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Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Feminist as Thinker: A Reader in Documents and Essays

Ellen Carol DuBois
Richard Cándida Smith
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 328
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    Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Feminist as Thinker
    Book Description:

    More than one hundred years after her death, Elizabeth Cady Stanton still stands - along with her close friend Susan B. Anthony - as the major icon of the struggle for women's suffrage. In spite of this celebrity, Stanton's intellectual contributions have been largely overshadowed by the focus on her political activities, and she is yet to be recognized as one of the major thinkers of the nineteenth century.Here, at long last, is a single volume exploring and presenting Stanton's thoughtful, original, lifelong inquiries into the nature, origins, range, and solutions of women's subordination. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Feminist as Thinker reintroduces, contextualizes, and critiques Stanton's numerous contributions to modern thought. It juxtaposes a selection of Stanton's own writings, many of them previously unavailable, with eight original essays by prominent historians and social theorists interrogating Stanton's views on such pressing social issues as religion, marriage, race, the self and community, and her place among leading nineteenth century feminist thinkers. Taken together, these essays and documents reveal the different facets, enduring insights, and fascinating contradictions of the work of one of the great thinkers of the feminist tradition.Contributors: Barbara Caine, Richard Candida Smith, Ellen Carol DuBois, Ann D. Gordon, Vivian Gornick, Kathi Kern, Michele Mitchell, and Christine Stansell.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-8527-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)
    Ellen Carol DuBois and Richard Cándida Smith

    Although Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815–1902) was a prolific writer who produced far-ranging explorations of the political, social, historical, and religious dimensions of women’s subordinate status, little of her writing has been easily available. She is an important figure in the development of intellectual life in the United States but known today for only a handful of pieces, most prominently “The Declaration of Sentiments” drafted for the 1848 Seneca Falls women’s rights convention and her 1892 address, “Solitude of Self.”¹ Historians of women’s rights have concentrated on Stanton’s role as activist and agitator in the earliest woman’s suffrage organizations,² but...

  5. PART I The Essays

    • Chapter 1 Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the Long View
      (pp. 17-31)
      Vivian Gornick

      Elizabeth Stanton once wrote of Susan Anthony: “In ancient Greece she would have been a Stoic; in the era of the Reformation, a Calvinist; in King Charles’ time, a Puritan; but in this nineteenth century, by the very laws of her being, she is a Reformer.”

      “And you?” I remember thinking when I read these words. “What about you? Is that how you are to be summed up? As an essence of an Age of Reform?”

      Just to ask the question was to hear it answered. The description was insufficient. If anything, it made her reader (this reader, at least)...

    • Chapter 2 Missed Connections: Abolitionist Feminism in the Nineteenth Century
      (pp. 32-49)
      Christine Stansell

      The sweep of the feminist tradition in the United States, arguably the locale of its most radical innovations, throws up both enormous achievements and dispiriting failures. Of the failures, none has been more noticed, more pronounced than feminism’s difficulties in making an enduring common cause with democratic race politics. Facing the blockages, historians have searched for a logic that explains the inadequacies of a women’s politics which, some have argued, were indelibly marked from the very beginning by racism and a fixation on race-privilege: all the perfidies conjured up by the category “whiteness.” In the 1960s, scholars exaggerated the egalitarianism...

    • Chapter 3 Elizabeth Cady Stanton, John Stuart Mill, and the Nature of Feminist Thought
      (pp. 50-65)
      Barbara Caine

      In what was ostensibly a letter of praise, the English writer H. G. Wells once wrote to Dora Russell (Bertrand Russell’s first wife) how much he admired her energy and initiative. “Bertie thinks,” he wrote, “and I write but youdo.”¹ As she was well aware, this praise contained a sting. Like Bertrand Russell, Wells often made clear his sense of women’s intellectual inadequacies—and he rarely went so far as to suggest that a capacity for action was to be rated more highly than writing or thought. Indeed, this letter illustrates very neatly the gendered division between thought and...

    • Chapter 4 Stanton on Self and Community
      (pp. 66-81)
      Richard Cándida Smith

      Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s apparently absolute defense of individual rights in her talk from 1892, “Solitude of Self,” rests on a sober confrontation with mortality. She was seventy-six years old, still vibrant intellectually but facing the increasing physical limitations of old age. The feminist movement she had piloted since the 1840s was shifting away from a broad natural rights defense of women’s equality in all areas of life into a narrower, more respectable campaign for the vote. Without question, she understood the importance of suffrage, for without the vote no person could participate in the great decisions of the day, in...

