Women's Rights
Special History Study
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Elizabeth Cady Stanton always asserted that it was her experiences in Seneca Falls, New York, that forcibly brought home to her the wrongs and injustices suffered by women, and induced her to become an outspoken advocate of women's rights. The Convention of 1848 was the result of her dissatisfactions and frustrations with her domestic lot in the village. An examination of her circumstances and situation during her 16-year stay in Seneca Falls goes a long way toward explaining her subsequent view, actions, and philosophy regarding the women's rights movement.

Prior to her arrival in Seneca Falls in 1847, Elizabeth Cady Stanton had led an exciting, stimulating life as the wife of the abolitionist orator Henry B. Stanton. She had married Stanton on May 10, 1840, at the age of 25 and accompanied him immediately thereafter on a journey to the World's Anti-Slavery Convention in London. At the close of the convention, the Stantons traveled around the British Isles and France for several months; in November 1840, they returned to Elizabeth Cady Stanton's childhood home in Johnstown, New York, where Henry Stanton studied law for two years under his father-in-law, Judge Daniel Cady. In 1842, Henry Stanton started a law practice of his own in Boston and the family relocated to a home outside the city of Chelsea. [1]

Here, Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote "I spent some of the happiest days of my life, enjoying, in turn, the beautiful outlook, my children, and my books." [2] Through her husband's associations with the leading abolitionist and reform figures of the day she made the acquaintance of many of the liberal, literary, and philosophical lights then illuminating Boston. Stanton took full advantage of her stimulating situation and later wrote that "I attended all the lectures, churches, theaters, concerts, and temperance, peace, and prison-reform conventions within my reach. I had never lived in such an enthusiastically literary and reform latitude before, and my mental powers were kept at the highest tension." [3] Henry Stanton's health, however, was not up to the raw Boston winters, and after four years the decision was made to return to New York state.

Judge Cady provided a home for the Stantons by deeding to his daughter a house on approximately two acres of land in Seneca Falls, New York. [4] Although we do not yet know the full extent of his holdings, Judge Cady apparently owned a good deal of property in and around the village. From comments in letters between Cady and various members of the Stanton family, it seems probable that the Stantons were in some measure helping to manage these properties and receiving income from them. Henry Stanton is listed as the agent for Cady's Seneca Falls properties on the 1851 tax assessment rolls. The fact that Elizabeth Cady Stanton says that her new home stood on "five acres" [5] rather than the two specified in the deed, may also indicate that Judge Cady owned contiguous property which the Stantons freely used as their own. Visitors and relatives most often described the grounds as fairly extensive, encompassing lawns, a playground, fruit trees, and vegetable gardens, intimating at least that the property they used included more than just the two acres owned by Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Her son Gerrit remembered the Seneca Falls home as "a long rambling house surrounded by lawns, trees, and several acres of ground." [6]

Some confusion exists as to whether the Stantons first arrived in Seneca Falls in 1846 or 1847. In her autobiography, Stanton says that they arrived in the spring of 1847. [7] The deed transferring the property to her is also dated 1847. Elsewhere in her book though, she says that while she remodeled the house, she frequently discussed the New York Constitutional Convention, "then in session," [8] with Ansel Bascom. Because this convention was convened in 1846, some commentators have concluded that Stanton, who is often unreliable on dates, was mistaken when she said they arrived in 1847, and that they really came earlier in 1846. It is unlikely that she would forget the year she arrived in Seneca Falls, and the year 1847 is supported by the date of the property transfer itself. The confusion over Stanton's conversations with Ansel Bascom can be explained by the fact that some of the issues under consideration at the Constitutional Convention such as changes to the Married Woman's Property Act, continued to be the subject of debate, discussion and petition until their final adoption in 1848. As an active politician and subsequent member of the New York legislature, Bascom would very likely have been travelling back and forth between Seneca Falls and Albany to keep abreast of developments on these issues in which he had so much interest. His conversations with Stanton on the proposed legislative changes before the convention could just as easily have occurred in 1847 as in 1846. The fact that Stanton erroneously says in The History of Woman Suffrage that the Constitutional Convention occurred in 1847, [9] shows too that she was mistaken about the date of the convention, not about her arrival in Seneca Falls. To date, no evidence has surfaced which conclusively establishes the date for Stanton's arrival in Seneca Falls, and the issue remains an open one. (See the "Architectural Survey of Women's Rights National Historical Park" by Barbara Pearson for a further discussion of this point.)

