Saints, Sinners and Reformers
The Burned-Over District Re-Visited
Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony
Seneca Falls on the Ontario Plain of western New York State is a delightful,
small town, but it is hardly one which would be expected to be the site
of the beginning of a social revolution. Such it was to become in 1848,
that momentous year when revolutions of a bloodier kind were occurring
It might not have happened that early if it had not been for one spunky
young woman whose education and abilities marked her as a remarkable individual.
This was at a time when women, their abilities, and their stance in society
were constantly downgraded by men, women, the law, the church, and Christian
theology. It might not have happened in Seneca Falls, New York, if in
March of 1843, five years earlier, some sixty individuals had not split
from the Methodist Episcopal Church to form the first Wesleyan Methodist
Society of Seneca Falls. This split from the Methodist Episcopal Church
was not peculiar to Seneca Falls, for it was occurring throughout the
Methodist churches of the northern United States. These new societies
were being created in opposition to the main Methodist Church's refusal
to face the issue of slavery squarely or the other new, growing reform
movements in secular society. Among these reform movements were those
of abolition, temperance, and women's rights.
Thus a small Wesleyan Methodist chapel was built in Seneca Falls at the
corner of Fall and Mynderse Streets, and it was dedicated in 1843. Not
only was the chapel to be used for religious services, but it was open
to all speakers interested in reform, and there was no charge for the
use of the building by enlightened groups. Many prominent speakers, among
them Frederick Douglas, were to speak here. Moreover, the Free Soil Party
of Seneca Falls was organized within its walls.
The spunky young woman who was to spark this social revolution was Elizabeth
Cady who was to become Elizabeth Cady Stanton after her marriage. She
was born in Johnstown, New York, in the Mohawk Valley to the west of Albany.
Her father, Judge Cady, was a lawyer whose office was attached to their
home, and young Elizabeth was fascinated by some of the cases she overheard
discussed in his office. At a very young age she learned of the legal
disabilities under which women existed at the time. Under the old English
Common Law and Blackstone's Commentaries, women had no real civil
rights. Their husbands controlled all legal aspects of their lives, and
all rights lay in their husband's hands. A husband could whip his wife
or lock her up with impunity. Not only could women not vote, but they
could not even control their own earnings or hold property in their own
right. Women had no right to enter into contracts, to sell, or to bequeath
anything. They could not go to college or enter the professions. A woman's
place was in the home, and, according to Christian theology based on the
New Testament, women were inferior to men and were not to be heard in
public. If divorce were to occur, the children and all property belonged
to the husband. A widow was often faced with destitution upon her husband's
death since she was left with no legacy or property under the law—since
these devolved upon a son or a male relative.
As a child this seemed unfair to Elizabeth, and the mark it made upon
her impressionable young mind was to fashion her later life.
Elizabeth's older brother Eleazar, the only son in the family, was the
apple of his father's eye. Eleazar's graduation from Union College was
a high point in his father's pride, quickly to be dashed by the young
man's unexpected illness and death soon after graduation. Judge Cady was
crushed by the death of his only son, and Elizabeth never forgot her father's
comment to her, "If only you were a boy!" This lament was caused by the
father's realization that no girl could ever achieve the intellectual,
political, or social success which a boy could reach. Her father did not
know, however, of the steel in the character of this ebullient and buoyant
young girl. Her father's comment was a challenge to Elizabeth, and she
was determined that she would be the equal of any man.
Studying under a well-educated local minister, Elizabeth soon mastered
classical Greek, surpassing all the boys in the local Johnstown Academy
with her ability. In 1831, the opportunity for a young girl to achieve
a college education was nil since colleges only accepted male candidates.
Elmira College in Elmira, New York, the first college for women in New
York State, was not founded until 1855. Fortunately, Emma Willard had
opened her Female Seminary in Troy, New York, and Elizabeth was able to
prevail upon her father to send her to this institution of further learning,
albeit it was not a college. One of the areas in which Elizabeth excelled
while at the seminary was in writing, an ability which she was to employ
with the greatest of skill in her future years on behalf of women's rights.
