Elizabeth Cady was born on November 12, 1815, in Johnstown, New York. Her family was well-to-do and her father was a notable lawyer and politician. She received an unusually rigorous education for a woman in the nineteenth century and learned much about the law at home in conversations with her father and his colleagues. Through her radical abolitionist cousin, Gerrit Smith, she met Henry Brewster Stanton, whom she married in 1840. Stanton bore seven children between 1842 and 1859 and played the primary role in their rearing.
Henry Stanton was a prominent abolitionist, and soon after their marriage the couple went to London to attend the World's Anti-Slavery Convention where she met Lucretia Mott, who had traveled there as a representative from Pennsylvania. When Mott and the other women representatives were not allowed to take their seats as delegates, Stanton and Mott began the plans for what became the woman's rights movement in the United States. Stanton spent the next seven years moving between her parents' New York home and Boston. She met many reform activists during this period and debated many of the issues of the day, including the split among abolitionists between immediate and gradual emancipation, and the relationship between religious themes and woman's rights subjects.
The Stanton family moved to Seneca Falls, New York, in 1847. About a year later, Stanton initiated the call for a woman's rights conference. An estimated 300 men and women attended that meeting, held from July 19 to 20, 1848, at Seneca Falls. The Seneca Falls Convention was the first woman's rights meeting in the United States. At its conclusion, sixty-eight women and thirty-two men signed the Declaration of Sentiments, written by Stanton and others, which outlined the individual rights of women.
Soon after and with the help of abolition groups, woman's rights groups formed in many states and began holding conventions and advocating legislation in favor of women's property and taxation rights. Acknowledged as one of the leaders of the woman's rights movement, Stanton wrote widely about women's issues, including education, increasing job opportunities, short hair styles, and rational dress. In 1851 Stanton met woman's rights activist Susan B. Anthony who had no husband or children and was able to disseminate their ideas and build up the movement while Stanton wrote the arguments.
Stanton's goal for woman suffrage was defined by her belief that men could not adequately represent women and women's issues. Stanton believed that women deserved the right to retain their own wages and property when married and the right to divorce abusive and destructive husbands. Her ideas at times put her at odds with other woman's rights advocates and most American clergymen. Throughout her career she often condemned religious teachings that explicitly or implicitly suggested the inferiority of women to men.
During and after the Civil War, Stanton advocated universal suffrage. She was bitterly disappointed with the Fifteenth Amendment's exclusion of woman suffrage, leading her to abandon the tradition of universal rights in favor of rights for women, aligning herself at times with politicians who sought to disenfranchise African Americans. During this time, Stanton lectured extensively, touring the country and mobilizing women nationwide. She was instrumental in founding the National Woman Suffrage Association and served as the president of that organization and its successor, the National American Woman Suffrage Association from 1869 to 1892. After 1880 she lightened her lecture load and began attending fewer meetings. She published several books about the woman suffrage movement and her own life.
Stanton moved several times between 1862 and 1895, living in New York City, New Jersey, and for a time in Europe with two of her children. She died in New York City on October 26, 1902.
Lutz, Alma. Created Equal: A Biography of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 1815–1902. New York: John Day, 1940.
Banner, Lois. Elizabeth Cady Stanton: A Radical for Woman's Rights. Boston: Little, Brown, 1980.
Griffith, Elisabeth. In Her Own Right: The Life of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984.
Wellman, Judith. “The Seneca Falls Women's Rights Convention: A Study of Social Networks.” Journal of Women's History 3 (Spring 1991): 9–37.
DuBois, Ellen Carol. Feminism and Suffrage: The Emergence of an Independent Women's Movement in America, 1849–1869. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1978.
DuBois, Ellen Carol. Woman Suffrage and Women's Rights. New York: New York University Press, 1998.
Gordon, Ann D., ed. The Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton & Susan B. Anthony. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1997.