Elizabeth Cady Stanton Stanton, Elizabeth Cady (Feminism in Literature) - Essay

Susan B. Anthony

Introduction

(Feminism in Literature)

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 friend Susan B. Anthony, Stanton advocated a wide range of feminist reforms in law, society, and religion. Stanton promoted her ideas in both writing and by touring as a public speaker. Many of her speeches and other works were produced in collaboration with Anthony and other suffragists. Her most famous speech, "Solitude of Self" (1892), which details the necessity of women's rights, is regarded as a work of exceptional rhetorical and ideological power. Since the late twentieth century, feminist critics have been especially interested in Stanton's autobiography, Eighty Years and More (1898), because of the insights it provides into the author's views on the female self and body as well her political beliefs.

BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION

Born November 12, 1815 in Johnston, New York, the daughter of a politician and jurist Daniel Cady, Stanton developed an early interest in liberal causes, such as abolishing slavery and promoting women's civil rights. She allegedly pledged her life to study in 1826 when, after her brother's untimely death, her father remarked "Oh, my daughter, would that you were a boy!" Stanton received a privileged education, attending Johnstown Academy, where she studied Latin, Greek, and mathematics. During this time, she also frequented her father's law office, which adjoined the house, and gained first-hand knowledge of women who were affected by unfair laws. In 1830, Stanton enrolled in Troy's Female Seminary, where she furthered her study in physiology, geography, higher mathematics, Greek, Latin, French, music, and elocution. In 1840 she married 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. Stanton co-organized the First Woman's Rights Convention held in 1848. The convention took place in Seneca Falls and resulted in several resolutions concerning rights to property and children. In 1851 she met Susan B. Anthony, who became her lifelong partner in working toward 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. During the early 1880s Stanton, Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage edited the first three volumes of History of Woman Suffrage (1881-86), which compiled the documents and letters of the suffrage movement for the years 1848-1885. After her husband's death in 1887 Stanton moved to New York City, where she served as president of the American Woman Suffrage Association for two years and later published two controversial books, The Woman's Bible (1895-98) and Eighty Years and More (1815-1897): Reminiscences of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Stanton died October 26, 1902.

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 often 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, 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, 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 to the political nature of her work. Although she was one of the most famous and influential leaders of the American 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 disassociating 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 historical figure than on the merits of her writings. The resurgence of feminist criticism in the late twentieth century stimulated new scholarly interest in both Stanton's political ideas and her literary works. Critics have paid particular attention to the representation of her as an "ordinary" woman and reformer in her autobiography, her notions of selfhood, her religious ideas, her sometimes troubled relationship with other feminists and abolitionists, the rhetorical strategies she uses in her speeches, and her ideas about the female body.

Principal Works

(Feminism in Literature)

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

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

Eighty Years and More (1815-1897): Reminiscences of Elizabeth Cady Stanton 2 vols. (autobiography) 1898

Elizabeth Cady Stanton as Revealed in Her Letters, Diary and Reminiscences 2 vols. (prose) 1922

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

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (Speech Date 19 January 1848)

(Feminism in Literature)

SOURCE: Stanton, Elizabeth Cady. "Address: First Women's Rights Convention." In Elizabeth Cady Stanton Unpublished Manuscript Collection. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1848.

In the following essay, originally delivered as a speech before the first women's rights convention in Seneca Falls on July 19, 1848, Stanton demands freedom and political representation of women. Stanton calls women to the task of fighting for equality and to protest unjust laws.

We have met here today to discuss our rights and wrongs, civil and political, and not, as some have supposed, to go into the detail of...

(The entire section is 1480 words.)

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (Speech Date Late 1870S)

(Feminism in Literature)

SOURCE: Stanton, Elizabeth Cady. "Dare to Question." In Elizabeth Cady Stanton Unpublished Manuscript Collection. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, n.d.

In the following essay, originally delivered as a speech before the Liberal League, Stanton challenges those who would prevent others from questioning popular theology. The speech was transcribed from the author's handwritten notes.

Though we have passed beyond the Inquisition, the stake, the rack and the thumb screw, yet those who dare publicly question the popular theology, are as effectually persecuted to day, as ever. Though in different...

(The entire section is 1801 words.)

General Commentary

(Feminism in Literature)

SOURCE: Smith, Sidonie. "Resisting the Gaze of Embodiment: Women's Autobiography in the Nineteenth Century." In American Women's Autobiography: Fea(s)ts of Memory, edited by Margo Culley, pp. 75-110. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992.

In the following excerpt, Smith explores Stanton's expression of her selfhood in her autobiography.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton announces in the preface to Eighty Years and More, 1815-1897 that the story of her life is actually split, doubly inscribed: "The story of my private life as the wife of an earnest reformer, as an enthusiastic housekeeper,...

(The entire section is 2626 words.)

The Woman's Bible

(Feminism in Literature)

ELLEN DUBOIS (ESSAY DATE 1984)

SOURCE: DuBois, Ellen. “The Limitations of Sister-hood: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Division of the American Suffrage Movement, 1875-1902.” In Women and the Structure of Society: Selected Research from the Fifth Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, edited by Barbara J. Harris and JoAnn K. McNamara, pp. 160-69. Durham, N. C.: Duke University Press, 1984.

Explores the conflicts in the early feminist movement, focusing on Stanton’s ideas on religion, and how the publication of the Woman’s Bible influenced perceptions of her within the movement.

In...

(The entire section is 5866 words.)

Eighty Years and More

(Feminism in Literature)

ESTELLE C. JELINEK (ESSAY DATE 1980)

SOURCE: Jelinek, Estelle C. "The Paradox and Success of Elizabeth Cady Stanton." In Women's Autobiography: Essays in Criticism, edited by Estelle C. Jelinek, pp. 71-92. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1980.

In the following essay, Jelinek discusses the paradoxical self-image of an ordinary woman and an extraordinary public figure that Stanton presents in Eighty Years and More, noting that Stanton was a success in both roles in her life.

In 1895, when Elizabeth Cady Stanton began her autobiography at the age of eighty, she...

(The entire section is 8372 words.)

Further Reading

(Feminism in Literature)

Biographies

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

Comprises a short biography.

Burns, Kenneth, and Geoffrey C. Ward. Not For Ourselves Alone: The Story of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. New York: Knopf, 1999, 256p.

Offers insight into Anthony and Stanton's friendship and advocacy for women's rights.

Morris, Charles. "Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the Women's Rights Pioneer." In Heroes of Progress in...

(The entire section is 604 words.)