The Gerrit Smith family was related to the Cadys, and Elizabeth was fond
of her cousins in the Smith family, often visiting them in Peterboro to
the south of Utica and Syracuse. Whereas Judge Cady was politically conservative,
Gerrit Smith was one of the more radical New Yorkers of the day. He was
active in the revivalist movement of mid-century as well as the temperance
and the abolitionist movements. His home was a frequent stop on the underground
railroad which smuggled slaves from the South to Canada and to freedom.
It was at the Smith home that Elizabeth had her first encounter with a
fugitive slave whom the Smiths were hiding on her way to Canada. This
encounter, which was to add to Elizabeth's growing social consciousness,
in time would lead her to help Harriet Tubman by hiding runaway slaves
in her own home in Seneca Falls.
It was by chance that through the Gerrit Smith's Elizabeth was to meet
young Henry Stanton who was active in the anti-slavery movement and the
new political Liberty Party in New York State. Henry did not meet with
Elizabeth's father's approval since Judge Cady was opposed to those working
in the anti-slavery cause and the breaking of United States laws concerning
property rights. Slaves were property under U.S. laws and thus were not
human beings, and Judge Cady would uphold U.S. laws. Be that as it may,
on May 1, 1840, Elizabeth and Henry Stanton eloped, and eleven days later
they were on their way to England on their honeymoon. Elizabeth had married
without her father's consent, a breach of all custom at the time. Moreover,
she had seen to it that the word "obey" was omitted from the wedding vows
since she and her husband were to be equals in contra-distinction to standard
Christian usage. The choice of England for their honeymoon came about
since Henry was a delegate in the 1840 World Anti-Slavery convention in
Anti-slavery as a cause may have been a radical movement in 1840, but
in London the men in charge of and attending the convention were conservative
in many of their other attitudes. No woman was permitted to be seated
with the delegates, nor would a woman be permitted to speak at the sessions.
Women were relegated to a balcony where they could see but not be seen
nor heard by the delegates. Elizabeth was incensed at this slight, as
was William Lloyd Garrison, who, in protest, moved to sit with the women
in their segregated area. This leading proponent of the anti-slavery cause
was to be a great disappointment to Elizabeth in time, for he refused
in the years after the Civil War to back a woman's right to vote.
One of the women seated near Elizabeth in the balcony at the convention
was the noted liberal (radical in those days) Quaker, Lucretia Mott, twenty
years the senior of Elizabeth. Lucretia Coffin Mott (1796-1880) was one
of the foremost active and successful reformers and lecturers of the nineteenth
century, a time when women did not speak publicly. A devout Quaker, Lucretia
attributed to divine intervention her courage in the face of constant
rebuffs she suffered due to her advanced social stands and her eloquence
in speaking. Lucretia, as a Quaker, believed that the Divine was in every
human being, and that everyone was therefore equal, regardless of race,
sex, or class. This was not a position acceptable to the society of her
day, to Christian churches—or even to many conservative Quakers.
Lucretia Coffin was born on Nantucket Island, and she began school at
four years of age. She was later to study as a prize student in the Quaker
"Nine Partners" boarding school in Dutchess County in New York, and she
was so capable a student that she was invited to join the faculty upon
her graduation. Lucretia met another young teacher at the school, James
Mott, and they were married in 1811 in Philadelphia in an unusual marriage
for the time. It was to be a marriage of equals in which the wife was
not subordinate to her husband. James and Lucretia Mott both took leadership
in their Quaker meeting, and by 1821 Lucretia was chosen as a major figure
within the meeting, despite her youth. She soon became noted throughout
the northeast for her lectures on religious and social issues, and this
was to lead to a break with the main Quaker movement.
The Quaker meetings at this time were often split over the issue of slavery,
some members feeling that it was not a topic to be of concern to religious
organizations. In 1827 the more liberal Quakers, under the leadership
of Elias Hicks of Long Island, had broken with the orthodox Quakers over
the issue of slavery. The Motts joined the Hicksite group, and as a result
both were thereby expelled from the major Quaker denomination. Unabashed,
in 1833 Lucretia met with the local abolitionist women, black and white,
to form the Philadelphia Anti-Slavery Society. The white community was
mortified not only by a woman's group dedicated to social problems, but
by its inter-racial nature. This in no way stopped Lucretia in her work.
