For over sixty years has Mrs. Stanton been engaged in unceasing efforts for the benefit of her sex. Among many changes which she has seen come to pass have been those of mothers appointed equal guardians of the children with their husbands; laws respecting the liability of employers to workingwomen; laws regulating child labor in factories in most of the States; women on the boards of directors in asylums, penitentiaries, and almshouses; women matrons in police stations; equal pay for equal work; women in the colleges, universities, and professions; the rights of business women protected: and she has also seen that marvelous growth of organization for women which has reached such a development in the United States that it is the wonder of the world. She has seen the Australasian lands, Queensland, Victoria, New Zealand, Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah, extend political equality to both sexes, and incidental to these great changes she has seen the many accompanying ones of lesser note due to the change in public opinion and the gradual education of the masses up to a more reasonable standard.
It was at the age of twenty-four, in the year 1839, that Elizabeth Cady met Henry Brewster Stanton, distinguished as a jurist, writer, orator, and scholar. The young lawyer came, saw, and was conquered, and in the following year, 1840, the two were married. All the world knows that Elizabeth Cady Stanton has all her married life been a devoted wife and mother. At a time when certain ill-informed editorial paragraphs were telling their readers that all the leaders of the suffrage movement were “a lot of sour old maids, ” Mrs. Stanton, Lucy Stone, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and others, were writing books, addresses, and pamphlets while they rocked the cradle with one foot; and they were wont to pursue their most arduous labors for education and philanthropy in the fickle and infrequent pauses between arduous household duties.
Henry Brewster Stanton was a man of broad mind and upright moral principles, and his sympathy with his wife’s sentiments in behalf of her sex was perfect;so that in her married life she happily experienced a continuation of those harmonious elements which had been part of her girlhood—an environment of a lifetime that is remarkable when one considers the average lot of humanity. Their union was a most happy one, blessed by several children, all of whom attained some prominence in one way or another.
To us, happily living in a more enlightened period, some of the laws of that day are almost incredible. At that time a married woman was simply so much of her husband’s property, a mere chattel, as much so as furniture, office fixtures, or personal property; scarcely any rights could she call her own. A survival of the barbarous old Common Law of England, which provided that a man might beat his wife with a stick”no thicker than his thumb, ” was the basis of most of the laws for wives. A husband could beat his wife for any real or fancied misdemeanor, could drag her out of any house or away from anyplace where he did not wish her to be by main force, could compel her to a diet of bread and water, could take any money she had put by in a savings bank, and by her marriage all her property, real and personal, became his, even down to the smallest articles of her wearing apparel.
All these laws the young, beautiful, and talented girl found, read, and rejected, and then, in the full vigor of her early powers, she made the extraordinary argument before the Constitutional Convention at Albany, which speedily became a theme of comment both in Europe and America.
Elizabeth Cady was born November 5, 1815. Her genealogy was of that staunch type which has from time immemorial produced scholars, scientists, philosopher sand philanthropists. She is an American among Americans, and acknowledges to an English ancestry those sterling characteristics which are the best of our heritage from England.
In her, heredity did a noble work, and transmitted to the daughter many of the finest physical and mental attributes of her father, Judge Daniel Cady, a man of scholarship and of unusual attainments in jurisprudence, and of her mother, Margaret Livingston Cady, who was an intellectual and cultured woman, and in her youth a beauty and a belle.
There are few lives great enough to be conscientiously reviewed before they are snuffed out. Either their virtues are so heroic that admiration deteriorates into adulation, or their faults are so great that condemnation becomes abuse. Each extreme is unjust toward its object. That life best lends itself to scrutiny and judgment which has been lived, not for self but for humanity; which has regarded the benefit of the human race rather than the exploiting of an individual; which has been devoted to principles, ideas, and ideals, rather than to creeds, forms, and dogmas; which has been generous, beneficent, and sympathetic, and which has had not ambition but aspiration for its motive.
Such a life has been that of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and in the serene aftermath of this well-balanced and dignified career it is fitting that her record maybe placed before the country where her life and life-labors have resulted in infinite advantage not only to her own sex, but to the opposite as well, for the advancement of one is inevitably bound up with that of the other. In a realization of this great fact has always lain a large part of the secret of her power over the minds of others, and of the respect which has always been paid her; for apart from a finely disciplined and thoroughly cultivated mind she has had those warmer and broader sympathies of the soul and heart which have brought her into intimate touch with humanity, and made her the friend of the people and the prophet of the future.
Mrs. Stanton has naturally been identified with the woman suffrage movement all her life, yet nothing but the most narrow and imperfect view of her life would class her as a suffragist alone. She herself says that she has never considered the ballot for women as more than merely one step to be taken in the full round necessary for development, nor does she really believe in anything save an educational qualification for both sexes. She has stood for much more than this; she spoke for the slaves when Whittier was writing poems for his brothers in shackles, and when John Hutchinson was singing his wonderful songs; when Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips were arousing the country with their oratory; when Lucy Stone, sweetest and most benignant of all the leaders of woman suffrage in the United States, was lifting up her voice, and when Harriet Beecher Stowe was writing “Uncle Tom’s Cabin. ”
Then, as soon as the first barriers were down, and the memorable convention of 1848 had marked an epoch never to be forgotten, she stood for the cause of the higher education of woman; and Vassar, Oberlin, the Emma Willard Seminary, Wellesley, Barnard, Bryn Mawr, and all the coeducational system of the great colleges and universities have owed something to her. And as in education so in other things; every woman who to-day is able to accomplish anything in law, medicine, theology, journalism, art, science, or the business world, is that much indebted to this brainy and courageous woman, who has all her life dared to lead where others dared to follow.
By Mary C. Francis
Collection: Godey’s Lady’s Book
Publication: Godey’s Lady’s Book
Date: July, 1896
Title: Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Location: Philadelphia, PA