ideas about feminist reform tended to be more wide-ranging and controversial than those of Anthony and her other associates. Her best-known speech, "Solitude of Self," reflects a highly personal philosophical vision, arguing for women's freedom on the grounds that all human beings live and die alone, and so must be responsible for themselves. Although she invited others to contribute to her Woman's Bible (1895-98), a highly controversial assemblage of feminist revisionist commentaries on Biblical passages dealing with women, she edited the work and composed most of it herself. Critics note that Stanton was adept at shaping her own public image as well as expressing her political views. Her autobiography Eighty Years and More (1898) offers an upbeat portrayal of her career, emphasizing her well-rounded life as both a family woman and political activist.

Critical Reception

Stanton's success as a writer and orator was necessarily tied in with the political nature of her work. Although she was one of the most famous and influential leaders of the American women's suffrage movement, her revolutionary ideas often set her at odds with fellow activists as well as more conservative opponents. For instance, the National American Woman Suffrage Association, which she founded, turned against her by passing a resolution dissociating itself from The Woman's Bible. As her immediate influence waned and she retired from public life, emphasis was placed more on her importance as a historic figure than on the value of her writings. The resurgence of feminism in the late twentieth century stimulated new scholarly interest in both Stanton's political ideas and her literary products.

Principal Works

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

History of Woman Suffrage. 3 vols, [editor, with Susan B. Anthony and Matilda Joslyn Gage] (prose) 1881-86

The Woman's Bible. 2 vols, [with others] (prose) 1895-98

Eighty Years and More (1815-1897): Reminiscences of Elizabeth Cody Stanton (autobiography) 1898

Elizabeth Cady Stanton as Revealed in Her Letters, Diary and Reminiscences (prose) 1922

Elizabeth Cady Stanton/Susan B. Anthony: Correspondence, Writings, Speeches (prose) 1981

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The Nation (essay date 1881)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of History of Woman Suffrage, in The Nation, Vol. XXXIII, No. 844, September 1, 1881, pp. 177-78.

[In the following review, the critic offers a mostly negative assessment of History of Woman Suffrage.]

There is force in the objection which has been brought against [History of Woman Suffrage], that as woman suffrage is not achieved it has no history. But, on the other hand, it may be said that in some of the Territories women are allowed to vote at all elections, and in several States for school officers, and that the tendency is unmistakably towards the political equality of the sexes. If, therefore, a work like this could show the...

(The entire section is 1607 words.)

The Nation (essay date 1898)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Eighty Years and More, in The Nation, Vol. LXVI, No. 1714, May 5, 1898, pp. 347-48.

[In the following review of Eighty Years and More, the critic comments on Stanton's life and accomplishments.]

Mrs. Stanton has had a busy and eventful life, and she tells its story [in Eighty Years and More] in a manner that is engaging, both because of the variety of her experience and because of her satisfaction and delight in the recital. But her narrative is often overweighted with trivial minutiae. She was born November 12, 1815. She represents herself as suffering much from a repressive training, and more from the theological system...

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Karlyn Kohrs Campbell (essay date 1980)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Stanton's 'The Solitude of Self'": A Rationale for Feminism," in The Quarterly Journal of Speech, Vol. 66, No. 3, October, 1980, pp. 304-12. Used by permission of the Speech Communication Association.

[In the following essay, Campbell explores rhetorical and ideological aspects of "The Solitude of Self."]

In 1892, near the end of her long career as a leader in the woman's rights movement, Elizabeth Cady Stanton made her farewell address to the National American Woman Suffrage Association. The speech, "The Solitude of Self," is unlike the usual rhetoric of social activists of any period, and it is a startling departure from the typical speeches and arguments of...

(The entire section is 4470 words.)

Cynthia Griffin Wolff (essay date 1989)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and the Task of Discovering a Usable Past," in The Massachusetts Review, Vol. XXX, No. 4, Winter, 1989, pp. 629-44.

[In the following essay, Wolff compares feminist ideas in writings by Dickinson and Stanton.]

It would be mistaken to suppose that the principal "subject" of Emily Dickinson's poetry was the campaign for woman's suffrage that was conducted throughout New England during all of her creative years. With few exceptions, Dickinson did not choose to focus her work on contemporary issues. Instead, she addressed the existential terror of unavoidable mortality and the tragedy of a world whose fertile beauty is...

(The entire section is 6471 words.)

Louis P. Masur (essay date 1990)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Notes and Documents: Elizabeth Cady Stanton on Capital Punishment," in The Huntington Library Quarterly, Vol. 53, No. 3, Summer, 1990, pp. 237-42.

[In the following essay, Masur comments on a letter by Stanton expressing her views against capital punishment.]

In the winter of 1860, Marvin Bovee, a Wisconsin legislator and social activist, began to solicit the opinions of prominent authors, politicians, and reformers on the subject of capital punishment. He had in mind the publication of a book detailing the position of opponents of the death penalty. He hoped that the work would appear in the fall of 1861 but before he completed the manuscript the Civil War...

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Kathi L. Kern (essay date 1991)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Rereading Eve: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and The Woman's Bible, 1885-1896," in Women's Studies, Vol. 19, Nos. 3 & 4, 1991, pp. 371-83.

[In the following essay, Kern discusses controversy in the women's suffrage movement surrounding The Woman's Bible.]

On an overcast Thursday morning, January 23, 1896, the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) gathered, appropriately, in the Church of Our Father, Washington, D.C., for the opening session of its twenty-eighth annual convention. The press reported that notwithstanding the weather, several hundred "bright-faced women" filled the "cozy little church." Delegates, this reporter continued, who...

(The entire section is 4500 words.)

Ann D. Gordon (essay date 1992)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Political Is the Personal: Two Autobiographies of Woman Suffragists," in American Women's Autobiography: Fea(s)ts of Memory, edited by Margo Culley, The University of Wisconsin Press, 1992, pp. 111-27.

[In the following essay, Gordon analyzes how Stanton and Abigail Scott Duniway portray themselves in their autobiographies.]

Woman suffragists, like other leaders of women in the nineteenth century, approached the art of autobiography with their public identities well crafted and their public voices tuned closely to a particular pitch of the cultures they sought to influence. In autobiography they might aspire to the definitive variation of their personal...

(The entire section is 6884 words.)

Jeanne Stevenson-Moessner (essay date 1994)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Reformer to Revolutionary: A Theological Trajectory," in Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. LXII, No. 3, Fall, 1994, pp. 673-97.

[In the following essay, Stevenson-Moessner traces the evolution of Stanton's views on women in Christianity.]

When she was young, Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a member of the Presbyterian Girls' Club. For one project, she and the others saved pennies by baking, sewing, brewing and stewing things to pay for the education of a man attending Auburn Theological Seminary. After graduation, they assisted him by buying a new black suit along with silk hat and cane; then, they were influential in getting...

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Further Reading

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)


Adams, Elmer C. and Foster, Warren Dunham. "Elizabeth Cady Stanton." In Heroines of Modern Progress, pp. 58-88. New York: Sturgis and Walton, 1913.

Short biography.

DuBois, Ellen Carol, ed. The Elizabeth Cady Stanton-Susan B. Anthony Reader: Correspondence, Writings, Speeches. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1992, 306 p.

Reprints key documents, with commentary, chronicling the careers of Stanton and Anthony.

Griffith, Elisabeth. "Elizabeth Cady Stanton: The Freedom That Comes with Age." Ms. X, No. 7 (January 1982): 64, 67, 87.

Profile of Stanton in her later...

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