    • Chapter 5 “The Pivot of the Marriage Relation”: Stanton’s Analysis of Women’s Subordination in Marriage
      (pp. 82-92)
      Ellen Carol DuBois

      Soon after they first met, Elizabeth Stanton wrote to her new friend Susan B. Anthony, “It is vain to look for the elevation of woman so long as she is degraded in marriage…. I feel as never before that this whole question of woman’s rights turns on the pivot of the marriage relation.”¹ Six years later, Stanton elaborated her conviction that the subordination of women had its roots in the institution of marriage:

      In the review of woman’s position—of her profitless labor—of her crippling, dwarfing dress—of her civic and legal disabilities—of her religious bondage—of her...

    • Chapter 6 “Free Woman Is a Divine Being, the Savior of Mankind”: Stanton’s Exploration of Religion and Gender
      (pp. 93-110)
      Kathi Kern

      In 1896 the National American Woman Suffrage Association repudiated Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s recently published book,The Woman’s Bible. In a debate that was widely publicized in the national press, suffragists weighed and measured the extent to which Stanton’s controversial work had damaged their movement. Stanton was devastated. But she was also convinced that her critique of religion was more timely than ever.¹ The very integrity of the republic was at stake. “Much as I desire the suffrage,” she wrote, I would rather never vote than to see the policies of our government at the mercy of the religious bigotry of...

    • Chapter 7 Stanton and the Right to Vote: On Account of Race or Sex
      (pp. 111-127)
      Ann D. Gordon

      Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s luster as an advocate of women’s voting rights is dimming under the close scrutiny of intellectual and cultural historians focused on her racial constructions. These writers would have us believe (a) that Stanton was motivated principally by humiliation that black men voted before she did; (b) that she pursued the interests of her social class and the white race, while speaking in terms of universal rights; and (c) that she changed little, if at all, between her opposition to the Fifteenth Amendment in 1869 and her advocacy of literacy as a qualification to vote in the mid-1890s.¹...

    • Chapter 8 “Lower Orders,” Racial Hierarchies, and Rights Rhetoric: Evolutionary Echoes in Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s Thought during the Late 1860s
      (pp. 128-152)
      Michele Mitchell

      After the Civil War, Elizabeth Cady Stanton harbored a fixation of sorts over “Patrick, Sambo, Hans, and Yung Tung.” During the late 1860s, the quartet appeared in her personal correspondence, in articles that she wrote for theRevolution,in an address before the American Equal Rights Association. She eventually inserted these fictive, male representations of immigrants and former slaves in the second volume of theHistory of Woman Suffrageas well. The foursome even morphed into “Jonathan, Patrick, … Sambo … Hans and Yang-Tang” on at least one occasion. Indeed, Stanton’s fixation was purposeful:

      Just so … woman finds it...

  6. PART II A Selection of Speeches, Articles, and Essays by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 1854–1901

    • Chapter 1 “Address to the Legislature of New York, Albany, February 14, 1854”
      (pp. 155-169)

      Editors’ Note: Stanton had helped launch the women’s rights movement in the United States by organizing the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, shortly after the New York legislature began reforming laws that had limited married women’s property rights. With a growing brood of children to raise and a household to manage, Stanton could seldom leave her home to attend the continuing conventions that provided the main venues for the development of the movement. Domestic confinement, however, allowed her to read in depth and develop the arguments that made her the intellectual leader of the movement. This speech before the New York...

    • Chapter 2 “Address to the Legislature on Women’s Right of Suffrage, Albany, February 18, 1860”
      (pp. 170-178)

      Editors’ Note: Stanton again appeared before the state legislature in February 1860 to deliver one of her most powerful arguments for women’s emancipation. Susan B. Anthony was coordinating a new campaign to follow up on the modest reforms of 1848 and secure a broader package of economic and property rights for married women in New York. The state assembly had passed a second Married Women’s Property Act, and the day after Stanton spoke, so did the state senate. Anticipating victory, Stanton’s remarks look past the granting of equal property rights to the broader challenge of securing equal political rights for...

