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The Political Thought of Elizabeth Cady Stanton

The Political Thought of Elizabeth Cady Stanton: Women's Rights and the American Political Traditions

Sue Davis
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 309
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  • Book Info
    The Political Thought of Elizabeth Cady Stanton
    Book Description:

    2009 Choice Outstanding Academic TitleElizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902) was not only one of the most important leaders of the nineteenth century women's rights movement but was also the movement's principal philosopher. Her ideas both drew from and challenged the conventions that so severely constrained women's choices and excluded them from public life.In The Political Thought of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Sue Davis argues that Cady Stanton's work reflects the rich tapestry of American political culture in the second half of the nineteenth century and that she deserves recognition as a major figure in the history of political ideas. Davis reveals the way that Cady Stanton's work drew from different political traditions ranging from liberalism, republicanism, inegalitarian ascriptivism, and radicalism. Cady Stanton's arguments for women's rights combined approaches that in contemporary feminist theory are perceived to involve conflicting strategies and visions. Nevertheless, her ideas had a major impact on the development of the varieties of feminism in the twentieth century. Thoroughly researched and engagingly written, The Political Thought of Elizabeth Cady Stanton draws on a wide variety of primary and secondary sources and promises to fill a gap in the literature on the history of political ideas in the United States as well as women's history and feminist theory.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-8516-4
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. 1 Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Multiple Traditions
    (pp. 1-38)

    The meeting that began on July 19, 1848 , in the Wesleyan chapel in Seneca Falls, New York, launched the first organized movement for women’s rights in the United States. The Seneca Falls Convention also marked the beginning of the long career of its chief organizer, thirtythree-year-old Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Not only was Cady Stanton¹ one of the most important leaders of the woman’s rights movement for nearly half a century, but she was also the movement’s principal philosopher. Her ideas challenged the conventions of the nineteenth century that constrained women’s lives and excluded women from public life. Although it...

  5. 2 Seneca Falls and Beyond: Attacking the Cult of Domesticity with Equality and Inalienable Rights
    (pp. 39-69)

    Elizabeth Cady Stanton was the driving force behind the Seneca Falls Convention—the meeting that launched the woman’s rights movement in 1848. That gathering marked the beginning of her long career as a leader of the movement, and it was there that she first articulated a set of systematic arguments on behalf of women’s rights. During the next dozen years, she prepared addresses for woman’s rights conventions, lobbied for married women’s property rights in New York State, organized a Conversation Club in Seneca Falls that lasted for several years,¹ was a regular contributor to the temperance journal theLilyand...

  6. 3 The 1850s: Married Women’s Property Rights, Divorce, and Temperance
    (pp. 70-92)

    The legal disabilities of married women were of paramount importance to the antebellum woman’s rights leaders, and especially to Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Indeed, the authors of the History ofWoman Suffrageidentified “discussion in several of the State Legislatures on the property rights of married women” as one of the “immediate causes that led to the demand for the equal political rights of women.”¹ As we have seen, two of the grievances in the Declaration of Sentiments stated that “He has made her, if married, in the eye of the law, civilly dead. He has taken from her all right...

  7. 4 Gatherings of Unsexed Women: Separate Spheres and Women’s Rights
    (pp. 93-112)

    This chapter revolves around one of Cady Stanton’s responses to the cultural and political context of her life in the 1850s. The way she framed her answers to the opponents of women’s rights underlines the way that she both relied on and rejected the ideology of the cult of domesticity, with its rigid division between the public and private spheres. I begin by examining the criticisms that came from legislators, reformers, and journalists and from women who maintained that they were satisfied with their status. Those criticisms underline the extent to which the cult of domesticity permeated American culture and...

  8. 5 The Civil War Years: Breaking Down Barriers Between Public and Private
    (pp. 113-127)

    With the outbreak of the Civil War, in 1861, Cady Stanton put aside her work for women’s rights in order to devote herself to the cause of emancipation and Union victory. Yet she did not really turn away from women’s rights but instead thoroughly integrated that cause with abolitionism. Moreover, her work during the war served to undermine the boundary between the public and the private spheres in ways that were enormously important in the struggle for women’s rights and in the development of her ideas.

    During the second half of the 1850s, the conflict over slavery moved to the...

  9. 6 The Postwar Years: Reconstruction and Positivism
    (pp. 128-156)

    Since the 1960s, scholars have explored the ways in which white women’s rights activists in the postbellum years set aside their egalitarian values when it came to rights for African Americans.¹ A number of historians have examined the impact that the male abolitionists’ abandonment of woman suffrage had on the movement, noting that the willingness of white reformers to exploit racist arguments to promote women’s rights, at least in part, was a result of the dissolution of the alliance between abolitionism and women’s rights.² More recently, however, scholars have begun to emphasize that discourses of race as well as gender...

  10. 7 The Postwar Years: The New Departure, the Alliance with Labor, and the Critique of Marriage
    (pp. 157-177)

    The goal of this chapter is to delineate the radical dimension of Cady Stanton’s thought by examining her attempt to forge an alliance with labor, her vision of marriage, and her determination to enlighten women about their position within the family. Although the radical strain of her work is apparent in those areas, the fact that she was still relying on liberal principles is evidenced by her legal argument for woman suffrage that she embraced during this period. I begin with an examination of that argument, the “New Departure,” and then turn to her alliance with labor, her arguments concerning...

  11. 8 Not the Word of God But the Work of Men: Cady Stanton’s Critique of Religion
    (pp. 178-195)

    By the 1880s, the United States was drastically different from the country that it had been in 1848, when Cady Stanton organized the first woman’s rights convention at Seneca Falls. The industrial revolution had transformed the country, bringing large-scale industry, heavily populated urban areas, large businesses and corporations, and nationwide systems of transportation. Moreover, the United States was soon to become one of the world’s great powers. The United States’s war with Spain in 1898 ended in victory and the acquisition of Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam. Accompanying the massive economic growth and rapid industrialization was an increasing...

  12. 9 “In the Long Weary March, Each One Walks Alone”: Evolution and Anglo-Saxonism at Century’s End
    (pp. 196-218)

    This chapter continues to examine Cady Stanton’s work during the last twenty years of her life. Here I turn to the impact that the doctrines of social Darwinism and Anglo-Saxonism had on her arguments. The growing popularity of evolutionary theory had a double-pronged impact on the development of her ideas during the last twenty years of the nineteenth century. First, it raised serious questions about the viability of the literal interpretation of the Bible and thus encouraged some scholars and members of the clergy to begin to analyze Scripture so that it could coexist with Darwin’s arguments about the origins...

  13. 10 Multiple Feminisms and Multiple Traditions: Elizabeth Cady Stanton in American Political Thought
    (pp. 219-226)

    When Cady Stanton died, on October 26, 1902, she was nearly eighty-seven years old and had been working for women’s rights for fifty-five years. Women’s lives had changed a great deal during that half century: the states had changed their laws so that married women had property rights, and in cases of divorce women could gain custody of their children, although judges tended to interpret the laws narrowly out of deference to common-law rules that established the husband as head of the household.¹ Women frequently attended and graduated from colleges and universities, and a few women had managed to enter...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 227-270)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 271-280)
  16. Index
    (pp. 281-298)
  17. About the Author
    (pp. 299-299)