Passionate Reformers: The Couple, Henry Brewster Stanton (1805-1887) and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902)
"The year 1835 was an epoch of mobs... I was mobbed in every state from Indiana to Maine--except Vermont." So wrote Henry Brewster Stanton recalling his experiences on the road as an agent for the American Anti-Slavery Society (Random Recollections 51, 55). The mobs were vicious. They attacked speakers, threatened lives, burned buildings, and disrupted the peace. Resistance to abolition was fierce in the North because of strong economic ties with the South. Undaunted, Henry built a reputation for bravery and brilliance as he confronted mobs and argued for an end to slavery. As early as 1838, he saw that slavery would fall by means of an amendment to the Constitution, an event "which would result from the preponderance of free states in the West" (Random Recollections 61).
In 1839, Henry's work as an agent for the Anti-Slavery Society took him to upstate New York where he met Elizabeth Cady, daughter of prominent Johnstown, New York, judge Daniel Cady. Elizabeth shared Henry's abolitionist principles and was charmed by his powerful eloquence. Henry was smitten by her beauty, vivacity, and intelligence. They married in 1840 and honeymooned in London at the World Anti-Slavery Convention where Henry was a delegate. Although not a delegate, Elizabeth met other women at the convention who were. Among them was the American Quaker Lucretia Mott. Mott and Elizabeth, among others, were outraged by the Convention's refusal to allow women delegates to participate in the proceedings. These two brilliant women would eventually form a fruitful collaboration.
After some months abroad, financed by Henry's speaking engagements, the Stantons returned to Johnstown where Henry studied law for two years in Judge Cady's law office and Elizabeth gave birth to their first child. In 1843, Henry was admitted to the bar in Massachusetts; he and Elizabeth settled in Boston with their growing family. Henry was well known in Boston because of his 1837 anti-slavery address to the House of Representatives of Massachusetts.
Elizabeth relished being a mother. She also relished being in Boston's intellectual and abolitionist circles that included Lucretia Mott, Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison and other men and women who believed in women's equality. Elizabeth had found a cause even more important to her than abolition: the emancipation of women.
In 1847, the Stantons left Boston for Seneca Falls, New York, where Henry entered politics. In 1850, he won a seat in the state legislature and introduced bills and resolutions to curb and abolish slavery. Though his time in elected office was short, Henry continued as a lawyer, journalist, speaker and organizer to be a force in the politics of abolition. In 1840, he had helped found the Liberty Party. In 1848, he was among the organizers of the Free Soil Party which merged with the Republican Party in 1854. That party in 1856 became the party of Lincoln.
While Henry worked toward his goals for abolition, often away from home, Elizabeth began working toward her goals for women's rights at home with three small boys. Collaborating with Lucretia Mott and other friends in 1848, Elizabeth Cady Stanton gave Seneca Falls a place in history as the site of the first women's rights convention. As engineered by Elizabeth, this convention launched the woman suffrage movement. She read to the men and women assembled in the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls the now famous "Declaration of Sentiments," which she co-authored and in which she insisted on women's right to vote. Thus began Elizabeth's long career as an organizer, writer, and vocal advocate for women's civil rights. Elizabeth's work paralleled but remained distinct from Henry's. Yet together they raised a large, lively, and loving family. Henry and Elizabeth had seven children while pursuing their separate vocations.
In 1851, Susan B. Anthony, noted abolitionist Quaker and educator, joined Elizabeth in her work for women's rights. Over the next fifty years, they worked as a team to lead the women's movement, capitalizing on Susan’s excellent organizational skills and Elizabeth's superb communication skills. They were fearless, skillful advocates for their cause: traveling, lobbying, speaking, publishing, organizing, strategizing, always with the goal of giving American women--women of all races-- equal rights with men, above all, the right to vote.