Lucretia and seven other women representing female anti-slavery societies
attended the London Anti-Slavery Convention of 1840—and they were
excluded from participation in the meeting simply because they were female.
Upset with the proceedings of this convention which were so discriminatory,
Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott left the convention and took
long walks in London. They therefore come to know and sympathize with
each other in their advanced views. Elizabeth had immediately felt a kinship
with Lucretia upon their meeting, and the Quaker attitudes of Lucretia
and other members of the Society of Friends no doubt affected Elizabeth's
religious outlook. It was an outlook which was to grow more liberal with
the years and to move her away from the standard Christianity of her day.
Now, during their London walks, Elizabeth's conscience was challenged
by this affront to women. "We shall hold a convention," Elizabeth
told Lucretia Mott, "in the United States to organize for women's rights."
Back in the United States, Judge Cady relented and was reconciled to
Elizabeth and her new husband, and Henry proceeded to study law under
Judge Cady. The couple thereafter moved to Boston where the Stantons became
active in the reform movements of the time. Henry's health, however, was
to force them to leave the metropolis for the far more tranquil, small
town of Seneca Falls in New York. By 1847 the couple were settled in Seneca
Falls in a house bought for them by Judge Cady, and here they began to
raise the three children they already had. Elizabeth eventually gave birth
to five boys and two girls.
Elizabeth scandalized her Seneca Falls neighbors by some of her activities—including
the raising of the flag in front of their house each time a new baby was
born. Life was not always easy for Elizabeth since Henry had to travel
a great deal on behalf of the Liberty Party and the Anti-Slavery Movement.
The Stantons had come to a tiny town far from the more cosmopolitan Boston
with its intellectual liveliness which Elizabeth had greatly enjoyed.
Here in Seneca Falls she was confined with her growing family to a house
outside of a village which was just beginning to see the development of
mills and an industrial working-class society.
Elizabeth had her own ideas as to how children should be raised, and
she would have none of the traditional nonsense of swaddling newborns.
Her children were not to be bound but were to be free to kick and move
as free individuals, for they were individuals, even if only babies. They
were a handful as they grew. One time Elizabeth found the youngest child,
eighteen-months-old Theodore, floating in the river, his older brothers
having tied corks to him on the theory that he would be able to float
in the water. Another time she found the baby astride the crest of the
roof where his brothers had placed him.
The Stantons had only been in Seneca Falls a year when Elizabeth received
an invitation to tea at the home of Jane Hunt, a member of a Quaker family
in the nearby town of Waterloo. Also present were Jane Hunt's cousin Mary
Ann M'Clintock, Martha Coffin Wright, and Martha's sister Lucretia Coffin
Mott. The latter was here for an annual session of the local Quaker meeting.
A discussion of the problems women faced due to the unequal laws and discriminatory
policies by church, society, and government followed. Before the tea party
had ended, Elizabeth was quick to remind Lucretia Mott of the sentiment
they had arrived at eight years previously in London — to have a
women's convention in America. Out of the discussion which ensued at that
tea party came the decision to hold just such a women's convention and
to issue a "Women's Declaration of Independence." It would be similar
to the one agreed upon in Philadelphia three-quarters of a century previously
by the founders of the new United States. Elizabeth, of course, would
write that declaration.
A week later the group of five women met at Mary Ann M'Clintock's house
in Waterloo, New York. The Hunts and M'Clintocks were active in the more
radical Hicksite Quaker meetings in the Waterloo area, and it was that
branch of Quakerism which was adamant in its stance that women were equal
to men in all spiritual and mental qualities. In time, even the Hicksite
branch of Quakerism seemed too tame to these two families, and they soon
formed the ultra-liberal Congregational or Progressive Friends. Their
emphasis was on practical reformation rather than the unity of doctrine
or belief. For them, the improving and elevating of the human condition
was much more important than quibbling over theological or liturgical
details which were usually no more than nonsensical.
At the M'Clintock house, the five women went over Elizabeth's "Declaration
of Sentiments" to reach agreement as to its final form. It was radical
in its intent since it demanded equal rights for women in education, property
holding, voting, and access to better job opportunities and the ministry.
