Copyright 1999. Stanton and Anthony Papers Project. All rights reserved.
A daughter of Johnstown's most prominent citizen, Elizabeth Cady grew up in a prosperous household, where she was the eighth child born to Daniel and Margaret Livingston Cady. At the time of her birth, on 12 November 1815, only three children still lived—Tryphena, age eleven, Eleazer, age nine, and Harriet, age five. Margaret and Catherine were born in 1817 and 1820, but Eleazer died in 1826. Elizabeth's realization that her grieving father valued sons more than daughters became a potent symbol of the patriarchal values of her family.
Elizabeth attended the dame school of Maria Yost and Johnstown Academy, and she also studied Greek with a local minister. In 1830 her father sent her to Emma Willard's Troy Female Seminary, and three years there completed her formal training. Her education was a good one. Johnstown's academy had more than a local reputation as a place to prepare for college and complete a secondary education. Emma Willard aspired to make her seminary the equal of New England's colleges. At a ceremony in 1892 to dedicate a new building at the seminary, ECS recalled "good teachers, who took us through the pitfalls of logic, rhetoric, philosophy, and the sciences."
Daniel Cady (1773-1859) was a lawyer with an interest in politics, a respected teacher of law, and the owner of extensive property. He served in the state assembly from 1808 to 1813, and in the year of Elizabeth's birth, he sat in Congress. After his daughters left home he won election to the bench of the state supreme court where he served from 1847 to 1855. His reputation for legal training drew young men to Johnstown from far away and spread his influence across the state. It also distinguished his household as a place for male companionship and an incidental legal education. As ECS told it years later, her first lessons in the laws regarding women came from the students teasing her. Law was part of one's upbringing and social life in this family. Three of her sisters married Daniel Cady's students, and Henry Stanton studied with Cady after his marriage.
The evidence is indirect that Daniel Cady restrained his daughter's political ambitions in the 1850s. Each time ECS wrote an account of their conflict, she changed the story, and several versions are demonstrably erroneous. Her worst charges were that he threatened to leave her family homeless if she spoke in person to the legislature, but even in that version, she credited him with helping her pick the legal examples for the address she prepared. Better evidence may lie in ECS's burst of activity and public appearances in 1860, immediately after his death.
Daniel had married Margaret Livingston (1785-1871), daughter of a hero of the American Revolution, in 1801. "My mother had the military idea of government," ECS wrote long after her mother's death, but strictness must have been balanced with warmth. Margaret Cady's daughters routinely came home to give birth to their babies, and her house was often full of very young grandchildren. As a widow in 1867 she placed her well-known name at the head of a petition for woman suffrage addressed to the state constitutional convention. A friend wrote of her old age, that she had "one of the liveliest of minds, and was the match of any of her children in wit and repartee."
None of the Cady girls pursued a career, her younger sister once explained, because "our father could support us." What little is known of Elizabeth's years after she left school suggests a round of family duties and visits. She looked after the children of her sister Harriet and pursued her interest in music. Since Daniel Cady often moved his family from Johnstown to Albany, she probably spent time in the state capital. She also became friends with her cousin Gerrit Smith
, who lived in Peterboro, New York. It was at the Smith's house that Elizabeth met Henry Stanton.
Born in Connecticut to Joseph and Susan Brewster Stanton, Henry Brewster Stanton (1805-1887) moved to Rochester, New York, in 1826 and learned both journalism and law in the service of politics. But his secular ambitions were interrupted by a religious revival in 1830, and he determined to enter the Lane Seminary in Cincinnati to study for the ministry. Under the influence of Theodore Dwight Weld, he also resolved to devote his life to opposing slavery. Within a few years, the abolitionist activities of students at Lane met opposition from the school's leaders, and in 1834 Stanton was one of the many students who left Lane in protest. The Lane Seminary rebels, as they were known, produced some of the best workers against slavery. Henry Stanton became an agent of the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1835, leaving only when the society divided in 1840, to become a "New Organization" man, identified with the short-lived American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society.
Elizabeth Cady married Henry Stanton in May 1840, and the new bride found herself introduced immediately into the contentious leadership of the transatlantic antislavery movement. A successful antislavery agent in the 1830s, Stanton had broken with the movement's most prominent figure, William Lloyd Garrison
, by the time he met Elizabeth Cady. Garrison thought that abolitionists should refuse to participate in a political system corrupted by slavery, while Stanton believed that slavery could be ended by forcing political parties to make it an issue. When the Stantons returned from England, where they attended the World's Anti-Slavery Convention, he agreed to study law with Daniel Cady in order to have a profession. He would not however give up his political convictions about slavery and politics. While in Johnstown and then in Boston, where he practiced law, he worked tirelessly to build the Liberty party. Back in New York by 1847, he was involved in each turn of the state's antislavery political configuration. The Liberty party was followed by the Barnburner revolt in the Democratic party, which was followed in time by the Free Soil and Republican parties, and Henry Stanton stumped the state for them all. Three times he ran for office, twice winning a seat in the state senate and once conducting a largely symbolic campaign for lieutenant governor.
Henry Stanton and Elizabeth Cady made an odd couple. One who met them in Dublin late in 1840 said Henry Stanton "does not appear to me to be easy of access," but ECS "is one in ten thousand"; "such eloquence, such simplicity of manner—such naivete, a clearsightedness, candor, openness, such love for all that is great and good," he raved. The Stanton's had seven children, five sons and two daughters:Daniel Cady (1842-1891), Henry Brewster (1844-1903), Gerrit Smith (1845-1927), Theodore Weld (1851-1925), Margaret Livingston (1852-1930), Harriot Eaton (1856-1940), and Robert Livingston (1859-1920).
The Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony,
ed. Ann D. Gordon, et al.
(Columbia, S.C.: Model Editions Partnership, 1999).
Electronic version. On the Web at http://mep.blackmesatech.com/mep/ [Accessed 4 January 2018]