Last Updated November 23, 1999; comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
(Ed Note: This is the fifth in a series of our exclusive publication of the manuscript written by Nancy after much research to fill in the gaps left by history books when dealing with women’s issues and their struggle to gain the vote.)
Elizabeth Cady Stanton lived at a time when reform was nearly a national obsession. Slavery, temperance, education, labor—all were concerns of the many women and men who wanted to change the nation during the 19th century. Intelligent and widely read, it is not surprising that Elizabeth was drawn into the reform movements which characterized the age.
But to her conservative family and liberal friends alike, Elizabeth pushed too far beyond the scope of legitimate causes. She demanded that "woman’s cause" be added to the reform agenda. Women, she said, had been subordinated by an "entrenched patriarchy supported by a Judeo-Christian tradition and English common law."
Women are like Slaves
As an early supporter of abolition, Elizabeth soon drew the analogy between women and slaves. Like slaves, she reasoned, women were owned. They had no legal status, received little if any education, held no property, not even the clothes they wore, were kept in their assigned places by Biblical injunction, and were beaten occasionally if not regularly. To Elizabeth Stanton, this was cause enough.
But in her personal life, there was further cause. She was born to wealth and society, but the comforts thus provided could not make up for the lack she felt throughout her life from her father and husband. Judge Daniel Cady, and later Henry Stanton, did not comprehend her need for their respect and esteem which, she suspected, were withheld simply because she was a woman. In a letter to Susan Anthony, she wrote, "To think that all in me of which my father would have felt a proper pride had I been a man, is deeply mortifying to him because I am a woman."
Her father and mother, Margaret Livingston Cady, had eleven children, five boys and six girls. All of the boys died in infancy or early childhood except one, Eleazar, who graduated from college in 1826. Within a few weeks, Eleazar became ill and died, too. Judge Cady was inconsolable.
Elizabeth, then eleven, wrote later in her autobiography of going into the darkened parlor to see her brother laid out for burial. There she found her dejected father alone. She waited "a long time," but as he paid no attention to her, she finally climbed onto his lap and rested her head against him. "Mechanically," she recalled, he put his arm around her. After a long silence, the Judge sighed sorrowfully, "Oh, my daughter, I wish you were a boy!"
Years later, as she became more publicly involved with woman’s rights, Judge Cady adamantly opposed her. In 1854, when Elizabeth said she would speak before the New York Legislature on behalf of a Married Woman’s Property Rights bill, the Judge attempted to dissuade her by offering her the deed to some property she wanted. That failing, he threatened to disinherit her entirely. When the Judge died in 1859 at age eighty-six, she and her father had not healed the rift that occurred five years earlier and which, perhaps, began in early childhood. However, the Judge did not exclude her in his will.
Elizabeth inherited cash and real estate estimated at $50,000 which finally gave her, Henry and the children financial security. Despite Henry’s being away on business the better part of each year, his income since their marriage in 1840 was inadequate at best. When he practiced law, the profession he gained as a clerk in Judge Cady’s firm, his fees "depended upon the outcome of his cases and the ability of his clients to pay." He attempted to "increase his income as an author, state senator, newspaper correspondent and lyceum lecturer." Despite the unpaid bills and the responsibilities of an ever-increasing family, Henry never seemed to find time to work at home in the orchards, gardens or general upkeep of the property, adding to the family’s financial burdens as well as to Elizabeth’s.
Marriage to Henry Stanton
When Elizabeth married Henry, she was strongly attracted to his position on equality. Shortly after their wedding, however, when they attended an International Anti-Slavery meeting in London as part of their honeymoon excursion, Henry voted with the other male delegates not to accept the credentials or seat the female delegates sent from America. That incident, keenly noted by Elizabeth, perhaps began an early disillusionment with Henry. In any event, her expectations of "marriage as a partnership of equals" went unfulfilled as the years passed.
Henry was "away on business when each of their seven children was born." She cam to resent "Henry’s freedom to come and go at will and to have ample time to read, write and speak on behalf of reforms she also supported." When he was away, Henry wrote "entertaining, interesting letters." But she did not like "reading his reports of debates and dances she could not attend." The extent of his supervision of the children was to admonish them in his letters to "mulch the apple trees, hoe the vegetables, haul the firewood and mind mother, " most of which the rowdy boys ignored.
Throughout their marriage, the Stantons spent only short periods of time actually living together. Time apart, however, did not deter their having seven children. In later years, Henry maintained a residence in New York City and Elizabeth lived on an estate in Tenafly, N.J., which she purchased with her inheritance money. When Henry died in 1887, Elizabeth was visiting their daughter in England. "She did not return to bury him."
In her diary for that date she wrote, "Ah! If we could only remember in life to be gentle and forbearing with each other, and to strive to serve nobly instead of exacting service, our memories of the past would be more pleasant." She "did not mention Henry’s name or his relation to her or recall fond memories of their life together."
(Quotes from Griffith, Elizabeth, In Her Own Right, Oxford University Press, 1984; general background from various published sources on woman’s history. Copyright 1993)
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