“The moment we begin to fear the opinions of others and hesitate to tell the truth that is in us, and from motives of policy are silent when we should speak, the divine floods of light and life no longer flow into our souls.”
–Elizabeth Cady Stanton
For our vacation last week, my husband and I went to the Finger Lakes in New York. It isn’t far from where we live, and we heard it was beautiful up there. So, a couple of months ago, I started doing research about places we may want to check out while we were there. Wouldn’t you know, I discovered that the First Women’s Rights Convention was held just north of one of the Finger Lakes, in a place called Seneca Falls. There is a whole National Park dedicated to Woman’s Rights. My first thought was “how did I not know this?”
My second thought was to do more research, and I found out about the friendship between two key players in the Women’s Rights Movement, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, which I wrote about here.
But then, when we visited Seneca Falls last week, Stanton’s story seemed to be what stuck with me above everything else, and so she is today’s Fabulous Female.
Born, November 12th, 1815, she was the eighth child of eleven in her family, yet only her and four of her sisters lived to see adulthood. When her only surviving brother passed away, she tried to comfort her dad by saying she would do all that her brother would have done. He answered her with the words “Oh, my daughter, I wish you were a boy!” Fortunately, her neighbor, Rev. Simon Hosack counteracted her father’s favoring of boys over girls, by encouraging her to read widely and by teaching her greek. His confidence in her intelligence encouraged Elizabeth to succeed academically. Though she wasn’t permitted to attend college because of her gender, she did go to Troy Female Seminary.
Later, she became involved with both the temperance and abolition movements, through which she met her husband, Henry Brewster Stanton. And it was on their honeymoon in London, when they attended an Anti-Slavery Convention in 1840, that the importance of women’s rights first ignited for Elizabeth. During the convention, the men voted to remove the women from the discussion, even though some of them were sent as official delegates from Anti-Slavery organizations. All the women were forced to sit in the back of the room, while the men had the “real discussion.” In her book, Eighty Years and More, Stanton explained:
“The general discontent I felt with woman’s portion as wife, housekeeper, physician, and spiritual guide, the chaotic conditions into which everything fell without her constant supervision, and the wearied, anxious look of the majority of women, impressed me with a strong feeling that some active measures should be taken to remedy the wrongs of society in general, and of women in particular. My experience at the World Anti-slavery Convention, all I had read of the legal status of women, and the oppression I saw everywhere, together swept across my soul, intensified now by many personal experiences. It seemed as if all the elements had conspired to impel me to some onward step. I could not see what to do or where to begin—my only thought was a public meeting for protest and discussion.”
She began networking with friends and women in Seneca Falls who had similar thoughts, and in July 1848, the First Woman’s Rights Convention was held. Over 300 hundred people attended, both women and men. It was there that Stanton read her Declaration of Sentiments–her response to the Declaration of Independence–in which she states “all men and women are created equal.” Her words are now memorialized in stone, outside of the National Women’s Rights Museum.
Her Declaration of Sentiments was only the beginning of her writings and speeches that helped propel the fight for Women’s Rights. For years, Stanton wrote, and later traveled and spoke all over, even appearing before Congress. She was the voice for the Suffrage Movement for over fifty years, and was the first president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Sadly, she died eighteen years before women received the right to vote in 1920; yet she was fighting for more than just voting rights.
What stood Stanton a part from most of her partners in the Suffrage Movement, including her friend Susan B. Anthony, was that she had a broader view of what women really needed to experience equality. Where most were fighting for the right to vote, Elizabeth saw that better property laws, economic opportunities, gender neutral divorce laws, and the right to sit on a jury, were also needed to change a society in which women were essentially property in the eyes of the law.
Through her writing, Elizabeth did not fight for women out of an ivory tower, but rather from her home in Seneca Falls, where she raised seven children. A quote from outside her house reads:
“How much I do long to be free from housekeeping and children, so as to have time to read, and think, and write. But it may be well for me to understand the trials of woman’s lot, that I may more eloquently proclaim them…”
There were times she was asked to speak but she couldn’t travel because she was pregnant, or couldn’t leave her children, so she sent her speeches and later, Susan B. Anthony in her stead. Though I am sure at times it was overwhelming or discouraging, Stanton was both devoted to her children and to the cause. She never gave up fighting for the best for her children, and for the voices of women to be heard in our world.