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The Life of Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Mary Wollstonecraft
Her life and thought.
100 Years Toward Suffrage
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Elizabeth Cady Stanton
On Marriage

Elizabeth Cady Stanton sought to bring about legal reforms that would improve women's lives, but she firmly believed that changing the law would not solve the underlying causes of women's subordination. Marriage was one of the institutions she held most responsible for women's inferior status.

Even before her wedding there were indications that she had a vision of marriage that would differ from the cultural norm. She convinced her fiance, Henry Stanton, to omit the word "obey" from their wedding vow. She also insisted that she be known as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, not Mrs. Henry Stanton.

Her views on marriage evolved over time, influenced by personal experience, various reform movements (especially abolitionism and temperance), other thinkers, and her many encounters with legal obstacles. Her mentor, Lucretia Mott, encouraged Elizabeth to read Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) and similar works by other writers.

The development of her ideas can be seen in two important documents from 1848: the famous Declaration of Sentiments, which she and Elizabeth McClintock wrote for the first woman's rights convention, held in July at Seneca Falls, New York. Elizabeth also crafted the resolutions that would accompany the declaration. In September 1848 she delivered an address in which she offered a wide-ranging rationale for women's equality. In the speech she describes forms of domestic tyranny. In later years she referred to marriage as "legalized prostitution" and drew parallels between slavery and woman's servitude, particularly in the home. During the 1860s she offended many of her abolitionist colleagues when she argued that predudice against women went deeper than racial bias.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton did not want to abolish the institution of marriage. She envisioned a contract between two fully equal individuals, and she stressed repeatedly that man cannot achieve his best self if woman if not his true equal in every way. The ultimate barrier to achieving this ideal, she concluded, is religion.


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Listen to Declaration of Sentiments
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Images from Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division and Manuscript Division.