On July 14, 1848, the women published an announcement in the Seneca Falls
Courier announcing a women's convention to be held at the Wesleyan
Methodist Church in Seneca Falls on July 19-20, 1848, less than one week
away. The Wesleyan Methodists, as previously noted, were liberal enough
in their outlook to open their hall to dissenting voices without charge.
This was a stand the more generally conservative churches eschewed; freedom
of thought, particularly for women, was not a tenet of Christian churches,
and their negation of such women's actions was a doctrine they could base
on the writings of Paul in the New Testament.
Lucretia Mott's husband agreed to chair the meeting since the idea of
a woman chairing a meeting simply was not acceptable to the public at
the time. Thirty-two year old Elizabeth Cady Stanton was the prime speaker
who presented a "Declaration of Rights and Sentiments." Her "Declaration"
began in a familiar manner, but with an addition: "We hold these truths
to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal…" What no
doubt shocked her listeners the most was Elizabeth's demand that women
have the right to vote.
Two other speakers at the convention were Lucretia Mott and Frederick
Douglas, and they backed Elizabeth in her sentiments as expressed in this
Declaration. That Frederick Douglas, who is best known as one of the more
important abolitionist lecturers, was involved with women's rights may
come as a surprise. Elizabeth and Frederick had first met in Boston in
1843, and they continued to meet and exchange ideas over the next half
a century. In preparation for the Seneca Falls Convention, Frederic and
Elizabeth met to discuss the issues to be addressed, and his advice helped
her to shape her demand in the "Declaration of Sentiments" for the right
of women to be able to vote. The highly controversial suffrage proposal
passed by a slim majority, due to Elizabeth's efforts and Frederick's
support. It was he who not only attended the convention from his Rochester
home, but it was he who seconded her motion. Then he gave an impassioned
speech to back Elizabeth's assertion that the power to choose the rulers
and to make laws was the right by which all other rights could be secured.
Of the three hundred present at the Convention, primarily Quakers, only
sixty-eight women and thirty men signed the "Declaration of Sentiments."
A number of women signers later recanted once their husbands found out
that they had signed the "Declaration."
Douglas was later to disappoint Elizabeth when he refused to include
both men and women, white and black, in the Fifteenth Amendment to the
United States Constitution which permitted black men to vote. This forced
the women's rights supporters to turn to the Democratic Party for support
for their cause since there was no hope for their cause within the Republican
Party which was courting the male black vote. Once the Fifteenth Amendment
to the Constitution was passed, Douglas returned to the cause of women's
rights, always referring to the start of the cause at the Seneca Falls
Convention and giving full credit to Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia
Mott for their pioneering and daring work.
One of those present at the convention was twenty-eight year old Susan
B. Anthony who was most impressed by the provocative and forthright young
woman who had read the "Declaration." It would be three more years before
they would formally meet, and a friendship develop in which they complemented
each other in the future battle for women's rights. The goal they desired
would not be achieved until a number of years after their deaths, but
they began the battle which had to be fought, despite the disdain of the
political forces of the nation. It is interesting to note that after 1865
the new Republican Party, which had helped to abolish slavery, continued
to turn a deaf ear to all attempts to abolish women's serfdom before the
law, particularly the demand of women for the right to vote.
Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton complemented each other in
their different ways, Elizabeth was the verbal, literary force behind
the new demands by women for their rights before the law. In fact, she
wrote many of the public speeches which Susan B. Anthony was to give in
the years ahead. Susan B. Anthony, on the other hand, had the physical
drive and determination which led her to appear in lecture halls across
the breadth and depth of the nation to speak on behalf of women's rights.
She had a single-mindedness of purpose which a single woman, unencumbered
by children and a family, could give to the cause. In many ways, Susan
B. Anthony was ultimately a far more conservative individual than Elizabeth,
which Elizabeth was later to recognize. Elizabeth later remarked that
Susan seemed to grow more conservative with the years, whereas Elizabeth
recognized her own growing radicalness. The two always remained close
friends, although they departed on such elements as Elizabeth's condemnation
of the church and Christianity for its almost two millennia of seeing
women as a lower order of being than men.
