"From sermon delivered on 10/20/2019 by Annie Foerster for First Jefferson Unitarian Universalist Church Fort Worth, Texas.”
E. C. Stanton: the Woman, not the School
Rev. Annie Foerster
When I first saw the sign for the E. C. Stanton School two years ago, I didn’t immediately think of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. I didn’t really think about the name at all until Cammie mentioned to me she had named the school after her. Then, startled by my own lack of recognition, I thought, “That’s nice. We know about her.” But it wasn’t until I began to put together this service about the school, that I began to wonder, “What do we really know about her?” Friend of Susan B. Anthony; check. Great influence to the Suffrage movement; check. First Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York; check. Surely there was more to her than that. Surely. And I was right.
Elizabeth Cady was born in 1815 and had a good education. Not all of her female contemporaries did. Many women in her day were limited by circumstances and expectations to quit school as teenagers to embrace the roles of women available to them—namely wife and mother. Elizabeth Cady looked forward to those roles when she married Henry Stanton in 1840, but they were not the only things on her mind.
Henry Stanton was a firm abolitionist and Elizabeth agreed with him on that point of justice. In fact, they spent their honeymoon in London, attending a World’s Anti-Slavery convention. There Elizabeth met abolitionist Lucretia Mott, who, like her, was angry about the exclusion of women at the conference proceedings. Yes, her husband attended the convention, while she and the other women waited outside.
Mott and Stanton, became fast friends. They vowed to call a woman’s rights convention when they returned home. Eight years later, in 1848, Stanton and Mott held the first Woman’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls, New York, where Elizabeth was living. There Elizabeth Stanton read from “The Declaration of Sentiments,” which she had co-authored and which expanded on the Declaration of Independence by adding the words “woman” or “women” throughout. This pivotal document called for social and legal changes that would elevate women’s place in society and listed 18 grievances, from the inability to control their wages and property or the difficulty in gaining custody in divorce, to the lack of the right to vote.
Elizabeth and Henry had seven children. Elizabeth did wait for God to give her children to her. She carefully planned her pregnancies, spacing them to give each of her children her time and attention to their raising and education. Her daughters, she believed, should be educated in the same manner as her sons, for this would prepare them for their righteous place in society.
Besides chronicling the history of the suffrage movement, Elizabeth Cady Stanton took on the role religion played in the struggle for equal rights for women. She had long argued that the Bible and organized religion played a part in denying women their full rights. With her daughter, Harriet Stanton Blatch, she published a critique, The Woman's Bible, which was published in two volumes. The first volume appeared in 1895 and the second in 1898. This brought considerable protest not only from expected religious quarters, but from many women in the suffrage movement. Stanton realized she could not alter all her grievances at once.
Stanton was motivated by liberal humanist ideals of egalitarianism and individual autonomy, which were an outgrowth of the Enlightenment. She was familiar with the philosophical thinkers whose works and ideas were discussed among American intellectuals at the time. She was friends with Louisa May Alcott and Ralph Waldo Emerson, and a follower of the Transcendental movement that came out of some Unitarian thinking. She never joined a Unitarian Church, for she was too angry at religion as a whole, but she agreed that the Unitarians had better ideas than some of the rest.
Stanton, caring for her seven children, was unable to travel as much as her friend Anthony, who was single, but she wrote most of Susan B. Anthony’s speeches, as well as stories for local and continental publications. She was interested not only in suffrage for women, but in the temperance movement, agitating to make drunkenness a reason for divorce, and in the equity-in-education movement. She died in 1902, eighteen years before women achieved the right to vote, but she is given credit in full for helping to make it happen. Her name lives today in a school, just down the hall from us.