    • Chapter 3 “Address to the Tenth National Women’s Rights Convention on Marriage and Divorce, New York City, May 11, 1860”
      (pp. 179-186)

      Editors’ Note: Two months after the 1860 passage of a broad Married Women’s Property Act for New York State, Stanton called for radical liberalization in state laws governing divorce. At the time, state laws varied greatly, and only Indiana and Connecticut provided relatively liberal terms for securing divorces. Not only did all of the newspaper coverage and most of Stanton’s male friends criticize her call that her home state of New York follow in this direction, but many in the women’s rights audience disagreed, believing that making marriages easier to dissolve was no way, to use Stanton’s phrase, to “protect...

    • Chapter 4 “Address to Anniversary of American Equal Rights Association, May 12, 1869, New York City”
      (pp. 187-205)

      Editors’ Note: With the insult of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments fresh in her mind, Stanton demanded an additional amendment—had it passed it would have been the Sixteenth—to add woman suffrage to the Constitution. This speech, delivered at the meeting in which the Reconstruction-era coalition on behalf of universal (black and woman both) suffrage gave way to a focused woman suffrage movement, is a remarkable mix of Stanton’s natural rights convictions with a new set of influences and arguments justifying suffrage for woman as a distinct, even salvational social force. Stanton gave this address at a time of...

    • Chapter 5 “Subjection of Women” (1875)
      (pp. 206-218)

      Editors’ Note: The title of the speech make it clear that Stanton saw herself in discussion with John Stuart Mill, whose book of the same name appeared eight years earlier in 1867. While Mill wrote from the position of a man, providing calm, reasoned arguments against the subordination of women and a vision of more egalitarian, harmonious marriages, Stanton wrote as a woman who knew full well both the intimate sufferings and the wide capacities of her sex. The other context for this speech is the legal defeat of the efforts of numerous suffragists, including Susan B. Anthony, to take...

    • Chapter 6 “National Protection for National Citizens, Address to the Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections, January 11, 1878, Washington, D.C.”
      (pp. 219-234)

      Editors’ Note: Even as she pressed for a separate (“sixteenth”) amendment for woman suffrage, Stanton continued to advocate universal citizenship and universal suffrage. In “National Protection for National Citizens” Stanton built on the positive lessons of Reconstruction, especially that national government was under obligation to act affirmatively to protect and secure the rights of all those “anomalous classes” of Americans deprived of their natural rights. Stanton reiterated, point by point, the constitutional case for women already having the right to vote without the necessity of any further “enabling” legislation, which the U.S. Supreme Court had heard and dismissed three years...

    • Chapter 7 “The Other Side of the Woman Question” (1879)
      (pp. 235-242)

      Editors’ Note: This essay, published in the influential journalThe North American Review,highlights Stanton’s increasing emphasis on “the difference in sex” as an argument in favor of women’s equal political and civil rights. Stanton was responding to the renowned historian Francis Parkman, who wrote a series of articles condemning democratic suffrage in general and woman suffrage in particular. TheReviewinvited Stanton and four other noted suffrage advocates to respond. All the pro-suffrage responses defended democratic enfranchisement and challenged Parkman’s assertion that the suffrage movement ignored the difference between the sexes in what he regarded as the impossible claim...

    • Chapter 8 “Has Christianity Benefited Woman?” (1885)
      (pp. 243-253)

      Editors’ Note: Stanton wrote this daring, breathtaking overview of women’s history before this was a subject in which scholars worked. Imagining women as important actors shaping the destiny of humanity was an act of faith, necessary for her to challenge historians to approach their work with an enlarged understanding of how societies advanced. She had to review books across a variety of fields to cull any references to women’s contributions in previous societies. Stanton’s methodology suggests her sympathy for new positivist trends in history that were concerned with reconstructing patterns of everyday life rather than narrating the stories of kings,...

    • Chapter 9 “Divorce versus Domestic Warfare” (1890)
      (pp. 254-263)

      Editors’ Note: This article recalls Stanton’s 1860 position on divorce law liberalization, but now Stanton took a much more forceful—and provocative—position. The rise in numbers of divorces which others responded to with a kind of moral panic Stanton saw as wholly encouraging: a sign of the “new woman’s” higher aspirations for personal liberty and individual choice. Divorce law reform was once again a live political issue in the 1890s. Christian reformers, members of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union prominent among them, were pushing for a more active role for the federal government in regulating morality. They proposed a...