Elizabeth's skepticism as to the claims of Christian theology can best
be seen in "The Woman's Bible" which she edited, refuting the invalid
claims of the Bible as to women's status in the world. This was an area
in which Susan could not follow Elizabeth. Perhaps the difference between
the two women can best be seen in their last meeting in their old age.
It was obvious that the widowed Elizabeth did not have much more time
to live, and Susan grew quite tearful at their parting. "Shall I see you
again?" asked Susan in tears. In her ever realistic, and often slyly,
dry manner, Elizabeth answered, ""Oh, yes. If not here, then in the hereafter,
if there is one. And if there isn't, we shall never know it."
In 1851 Elizabeth's cousin Libby Smith Miller (Gerrit Smith's daughter)
visited the Stantons in Seneca Falls, and Elizabeth was much taken with
the clothing her cousin had designed and wore. It consisted of a pair
of trousers with a short skirt over it. Instead of reaching to the floor,
the skirt stopped midway between the ankles and the knees. The ease with
which Libby could carry one of the children upstairs in one arm with an
oil lamp in her free hand, without having to fuss with the holding up
of her skirt on the steps at the same time, was a revelation of how comfortable
and practical a woman's garb could be. Elizabeth immediately adopted this
new dress approach, despite the jeers by men and boys and the disapproval
of her neighbors in town. In time she stopped dressing in the new style
on the lecture platform when she found that her garb drew more attention
than what she said for women's rights. The new mode was taken up by another
progressive woman in Seneca Falls, Amelia Bloomer, and the garb became
known by Amelia's last name thereafter, whereas it was Libby Smith Miller
who should rightly be given the credit for what became known as the "Bloomer
style" of dress. This was not the end to Elizabeth Stanton's experimentation
with modern living. She even had her hair "bobbed," cut short, so as not
to have to fuss with long hair, despite the Biblical injunction against
women's short hair by St. Paul. This new hair style would not become common
among women for another seventy years.
Now that Elizabeth and Susan Anthony had met, they began to collaborate
on ideas as to how to forward the demand for women's rights. Susan made
frequent trips from her home in Rochester to Seneca Falls, and she almost
became a part of the Stanton family in helping with the Stanton children.
Susan constantly pushed Elizabeth to take a more active part in the work
for women's rights, not an easy task for a woman raising a family of seven
children. At first Elizabeth confined most of her efforts into writing
the speeches for Susan, and this enabled Susan to become the outgoing
and determined heckler of the men's world in the cause of women's rights.
In 1854 Susan finally convinced Elizabeth of the need for her to speak
on behalf of the cause before a joint judiciary committee of the New York
This was an unheard of event, for a woman never appeared before the legislature
to address these elected officials—men elected solely by men. Elizabeth
appeared bearing a petition signed by 6,000 individuals, petitioning the
State legislature for the right of women to control their own earnings,
the guardianship of their children in the event of a divorce, and the
right to vote. All these rights were being denied them under State law
and religious teachings, Elizabeth also pointed out that the laws taxed
an unmarried woman's earnings while denying her representation in government,
a case of "no taxation without representation"—a statement which
had been the rallying cry heard in years past when Americans had risen
in revolt against British legislation over the colonies. She also indicated
that the income of slaves could not be taxed, while the income of a woman
was taxed. Susan B. Anthony had 50,000 copies of Elizabeth's speech printed.
The Legislature, however, still refused to act. Obviously Susan and Elizabeth
were still far in advance of public opinion and public realities.
