Students will learn about women’s rights activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton by focusing on her strengths and challenges as an activist and founder of the National Woman Suffrage Association. After watching a short video, examining a photo of Stanton with Susan B. Anthony, and reading excerpts of the Declaration of Sentiments, students will assess the lessons they have learned about organizing people to make change.
20 - 40 minutes
- Suffrage - voting rights
- Orator - speaker
- Delegate - representative
- Marginalize - to push to the side
- Oppressed - subject to harsh treatment
Fifteenth Amendment: Ratified in 1870, this amendment to the Constitution stated that the "right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude." Legally, black men were given the right to vote; however, tactics such as charging poll taxes and requiring literacy tests prevented many African Americans in the South from voting until passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Many leaders in the struggle for women’s rights objected to the Fifteenth Amendment because they did not think that black men should be granted voting rights before white women; this led to a rupture in the alliance between women’s rights activists and abolitionists that had developed prior to the Civil War.
Learn more about the Fifteenth Amendment:
- 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Voting Rights (1870) and Resource Materials
- 15th Amendment to the Constitution
- Amendment XV | RIGHT TO VOTE NOT DENIED BY RACE
Background on Elizabeth Cady Stanton | Orator, Author, and Activist
Elizabeth Cady Stanton was born on November 12, 1815, in Johnstown, New York. She was the eighth of 11 children born to Daniel Cady and Margaret Livingston. Stanton’s father was a prominent New York Supreme Court justice who earlier served in the United States Congress.
Despite competing academically and intellectually with the boys in her school class, Stanton could not attend the college of her choice because women were not permitted. Instead, she attended the Troy Female Seminary (later called the Emma Willard School), where she graduated in 1832.
In 1840, she married Henry Brewster Stanton, a journalist, antislavery orator, and attorney. When the couple wed, the minister omitted the phrase “promise to obey” from the wedding vows at Elizabeth’s request. “I obstinately refused to obey one with whom I supposed I was entering into an equal relation,” wrote Stanton, who also refused to be addressed as Mrs. Henry B. Stanton.
Stanton realized she lived in a world controlled almost entirely by men, and by 1848, was firmly committed to the women's rights movement:
“It seemed as if all the elements had conspired to impel me to some onward step. I could not see what to do or where to begin—my only thought was a public meeting for protest and discussion,” Stanton wrote.
In 1851, Stanton met and began working with Susan B. Anthony. The two abolitionists and advocates of women’s rights made a powerful team. They spoke and wrote courageously to fight for change when they believed others were being treated unfairly. In 1869, they formed the National Woman Suffrage Association. They traveled the country and abroad, promoting women’s rights. Stanton served as president for two years.
Stanton promoted ideas considered very radical for the time. Although she had worked as an abolitionist, Stanton fought against the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments, which gave black men the right to vote. She believed that under the Thirteenth Amendment, they already had the same protection as white men. By increasing the number of male voters, Stanton feared there would be even more opposition to women’s rights.
Along with suffrage, Stanton supported women’s divorce rights, property rights, and employment rights, as well as interracial marriage. She held that Christianity created inequities between men and women, putting women in an inferior position. In her book, The Woman’s Bible, published in 1895 and 1898, she explored the idea that sexism was fundamental to organized Christianity. Such controversial ideas caused many suffragettes to break ties with her.
Stanton continued to write until she died of heart failure at her home in New York City on October 26, 1902. Thanks in part to more than 50 years of Stanton’s tireless efforts, the Nineteenth Amendment was finally passed in 1920. Women won the right to vote.
- Ask students: Have you ever been the leader of a team, club, or group? What were some of the challenges you’ve experienced in this role?
- Introduce Elizabeth Cady Stanton:
Elizabeth Cady Stanton was an important women’s rights activist in the late nineteenth century. Although she herself was never able to vote, she laid the groundwork for women’s suffrage and even ran for office herself.
Video and Class Discussion (10 minutes)
Distribute the Graphic Organizer for students to fill out while viewing the video.
Discussion questions after viewing:
1. Elizabeth Cady Stanton is called both an abolitionist and a suffragette. How are those two terms interrelated?
2. What were some of the frustrations that Stanton experienced in her young life that led her to work for women’s rights?
3. Why is it important to create organized groups when trying to make social change? What were Stanton’s greatest successes and most significant challenges as an organizer?
Examining Primary Sources
Visual Primary Source Activity (5 minutes)
This 1870 photograph, currently in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., was taken by Napoleon Sarony, a Canadian born photographer who took portraits of many prominent Americans including actress Sarah Bernhardt and writers Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony spent much of the day on August 19, 1870 in Sarony’s New York studio having their portrait taken in a variety of settings and positions.
- Which of the two women, Elizabeth Cady Stanton or Susan B. Anthony, appears more powerful in this photograph?
- Why do you think Anthony is holding a book in this photograph? What book do you think it might be?
- Stanton is wearing a large cross around her neck. What message do you think she wants to send to viewers of the photograph?
- Napoleon Sarony, the photographer, was known for making portraits of prominent people such as Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, and the actress Sarah Bernhardt. Why do you think Stanton and Anthony wanted to be photographed by Sarony?
Written Primary Source Activity (15 minutes)
Students will read excerpts from the Declaration of Sentiments.
This can be done as an in-class follow-up to the lesson, as a homework assignment or as a multi-day in-class project.
To be completed using the Graphic Organizer.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton is remembered for forming the National Woman Suffrage Association, a group that eventually saw the passage of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. Although women were not able to vote during her lifetime, Stanton had helped lay the groundwork that made women’s suffrage eventually possible.
What is a change you would like to see in our current society? What could you do to organize to make this change a reality? Reflecting on Stanton’s successes and challenges in organizing people to attain a specific goal, what steps could you take to make the change you seek a reality? Make a list of “do’s” and “don’t’s” for organizing a movement, and then, if possible, start to take some steps to make change happen.