Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Freethinker and founding mother of the feminist movement. Elizabeth Cady was born November 12, 1815 in Johnstown, New York. Avid to please her eminent father–a judge and member of Congress–in the face of his bitter loss of all five sons, she excelled in academic studies and horseback riding. Barred as a young woman from college despite her lively, brilliant intellect, she married young antislavery agent Henry Stanton. Their 1840 honeymoon took them to the fateful World’s Anti-Slavery Convention in London. Her eyes were opened to women’s subjugation, and religion’s role in keeping women subordinate, after she and other female abolition delegates were humiliatingly curtained off from debate, at clergy instigation. At 32, the harried housewife and mother (eventually of 7) instigated and planned, with Lucretia Mott and three other women, the world’s first woman’s rights convention. The historic Seneca Falls convention met on July 19-20, 1848. Stanton’s „shocking“ suffrage plank won endorsement and galvanized women for the next 72 years. She recalled later how „the bible was hurled at us from every side“ in a history of the early movement.
Stanton entered into a lifelong working partnership with Susan B. Anthony, founded and was first president of the National Woman Suffrage Association in 1869, and served as the National American Woman Suffrage Association’s controversial first president in 1890. Stanton wrote the 19th Amendment finally adopted in 1920 granting the vote to women. Nearly every speech Stanton wrote condemned religious dogma. In her first letter to Anthony, she wrote: „The Church is a terrible engine of oppression, especially as concerns woman“ (April 2, 1852). In her diary, she recorded that her belief was „grounded on science, common sense, and love of humanity,“ not „fears of the torments of hell and promises of the joys of heaven“ (Sept. 25, 1882). She dedicated her last years to freeing women from superstition, writing The Woman’s Bible (1895, 1898). In 1898, that book was officially repudiated by the very suffrage movement Stanton had formed. The last article she wrote before her death was „An Answer to Bishop Stevens“ urging people to „embrace truth as it is revealed today by human reason.“ D. 1902.
“I have endeavoured to dissipate these religious superstitions from the minds of women, and base their faith on science and reason, where I found for myself at least that peace and comfort I could never find in the Bible and the church. . . the less they believe, the better for their own happiness and development. . . .
For fifty years the women of this nation have tried to dam up this deadly stream that poisons all their lives, but thus far they have lacked the insight or courage to follow it back to its source and there strike the blow at the fountain of all tyranny, religious superstition, priestly power, and the canon law.”
— Elizabeth Cady Stanton, „The Degraded Status of Woman in the Bible,“ 1896
“For the supposed crimes of heresy and witchcraft, hundreds of women endured such persecutions and tortures that the most stolid historians are said to have wept in recording them; and no one can read them to-day but with a bleeding heart. And, as the Christian Church grew stronger, woman’s fate grew more helpless. Even the Reformation and Protestantism brought no relief, the clergy being all along their most bitter persecutors, the inventors of the most infernal tortures. Hundreds and hundreds of fair young girls, innocent as the angels in heaven, hundreds and hundreds of old women, weary and trembling with the burdens of life, were hunted down by emissaries of the Church, dragged into the courts with the ablest judges and lawyers of England, Scotland and America on the bench, and tried for crimes that never existed but in the wild, fanatical imaginations of religious devotees. Women were accused of consorting with devils and perpetuating their diabolical propensities. Hundreds of these children of hypothetical origin were drowned, burned, and tortured in the presence of their mothers, to add to their death agonies. These things were not done by savages or pagans: they were done by the Church. Neither were they confined to the Dark Ages, but permitted by law in England far into the eighteenth century. The clergy everywhere sustained witchcraft as Bible doctrine, until the spirit of rationalism laughed the whole thing to scorn, and science gave mankind a more cheerful view of life.”
— Elizabeth Cady Stanton, „The Christian Church and Women.“ The Index, Boston, c., 1888. For more on the freethought writings of Stanton, see Women Without Superstition
“In the early days of woman-suffrage agitation, I saw that the greatest obstacle we had to overcome was the bible. It was hurled at us on every side.”
— Elizabeth Cady Stanton, An Interview with the Chicago Record, June 29, 1897. For more on Stanton, read Women Without Superstition.
“The memory of my own suffering has prevented me from ever shadowing one young soul with the superstitions of the Christian religion.”
— Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902), Eighty Years and More (1898). For more about Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s views, see Women Without Superstition.