Unrepentant at the rebuffs being suffered for her ideas, later in 1886
Elizabeth decided to run for Congress since the United States Constitution
did not specify that only men could run. She knew she had no chance of
winning, but the point was to keep the issue of women's rights to the
fore. Elizabeth did speak at the Women's Rights Convention in the 1880s,
and she shocked even this then considered radical group since she demanded
the right for a woman to divorce her husband when a marriage was no longer
tenable. She re-defined marriage as a civil contract, subject to the restraints
and privileges of all other contracts. She thus demoted marriage from
a sacred, religious act of the church to a civil function by raising both
marriage and divorce to a civil, contractual right. "The right of marriage
is at the foundation of all reforms," she announced. This view was to
become law eventually, but it was still too radical for its own day. Elizabeth,
by her declaration, made plain that she had transcended the personalized,
pietistic morality of women's married life. She thus separated marriage
and the family from the legal and spiritual control of the church and
religion—and from man's inalienable control of wives as chattel
beyond the protection of the law. Her stance shocked not only the women
present at the Convention but also those men who had been thought to be
in the forefront of the liberal movements of their day. William Lloyd
Garrison and Wendell Philips, both of Boston, that hub of advanced ideas
at that time, turned against Elizabeth on this score. They were to help
in turning the newly established Republican Party against women's rights,
a plank which many women feel has remained in its polity.
In 1867 Elizabeth and Susan traveled to Kansas to speak in favor of giving
the ballot to Negroes and to women in that state. They were a curious
sight since women were not supposed to speak in public, but they spoke
often and forcibly, and this was considered a major act of defiance by
women. In Kansas the Republican Party fought their views and saw to the
defeat of the widening of enfranchisement of women and Negroes.
In Britain, where the same battle was being fought, there was more hope
for women's rights than in the United States. In 1870 British women obtained
the legal right to keep their own earnings instead of having them legally
appropriated by their husbands. The United States was not yet this forward
looking. Later Elizabeth was to journey to England where one of her grown
daughters lived for a time, and she could see the trials being endured
by the women of the British women's rights movement. She also spent some
time in France where a grown son was at work. Here she saw the hopelessness
of the situation for French women who were faced with the total opposition
to women's rights by the Catholic Church, the former aristocracy of the
right, and even by the more democratic forces in the nation.
Despite the failure in Kansas and then one in California in 1871 for
the right of women to vote in State elections, the two women worked together
for women's rights for fifty years. There were growing differences in
their approach to life and to the questions of polity, and this can be
seen in the way they addressed each other. Elizabeth always addressed
Susan as "Susan," whereas Susan always addressed Elizabeth as "Mrs. Stanton."
It was obvious that the two women were getting nowhere with the major
political party of the day, the Republican Party, or the men who controlled
it. Thus in 1869 the two women formed an organization in New York City
to which women alone could belong, "The National Women's Association."
They also started a new publication dedicated to women's rights, and,
true to their intent, they called the new publication "The Revolution."
Its slogan was "Men, their rights, and nothing more: women, their rights,
and nothing less." This was too strong for Lucy Stone, a staunch advocate
of women's rights, or for Henry Ward Beecher, one of the leading ministers
of the day. They in turn, in Boston on July 4, 1876, formed the "American
Women's Suffrage Association." Men and women could belong to their organization,
and its approach would be more moderate so as not to alienate the men
in political power in the Republican Party. In time, common sense prevailed,
and the two organizations joined in 1890. Yet within the next twenty years,
by 1910, only Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and Idaho had granted women the
right to vote in State elections. Susan B. Anthony went right to the top
for the cause, meeting with President Theodore Roosevelt to push for women's
right to vote. Roosevelt and his party turned a deaf ear to her pleas.
Despite the opposition of Lucy Stone and even Horace Greeley to many
of her ideas, Elizabeth brought them together in her parlor in New Jersey
where the Stantons had moved due to Henry's business ties in New York
City. Elizabeth had a new idea which she wished to push—a plan for
a co-educational college. Even Harvard and Columbia University had trouble
with that concept in the late twentieth century, one hundred years later.
In the 1880s, in the Stanton home in Tenafly, New Jersey, Elizabeth, with
the help of Susan, began what was to become a three-volume work entitled
The History of Women's Suffrage. A touchstone of the times can
be seen in the fact that in 1885, at the Women's Suffrage Convention,
some of her listeners were still shocked by Elizabeth's assertion that
women should be able to vote not only in State elections but in Federal
Elizabeth was correct in her own earlier estimation that she was becoming
more radical with the years. What she saw as the great opponents to the
rights of women were the Christian churches and Christianity itself. When
one perused the Bible, it constantly made women inferior to men, and the
tradition of male dominated Christian religion through the centuries only
confirmed this ingrown prejudice in the Christian and Jewish religions.
