Elizabeth Cady Stanton An American Life

Lori D. Ginzberg

Hill and Wang



Trade Paperback

272 Pages



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Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a brilliant activist-intellectual. That nearly all of her ideas—that women are entitled to seek an education, to own property, to get a divorce, and to vote—are now commonplace is in large part because she worked tirelessly to extend the nation's promise of radical individualism to women.

In this subtly crafted biography, the historian Lori D. Ginzberg narrates the life of a woman of great charm, enormous appetite, and extraordinary intellectual gifts who turned the limitations placed on women like herself into a universal philosophy of equal rights. Few could match Stanton's self-confidence; loving an argument, she rarely wavered in her assumption that she had won. But she was no secular saint, and her positions were not always on the side of the broadest possible conception of justice and social change. Elitism runs through Stanton's life and thought, defined most often by class, frequently by race, and always by intellect. Even her closest friends found her absolutism both thrilling and exasperating, for Stanton could be an excellent ally and a bothersome menace, sometimes simultaneously. At once critical and admiring, Ginzberg captures Stanton's ambiguous place in the world of reformers and intellectuals, describes how she changed the world, and suggests that Stanton left a mixed legacy that continues to haunt American feminism.


Praise for Elizabeth Cady Stanton

"In this deft biography, Ginzberg firmly roots Stanton—the first American to synthesize arguments for women's equality in employment, income, property, custody, and divorce—in the complex swell of nineteenth-century middle-class reform, and reveals her thornier, less egalitarian side."—The New Yorker

"Lori Ginzberg makes a convincing case for Stanton as the founding philosopher of the American women's rights movement in a lively voice that enhances her eccentric subject . . . Ginzberg has created a vibrant portrait of a key, often misrepresented figure in American history."—Andrea Cooper, American History

"This biography, while deeply critical of the impact Stanton's racism and elitism have on her legacy, acknowledges that women's rights are ordinary, commonsense ideas in large part because of her life work."—Marshal Zeringue, The Page 99 Test

"Elizabeth Cady Stanton deserves a biographer that is at least her equal in intelligence, eloquence, intensity and critical insight. Lori Ginzberg is precisely that author, and the portrait she presents of this exceptional early feminist consistently embodies precisely these qualities. While providing an illuminating explanation of the origins and developments of the women's rights movement, her rendering of Stanton's life, public and private, is a masterpiece of biography."—James Brewer Stewart, James Wallace Professor of History, Emeritus, Macalester College
"Lori Ginzberg's biography not only brings Elizabeth Cady Stanton to life as never before done, showing her personal and philosophical faults without defensiveness, but also shows the reader Stanton's principled and passionate radicalism and the continued relevance of her thought. The book provides a fine introduction to the nineteenth-century women's rights movement."—Linda Gordon, Professor of History, New York University

"In this deft and provocative biography of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lori Ginzberg is a savvy guide through the many thorny controversies surrounding this brilliant, charismatic leader of the struggle for women's rights. Both sympathetic and critical, Ginzberg judiciously assesses Stanton's huge achievement and blind spots, providing an excellent introduction to the ideas and actions behind one of the most far-reaching social movements in our history."—Alix Kates Shulman, author of To Love What Is

"Lively, readable, and rich with insights, Ginzberg's biography is also unflinching in its assessment of Elizabeth Cady Stanton's flaws. But Ginzberg never downplays Stanton's central place in the history of women's rights. Ginzberg shows how the women's rights movement never quite caught up with its greatest early thinker while Stanton, in turn, never fully connected women's rights to the cause of racial justice and the fight against industrial poverty, both of which unfolded during her long and exceedingly active life. All in all, this breezy, readable book is a remarkable achievement."—Rebecca Edwards, Eloise Ellery Professor of History, Vassar College

"A readable and realistic account of the life of one of the most important feminists and intellectuals of the nineteenth century, a woman who was at once an abolitionist who could sound like a racist and an advocate of civil rights for women whose language often reeked of elitism. This work promises to be a classic and is recommended for all readers."—Theresa McDevitt, Library Journal

"A well-documented, well-balanced account of the life of "the founding philosopher of the American movement for woman's rights. Ginzberg (History and Women's Studies/Penn State Univ.; Untidy Origins: A Story of Woman's Rights in Antebellum New York, 2005, etc.) offers a full-length portrait of a brilliant, confident, assertive woman for whom raising seven children was no bar to remarkable activism in the cause of women's rights. The author shows us Stanton in her many roles: child, wife, mother, author and campaigner. At the International Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840, Stanton was outraged to discover that women were not allowed to participate. Eight years later, in Seneca Falls, N.Y., she helped organize the first women's-rights convention. Stanton drafted the convention's Declaration of Sentiments, which was modeled on the United States Declaration of Independence and proclaimed that men and women are created equal. For years she and Susan B. Anthony collaborated, with Stanton primarily writing and Anthony traveling and speaking. After the Civil War, the two women broke with their former colleagues, the abolitionists, and lobbied against granting African-American men the right to vote, with Stanton arguing that the votes of educated women were needed to offset those of former slaves. Ginzberg notes that the image this created of the woman's suffrage movement as primarily concerned with the rights of middle-class white women was not entirely false. When her children were older, Stanton traveled extensively on the lecture circuit, where she campaigned vigorously for the property rights of married women, for equal guardianship of children and for liberalized divorce laws. Deploring the position of women within organized Christianity, she wrote The Woman's Bible to correct the sexism she found in scripture. Despite her flaws of elitism and racism, Stanton, Ginzberg argues, used her powerful intellect and her persuasive prose to challenge the nation to see women as full citizens. Brings to life a complex woman whose place in the history of women's rights has been somewhat overshadowed by that of her colleague Susan B. Anthony."—Kirkus Reviews

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Read an Excerpt

To hear Elizabeth Cady Stanton tell it, Johnstown, New York, where she was born in 1815, was a place of comfort and convention, privilege and patriarchy. Her parents, Daniel and Margaret...

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  • Lori D. Ginzberg

  • A professor of history and women's studies at Pennsylvania State University, Lori D. Ginzberg has written several books on women's history, including Untidy Origins: A Story of Woman's Rights in Antebellum New York. She lives in Philadelphia.