Heroes of Progress in America - Charles Morris

Elizabeth Lady Stanton,
the Women's Right's Pioneer

The first meeting devoted to the rights of women that history records was held in the village of Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848, and chief among those to whom this meeting was due must be named that ardent advocate of the rights of her sex, Elizabeth Cady Stanton. This meeting was a notable event in the history of one half the human race, the weaker half in physical strength. It issued the earliest Declaration of Independence in the battle for the freedom of women. With it began a fight which has never since ceased. In this conflict many victories have been won, and there can be little doubt that the women reformers will win in the end all they have asked for.

It was not social rights that these women demanded. Those they had. Society was their acknowledged field. What they asked for were legal and political rights. They wished to become the equals of man in all property and personal laws, and they wished to have the right to vote, to be made man's equal in choosing those who were to govern and make laws for the nation. This is what an ardent host of women had been seeking for more than half a century and Mrs. Stanton was a leader among those who first set the ball rolling. This being the case, a sketch of the life of this able woman belongs to our work.

Elizabeth Cady was born at Johnstown, New York, November 12, 18 i 5. Her father, Judge Daniel Cady, was a well known and much respected man in that town, long an able lawyer and afterwards a judge in Fulton County, in which Johnstown is situated. The little girl, as she grew up, delighted to be in her father's office, to listen to what was said there, and to chatter away in her own style when she had a chance. She was bright and quick, and would sit silent in her corner listening to those who came to see her father on business, and taking in with much intelligence what they said. When women came in and began to talk about how unjust the laws were towards them, the little girl listened more eagerly still. If they spoke angrily she grew angry for them, and if they complained sadly her sympathetic soul grew sad also.

Outside the office she had often been hurt to see how much attention was given to boys and how little to girls, and to find that girls did not "count for much "when their brothers were about. All this was a source of much mortification to the child, who could not see what made a boy better than a girl, and why he should have a better education and a superior chance in life. She resolved that she would show that she was the equal of any boy and had as much courage and ability as they had.

Little Elizabeth had four sisters and one brother, and her father seemed to regard the latter more highly than all five of his girls. When his son died he could not be consoled, though he had all these girls left. "I wish you were a boy," he said with a sigh to Elizabeth. "Then I will be a boy and will do all my brother did," she replied. She looked on courage and learning as the points of boyish superiority, and she resolved to show she had these by learning to manage a horse and by studying Greek.

Determined that none of the boys should be ahead of her, she studied mathematics, Latin, and Greek, branches then usually thought beyond the scope of girls, and showed her ability by winning a Greek Testament as a prize for scholarship. No doubt her young heart swelled with joy at this triumph over the boys of her class. She afterwards graduated at the head of her class in the academy of Johnstown.

So far she had kept her word, but here her course was stayed. There was not a college in the country at that time that would take girl students, and her indignation and vexation were great to find that boys who had been much below her in the academy could go to college, while she, because she happened to be a girl, was kept out.

This seemed to her very unfair. And when she remembered what she had heard in her father's office about the injustice of the laws towards women she grew to feel very bitter about the one-sided way in which the world was managed. No doubt she made up her mind even in those early days to fight against this injustice, for the fight which she afterwards began she never gave up while she lived. As for education, she managed to get a fair share of it outside of college halls, partly in a young lady's seminary, but more by a course of home study after her school life was ended.

She early began to take an interest in the affairs of the country, and became very earnest in the cause of reform, no matter what its field. In 1839 she married Henry B. Stanton, at that time an eloquent and popular lecturer on the subject of anti-slavery, one of the reforms of which she had become an earnest advocate.

Mr. Stanton was sent to London in 1840, as a delegate to the World's Anti-Slavery Convention, and his wife went with him, not as a delegate, but as a companion and warm sympathizer. She was not one of those women who were excluded from the meetings of the convention by the votes of its members, but she was in close touch with those who were, and very likely her indignation was again aroused by this treatment of women as if they were inferior to men.