Thus in 1896 in her eightieth year, Elisabeth published The Woman's
Bible in which she annotated those passages in the Bible which she
found objectionable and irreligious in the broadest sense. This was a
bold stance in Victorian America, but the book quickly became a best seller.
In her later years Elizabeth became blind, and Susan often came to visit
her in New Jersey. It was at their last meeting when Elizabeth was eighty-six
that Susan had asked in tears if they would meet again. Susan announced
as they parted that she would return for Elizabeth's eighty-seventh birthday
that November. Elizabeth, however, died on October 26, 1902. Their friendship
was symbolized at Elizabeth's funeral, for the flower-bedecked casket
had atop it a picture of Susan B. Anthony, her beloved friend.
The story does not end here. In 1902, on her mother's death, Elizabeth's
daughter Harriot Stanton Blatch returned from England where she had been
living. Four years later she began an even more radical movement, "The
Equality League of Self-Supporting Women," an organization meant to appeal
to working-class women. That same year the organization opened its office
in New York City, and one of the speakers at the first meeting was Theodore
Stanton, returned from Paris where he had been working. He was the one-time,
eighteen-month-old who had been set afloat in the Seneca River years before
by his brothers with corks on his arms to support their theory that one
could float in such a condition.
Then on the sixtieth anniversary of the first women's convention in Seneca
Falls, Harriot Stanton Blatch and a group of women placed a plaque on
the southeast corner of the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel building, no longer
a chapel. This commemorated the beginning of the revolt by Lucretia Coffin
Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton against the political, legal, and religious
degradation of women as equal individuals and citizens. They were able
to recall the morning of July 19, 1848, when the streets of the small
village of Seneca Falls were crowded with people making their way to the
Wesleyan Chapel to attend the Women's Rights Convention. They recalled
as well that so many appeared, before the doors of the chapel were unlocked,
that Elizabeth Cady Stanton's nephew was lifted through an open window
to unlock the doors to permit access to the building so the convention
Then in 1915 the "Women's Political League," a militant group to which
Harriot Stanton Blatch belonged, held a "Grandmother's Day." Its
highlight was to be the appearance of Elizabeth Cady Stanton's family:
daughter Harriot, grand-daughter Nora Blatch DeForest, and great-grand-daughter
Harriot Stanton Blatch DeForest. Their appearance, unfortunately, had
to be cancelled at the last moment since the youngest member had come
down with chicken pox.
Harriot's daughter carried on the tradition, becoming one of the first
women to become a civil engineer, her daughter in turn became an architect.
Harriot's grand-daughter, one of those responsible for having the monument
to the pioneers of women's rights moved to its proper place in the Congress
in 1966 (see below), is an elected official in Greenwich, Connecticut.
Her grand-daughter's thirteen-year-old daughter and her mother and grandmother
participated in the 150th anniversary of the Women's Convention in Seneca
Falls when Hilary Rodham Clinton spoke at the re-dedication of the Historic
Park in 1998.
On November 7, 1917, New York State finally granted women suffrage within
the State. It was not until August 18, 1920, that Tennessee became the
thirty-sixth State to pass the nineteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution
which granted women the right to vote in national elections. Even then,
the measure passed by one vote, a vote cast by twenty-five year old Harry
Burn, an opponent of women's suffrage. In his pocket was a letter from
his mother which read, "Hurray, and vote for suffrage. Don't forget to
be a good boy." He later defended his vote with the statement, "A mother's
advice is safest for her boy to follow."
