Launching the struggle for women's rights

While Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) articulated the case for women's rights, Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902) launched the movement for women's rights and helped establish four organizations to promote it. She set the agenda: equal property rights, including the right to make and terminate contracts, the right to hold property, the right to inherit property; the right to share in the custody of children; and woman suffrage, to help secure these rights.

In June 1847, the Stanton and her husband moved into a house on 32 Washington Street, Seneca Falls. The following year, Stanton was invited to visit Lucretia Mott and three Quaker friends in Waterloo, New York, about six miles north of Seneca Falls. They resolved to hold a meeting about women’s rights on July 19 and 20, 1848.

They needed some kind of statement to focus their efforts. Stanton drafted A Declaration of Rights and Sentiments which embraced the natural rights philosophy of the Declaration of Independence. She wrote, in part: "Resolved, That all laws which prevent woman from occupying such a station in society as her conscience shall dictate, or which place her in a position inferior to that of man, are contrary to the great precept of nature, and therefore of no force or authority." She included a suffrage clause: "Resolved, That it is the duty of the women of this country to secure themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise." She declared, "The right is ours. Have it we must. Use it we will." Frederick Douglass affirmed that "the power to choose rulers and make laws was the right by which all others could be secured."

On July 19th, The Declaration of Rights and Sentiments was signed by 58 women and 32 men. Women suffrage, however, didn't come for 74 years, until it was enacted, ratified and finally upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1922.

The great partnership

For more than 40 years, Stanton and Anthony worked together. Anthony became the principal organizer for women's rights. Stanton expressed the ideology for women's rights, developed the strategy and wrote many of Anthony's speeches, proclamations and eulogies.

Again and again, Anthony pleaded for material: "Mrs. Stanton...I beg you...set yourself about the work...don't say No, nor don't delay it a moment; for I must have it all done and almost committed to memory...Now will you load my gun, leaving me to pull the trigger and let fly the powder and ball?"

In 1902, Anthony wrote Stanton who was near death: "It is fifty-one years since first we met and we have been busy through every one of them, stirring up the world to recognize the rights of women...We little dreamed when we began this contest, optimistic with the hope and buoyancy of youth, that half a century later we would be compelled to leave the finish of the battle to another generation of women. But our hearts are filled with joy to know that they enter upon this task equipped with a college education, with business experience, with the fully admitted right to speak in public -- all of which were denied to women fifty years ago. They have practically one point to gain -- the suffrage; we had all."

See:

Eleanor Griffith, In Her Own Right: The Life of Elizabeth Cady Stanton (New York: Oxford University Press, 1984).

"Steadfast Devotion" in Jim Powell, The Triumph of Liberty (New York: Free Press, 2000).

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