One pleasant thing came to Mrs. Stanton through this visit to London: she made the acquaintance of the sweet and charming Lucretia Mott, this growing into an intimate friendship which lasted through Mrs. Molt's life. They were doubtless in warm sympathy in many of their views, and especially in that to which Mrs. Stanton's thoughts were most strongly turned, the unjust laws and customs regarding women.

When she returned to America she had evidently made up her mind to devote her life to the cause of women, and resist, in all the forms it had taken, the ancient and obstinate tyranny against her sex. She was by no means alone in this. There were many of the same way of thinking. We may name Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony, and Lucy Stone as well-known examples. But Mrs. Stanton was the most active and energetic in the work of calling together and organizing the advocates of Women's Rights, and it was very largely due to her that in July, 1848, the first Women's Rights convention in the world's history was called together at Seneca Falls.

What the members of this convention had in mind was to begin a contest to make women the equals of men before the law. Mrs. Stanton went farther than them all, demanding that they should include the suffrage for women among the rights they demanded.

This radical suggestion met with vigorous opposition. At first Mrs. Stanton stood almost alone in it, being supported only by one other delegate, Frederick Douglass. Her husband strongly objected to it as unwise and injudicious. Lucretia Mott did the same. Susan B. Anthony, whose activity in the cause began later, at first looked upon the demand for the ballot as ridiculous. Mrs Stanton and Douglass, her one supporter, were in face of a hard fight.

But she was in dead earnest, and she did what she had never done before: she stated her views in public, and with a power of oratory she did not know she possessed. Douglass, an able and eloquent speaker, strongly supported her, and between them they won vote after vote, until Mrs. Stanton had carried all her resolutions, including that in favor of woman suffrage.

The report of what was done in this convention excited great attention throughout the country. To demand the suffrage for women! It was preposterous! Anything so utterly absurd had never been heard of before. Such was the tone of most of the papers that deigned to consider it seriously, but the bulk of the newspapers looked upon it as only a matter for laughter and editorial humor.

This reception had a discouraging effect upon many, but not upon Mrs. Stanton. She set to work vigorously using her new-found powers of oratory and lecturing in all directions. Two years later Susan B. Anthony, who had ridiculed the demand for the ballot on first hearing of it, changed her views, joined Mrs. Stanton as a friend and fellow-worker, and the two devoted their lives to the advocacy of the cause.

In 1866 Mrs. Stanton, then residing in New York City, offered herself as a candidate for Congress to the 8th district voters. Out of 23,000 votes cast she got just 24. In 1868 she, with Miss Anthony and others, started The Revolution, the pioneer Women's Rights journal. She was one of its editors for the few years before failure met it. It was finally merged in The Liberal Christian, a Unitarian paper. She afterwards lectured for many years in her chosen field. A ready and happy speaker, her labors went far to advance the interests of the cause she had at heart. In addition, she, with others, compiled a voluminous "History of Woman Suffrage "(three volumes of i000 pages each), made up of documentary evidence and biographical sketches. In 1883, being on a visit to Europe, she held conferences with John Bright and others upon her favorite topic.

The social and political reforms advocated by Mrs. Stanton made remarkable progress during the more than fifty years which she devoted to them. The property rights of women have been placed on a level with those of men in some States, and have everywhere advanced in the direction of equal treatment of the sexes. As regards the demand for the ballot, the work in which she was the pioneer, its success has been very encouraging. To-day women have the full right of voting in four of the States, and in many others can vote in school-board elections and other local matters. And it has spread to other lands, especially to Australia, in which women vote on equal terms with men.

Mrs. Stanton had the unique distinction of being able to look back to the day in which she stood alone among her sex as an advocate of woman suffrage, her only supporter being a man of negro race, Frederick Douglass, and living to see it adopted in four of the American States and in island realms afar. She was a conqueror in her life's fight when death came to her, October 26, 1902.