So ended a seventy-two year struggle, long after its initial participants
had passed from the scene. The battle for women's rights still continues
in legislative halls, in many churches (the Southern Baptists still insist
that women should be subordinate to men, as the Bible states), and among
politicians striving for votes, then as now. One symbol of the continuing
struggle can be remarked upon: At the end of September 1966, a controversy
finally came to an end, a controversy which began in 1921, when the all-male
Congress welcomed a nine-ton statue of Lucretia Mott, Susan B., Anthony,
and Elizabeth Cady Stanton to the Rotunda of the U.S. Congress. The 1966
Congress was finally approving the permanent move of the statue of the
three women to the Rotunda of the capitol Building, moving it from the
dark crypt to which it had been relegated two days after it had been welcomed
to the halls of Congress in 1921. Votes in 1928, 1932, and 1950 had kept
the statue in the basement. The only statue of a female in the Rotunda
had been that of the "Baptism of Pocahontas," hardly a major event in
the annals of American history. A survey of statues commemorating Americans
of note indicates that only forty outdoor statues of American women exist,
and five of these portray the female Indian guide of the Lewis and Clark
Today Seneca Falls is honored with the Women's Rights National Historical
Park. The original Wesleyan Chapel has gone through many vicissitudes
through the years. It has been an opera house, a movie theater, an automobile
garage, an apartment building, a self-service laundromat. In 1985 the
National Park Service purchased the derelict building and stripped it
of its accretions through the years. Today it is a shell of its original
being, but it still commemorates the actions of a brave and rather small
group of women and men who gathered here in July of 1848. An adjacent
park has a one-hundred-and-forty-foot waterfall which has inscribed on
its walls "The Declaration of Sentiments" which Elizabeth Cady Stanton
wrote and first read here more than 150 years ago. Adjacent is the former
Town Hall, a multi-story building which has been transformed into a museum
of the struggle for women's rights through the years.
Elizabeth and Henry Stanton's house at 32 Washington Street has been
restored to its 1848 status and is now a portion of the National Historic
Park. In addition, in neighboring Waterloo, the home of Jane and Richard
Hunt at 401 East Main Street still stands and now, too, has been made
a portion of the Historic Park. It was here that Elizabeth had tea with
four Quaker ladies, Jane Hunt, Lucretia Coffin Mott, Mary Ann M'Clintock,
and Martha Coffin Wright, a tea which led to the Women's Rights Movement.
The M'Clintock house at 16 East William Street in Waterloo where the "Declaration
of Sentiments" was agreed upon is now a portion, as well, of the National
Historic Women's Rights Park. It continues to illustrate the intimate
connection between Quaker reform and Women's Rights activism. Also of
interest in Seneca Falls is the former home of Amelia Bloomer, the woman
who is credited with the invention of the revolutionary and one-time shocking
"Bloomer" costume. It is at 53 Bayard Street, but it remains in private
Perhaps one last statement should be made about Lucretia Mott as a Quaker
and a pacifist who believed in a non-violent solution to problems and
who was naturally opposed to the Civil War. Both before and after the
war she preached continuously about poverty and the plight of poor working
people. She was concerned about the rights of the American Indians, and
she continually opposed white aggression against Indian tribes and their
lands, a continuing problem in American history. In 1866 she became the
first president of the "American Equal Rights Association," an inter-racial
group organized to work for the right to vote by both women and black
men. Despite attacks on her beliefs, she never stopped working against
injustice, of which for her, the Women's Rights Movement was but one aspect
of the need to challenge prejudice and intolerance wherever it occurred.
Barry, Kathleen. Susan B. Anthony, A Biography.
New York University Press. New York. 1988.
Bacon, Margaret. Valiant Friend: The Life of Lucretia
Mott. Walker. New York. 1980.
Banner, Lois. Elizabeth Cady Stanton: A Radical for
Women's Rights. Little, Brown. Boston. 1980.
Fuller, Margaret. Women in the Ninetenth Century.
A reprint of the 1845 edition. W.W. Norton. New York 1971.
Lutz, Alma. Created Equal: A Biography of Elizabeth
Cady Stanton, 1815-1902. John Day. New York. 1940.
Melder, Keith. Beginnings of Sisterhood: the American
Women's Rights Movement, 1800-1850. Shocker. New York. 1977.
Scott, Anne and Andrew Scott. One-Half the People:
The Fight For Women's Suffrage. University of Illinois Press. Chicago.
Stanton, Elizabeth Cady. Eighty Years and More: Reminiscences
1851-1897. Reprint by Shocker. New York. 1971.
Stanton, Elizabeth Cady. The Woman's Bible.
1898. Reprint by the Coalition Task Force on Women and Religion. Seattle.