Compass is an archive of Library news from 2005 - 2008. For the latest Library news check the Library Blogs.
Compass Newsletter Masthead
   Volume IV, Issue 4
April 2008   

Living large: Tackling the life and thought of Elizabeth Cady Stanton

On March 12, Lori Ginzberg, professor of history and women’s studies at Penn State University, spoke in the first floor lounge of Falvey Memorial Library about her forthcoming book, Elizabeth Cady Stanton: An American Life. The Villanova University’s Women’s Studies program invited Dr. Ginzberg on campus to mark this year’s Women’s History Month. Dr. Catherine Kerrison, co-director of the program and associate professor of history, welcomed Dr. Ginzberg and introduced her to a sizable audience of students, faculty and staff.

The forthcoming Elizabeth Cady Stanton: An American Life will be the first biography penned by Dr. Ginzberg. A previous book, Untidy Origins: A Story of Woman’s
Rights in Antebellum New York
(Univ. of North Carolina, 2005), dealt with the beginning of the universal suffrage movement in New York State prior to the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention. Dr. Ginzberg’s new biography will focus on Stanton’s seemingly contradictory political choices, racism, anti-Semitism and elitism.

Although Stanton originally supported universal suffrage and the anti-slavery movement, she later withdrew her support for African-American rights in favor of women’s suffrage. Dr. Ginzberg’s lecture explored the reasons behind Stanton’s choices.

(from left) Dr. Judith Giesberg, Women's Studies faculty member, Dr. Lori Ginzberg and Dr. Catherine Kerrison, Women's Studies co-director

In the first year of her marriage to Henry Stanton, a staunch supporter of the American Anti-Slavery Society, she accompanied him to the 1840 World’s Anti-Slavery Convention in London where she met Lucretia Mott, with whom she later organized the Seneca Falls Convention on women’s rights. According to Dr. Ginzberg, Stanton had married into the cause of anti-slavery, but the abolition movement was not her primary concern. Suffrage was the central problem of American democracy for Stanton. She was willing to support the anti-slavery movement as long as its supporters were committed to universal suffrage.

When abolitionists compromised on universal suffrage in favor of voting rights for African-American slaves during Reconstruction, Stanton withdrew her support. She was not willing to put the rights of former slaves, whom she considered inferior, before her own rights. In a letter to Wendell Phillips she wrote, "It is better to be the slave of an educated white man, than that of a degraded, ignorant black one." She justified her position with the claim that self-preservation is the first law of nature.

Notwithstanding her outspoken chauvinism, Elizabeth Cady Stanton was the theoretical brains behind the American women’s rights movement. She was the main author of  "Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions," which was passed at the 1848 Seneca Falls convention and which affirmed "all men and women are created equal." In her autobiography, Eighty Years and More: Reminiscences, 1815-1897 (1898), Stanton later described her theoretical work as forging the thunderbolts that were fired by Susan B. Anthony. In Dr. Ginzberg’s opinion, the fact that today Susan B. Anthony is well-known as the founder of the American women’s rights movement, whereas Elizabeth Cady Stanton is virtually unknown among non-historians is proof of the marginalization of women’s history.

Although Stanton demanded that men overcome their prejudices about women’s rights, she herself was unable to overcome her own prejudices, as demonstrated by her inability to formulate a multi-racial feminist vision. When asked why she decided to write a biography about Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Dr. Ginzberg replied that the book is her attempt to understand and reconcile Stanton’s controversial positions within the women’s rights movement.

Contributed by Jutta Seibert; photograph by Laura Hutelmyer