Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902)
Contributing Editor: Judith Wellman
Classroom Issues and Strategies
Stanton's autobiography reads well, in a fresh, personal, and modern style. Students do, however, benefit from some introduction to the Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments.
I usually ask students to analyze the Declaration of Sentiments in two ways:
1. How is it like/unlike the Declaration of Independence? It is almost identical to the Declaration of Independence in the preamble, except for the assertion that "all men and women are created equal." It is also divided into three main parts, as is the Declaration of Independence. Instead of grievances against King George, however, the Declaration of Sentiments lists grievances of women against the patriarchal establishment. Supposedly, the women tried to use the same number of items in 1848 as the Second Continental Congress incorporated in 1776, but the 1848 document actually contains one or two fewer.
2. How many grievances of 1848 are still issues for feminists today? Asking students to list them or to compare them with the issues raised at the 1977 Houston convention, ending the International Women's Year, works well.
3. Professors might ask students to imagine they were present at the Seneca Falls convention. Would they have signed this document? Why or why not?
4. Students might also imagine they were Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1848. What was her state of mind? Does this document reflect her personal life or only her political ideals?
5. Ask students (individually or in groups) to select the one or two grievances from 1848 that they would consider important issues today and to defend their choices in writing or in class discussion. Or ask them to choose one or two contemporary issues that did not appear in the Declaration of Sentiments and to consider why they are important today but were not stated publicly then.
6. Students are often amazed that women were citizens without citizenship rights. They are also amazed at how many issues from 1848 are still unresolved. They have no trouble agreeing that "all men and women are created equal" but they do not always agree on what that means.
They ask about how well this Declaration was received (widely reported, mixed reception), and they are curious about the relationship between Elizabeth and Henry (difficult even for scholars to figure out).
Major Themes, Historical Perspectives, and Personal Issues
1. What was the political and legal position of women in the early Republic? Were women, for example, citizens? What did citizenship mean for women?
2. What alternative vision did the women and men who signed the Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments propose for women?
3. To what extent did the Declaration of Sentiments reflect issues in Stanton's personal life, as well as in her political ideals?
Significant Form, Style, or Artistic Conventions
Contrast between the Declaration of Sentiments, with its attempt to reflect revolutionary writing and therefore revolutionary, egalitarian ideals, and Stanton's own account of her life, designed to emphasize her own experiences, which results in a more direct and personal style.
Professors might emphasize the universal character of the Declaration of Sentiments. It was not designed to appeal to some Americans only but to all Americans.
Comparisons, Contrasts, Connections
Comparisons with the Declaration of Independence and with the report from the Houston convention are both useful.
Flexner, Eleanor. Century of Struggle. Rev. ed. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1979. Chapter 5.
Griffith, Elisabeth. In Her Own Right: The Life of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984. Chapter 4.
Melder, Keith. Beginnings of Sisterhood: The American Women's Rights Movement, 1800-1850. New York: Schocken Books, 1977. Chapters 8 and 10.
Stanton, E. C. "Address Delivered at Seneca Falls," July 19, 1848. In Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony: Correspondence, Writings, Speeches, edited by Ellen Carol DuBois, 27-35. New York: Schocken, 1981.