    • Chapter 10 “The Matriarchate, or Mother-Age” (1891)
      (pp. 264-275)

      Editors’ Note: Here Stanton provides an explicitly feminist reading of the literature on matriarchy emphasizing the work of anthropological pioneer Lewis Henry Morgan. In his last book,Ancient Society(1877), Morgan argued that the status of women was the single best indicator of a people’s development from “savagery” to “civilization.” The level of women’s participation was a test for Morgan of a society’s movement toward modern civilization and an indication that a militarized aristocracy was being replaced by democratic cooperation. The closing sentences of Morgan’s Ancient Society reads: “Democracy in government, brotherhood in society, equality in rights and privileges, and...

    • Chapter 11 “Worship of God in Man” (1893)
      (pp. 276-281)

      Editors’ Note: The same year that Stanton resigned her position as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and delivered “Solitude of Self” to a variety of audiences, she submitted several speeches to be read for her at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Stanton prepared addresses to the Women’s Congress and to the World’s Parliament of Religions. By this time she had begun her work onThe Woman’s Bible,in which she dissected the most sexist portions of the Jewish and Christian scriptures. In the following selection, she highlighted selections from the Bible that promoted respect for human...

    • Chapter 12 Selections from The Woman’s Bible (1895, 1898)
      (pp. 282-295)

      Editors’ Note: In 1881, following the publication of the New Revised Bible, Stanton canvassed women historians, classicists, and theologians to determine their interest in a systematic examination of the representation of women in the scriptures. Only a handful of women scholars endorsed her project. In 1888 a first set of commentaries was published in theWoman’s Tribune.After her 1893 retirement, Stanton took on the project with intense energy. Other suffrage leaders worried that the proposed book would offend the many traditional Christian women who were being drawn into the suffrage movement, and they urged Stanton to terminate the project....

    • Chapter 13 “Our Proper Attitude toward Immigration” (1895)
      (pp. 296-300)

      Editors’ Note: This brief essay discusses the challenge that a large immigrant population of poorly paid wage earners posed to American conceptions of republican democracy. In the first part of the article, Stanton developed her general position on immigration. She made it clear that she did not support efforts to limit immigration, but she did fear the transfer of European poverty and class distinctions into the United States. She recommended laws that would encourage immigrants to become farmers rather than factory workers. She placed the blame for growing extremes of wealth and poverty on American railroad monopolies, a position she...

    • Chapter 14 “Significance and History of the Ballot” (1898)
      (pp. 301-306)

      Editors’ Note: In this address to the Senate Select Committee on Woman Suffrage, Stanton considers the implications of mass immigration for woman suffrage in language that has shifted from mild nativism to outright xenophobia. Her concerns about the growing divide between the educated middle class and urban industrial workers has led her to a rare questioning of the continued relevance of “universal suffrage.” She attributed electoral defeats that her cause had suffered in the 1890s, not to native-born men, but to “the immigrant vote.” In the context of rapid demographic change, she supported “Americanization” as a requirement for full participation...

    • Chapter 15 “Progress of the American Woman” (1900)
      (pp. 307-311)

      Editors’ Note: Stanton wrote this piece for theNorth American Reviewas a spirited response to Flora McDonald Thompson’s “Retrogression of the American Woman,” which had been published by the Review the previous month in November 1900. Stanton continued her long debate with conservative religious women about modern progress and its benefits for women. Stanton herself in previous writings had made use of the argument that women were morally superior than men, but in this article, she ridiculed the idea that women’s superiority required their confinement to the domestic realm or restricting their access to higher education.

      An article, by...

    • Chapter 16 “The Degradation of Disfranchisement” (1901)
      (pp. 312-320)

      Editors’ Note: This late version of the essay was published in theBoston Investigatorin 1901, but earlier versions appeared in 1891 and as a speech delivered before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1896 during hearings on woman suffrage. In this piece, Stanton linked discrimination “against color and sex” with her protest against aristocracy, caste systems, and religion that sanctifies hierarchy. The piece concludes with a stirring reminder that “political, religious, industrial and social freedom” are inseparable. It called on those fighting for woman suffrage to remember that equality must be gained in every aspect of women’s lives. Constitution, church,...

  7. About the Contributors
    (pp. 321-322)
  8. Index
    (pp. 323-328)