Today I’m wearing my old Elizabeth Cady Stanton t-shirt. The round, unsmiling face, white hair, and formal clothing pictured on it give no hint of her fire, brilliance, and courage.
Neither did the paragraph or so about her in my history textbooks. I didn’t see a biography of this founder of the women’s movement until years after I finished school. If you’ve never read her life story, please treat yourself to one. As Women’s History Month draws to an end, your library should have two or three at hand. And you can find the basic facts online.
She came to prominence when she organized a convention on women’s rights in Seneca Falls, New York, in July 1848. Many of the 240 participants were also working to abolish slavery. The busy young mother used the Declaration of Independence as a model for a Declaration of Sentiments to present to them. It contained 12 resolutions, the most controversial of which was the right to vote.
Those resolutions show how few rights women had. For example, a married woman yielded to her husband any wages, property, and child custody rights. A husband could beat or imprison his wife without fear of any legal consequences. Colleges did not accept women, and the few jobs open to them paid much less than what men received.
She continued to work for women’s rights until her death in 1902. Women didn’t receive the right to vote throughout the United States until 18 years later. They have gradually gained the same legal rights as men—almost. Even now women earn much less than men.
The movement Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her contemporaries started remains unfinished.