The Stantons did not all come to the village at once. While Henry Stanton stayed in Boston to close up his practice, Elizabeth and her three children headed for New York in the company of her sister and her two children. After dropping off the children at her parents' home in Johnstown, Stanton proceeded on alone to Seneca Falls, "quite happy with the responsibility of repairing a house and putting all things in order." [10] The property apparently needed a great deal of "putting in order," for Stanton reported that "the house we were to occupy had been closed for some years and needed many repairs, and the grounds, comprising five acres, were overgrown with weeds." [11] Although we cannot positively verify this, several local histories say that the house had once been used as an Episcopal boarding house and day school for boys before the Stantons' arrival. [12]

Continuing his generous support of the family's relocation, Judge Cady gave his daughter a check for the necessary repairs and the following challenge, "You believe in woman's capacity to do and dare; now go ahead and put your place in order." [13] Stanton accepted both the check and the challenge, and set about renovating the house. "After a minute survey of the premises and due consultation with one or two sons of Adam, I set the carpenters, painters, paperhangers, and gardeners at work, built a new kitchen and woodhouse, and in one month took possession." [14] Stanton was excited about her new home, and wrote her cousin that she was sure to be "happy and contented . . . for the country & that climate is very delightful." [15] She was less sanguine about her husband's attitude, writing in the same letter that "he dreads the change from Boston to Seneca & I fear he will long for the strong excitement of a city life, tho' I hope after a time he will be happy and contented." [16]

By the late spring or early summer of 1847, the entire family was apparently settled in their new home. At this time, the Stantons consisted of 42-year-old Henry, 31-year-old Elizabeth, 5-year-old Daniel, 3-year-old Henry, and Gerrit, aged 1 and some months. Four more children were born to them in Seneca Falls; Theodore in 1851, Margaret in 1852, Harriot in 1856, and Robert in 1859. [17] See Illustrations 6, 7, and 8.) Once the excitement of her new home had worn off, Stanton began to find that her life in Seneca Falls was not the exciting and varied one it had been in Boston. Although her married sister lived in the village, and Stanton knew the area and people well through previous visits, she described her new life as

comparatively solitary. . . . The change from Boston was somewhat depressing. There, all my immediate friends were reformers. I had near neighbors, a new home with all the modern conveniences, and well-trained servants. Here our residence was on the outskirts of town, roads very often muddy and no sidewalks most of the way, Mr. Stanton was frequently from home, I had poor servants, and an increasing number of children. [18]

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and son Elizabeth Cady Stanton and child
Illustration 6. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and son, c. 1854. From Eighty Years and More, Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Illustration 7. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and child, c. 1857. From Eighty Years and More, Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
Henry Brewster Stanton
Illustration 8. Henry Brewster Stanton. From Eighty Years and More, Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Unable to cope singlehanded with the demand of her sprawling household and worn to exhaustion through the care of her four malaria ridden children, Stanton packed up her brood and headed home to her parents for some relief and a respite from her troubles. [19] Reality had to be faced, however, and Stanton was soon back in Seneca Falls frantically trying to keep her children healthy, properly clothed, and fed.

Heretofore, Elizabeth Cady Stanton had always lived in comparative ease and comfort. Her father was one of the wealthiest men in the state, and her life in Boston had apparently been one with few domestic cares. She was accustomed to being surrounded by exciting and stimulating friends, with ample leisure time in which to cultivate her various interests and hobbies. Her sudden plunge into the daily drudgery of housekeeping and childcare was traumatic and depressing. Her life was probably no more onerous than that led by millions of other women of her day, but it came as a particularly heavy shock to her because it was so unexpected. If she had not experienced this life for herself, she probably would not have developed the extraordinarily perceptive and all encompassing philosophy of women's rights which she did. No doubt, she would have labored for women's rights even if her domestic life had remained carefree, but it would have been the fight of a privileged woman fighting for legal and political equality. Stanton's personal experiences as an overburdened housewife in an isolated village gave her some invaluable insights into the inequities and injustices which ruled the average woman's life. It was precisely because she had previously been in a privileged position, that she recognized what it was that these other women were missing, and how the customary rules regarding such things as child rearing, cooking, sanitation, and house design were robbing them all of their potential. She then became determined to change the entire social fabric if need be to release herself and all women from their needless drudgery.

Stanton wrote of her feelings at this time in her autobiography:

I now fully understood the practical difficulties most women had to contend with in the isolated household, and the impossibility of woman's best development if in contact, the chief part of her life, with servants and children. . . . The general discontent I felt with woman's portion as wife, mother, housekeeper, physician, and spiritual guide, the chaotic conditions into which everything fell without her constant supervision, and the wearied anxious look of the majority of women impressed me with a strong feeling that some active measures should be taken to remedy the wrongs of society in general, and of women in particular. [20]

The result of this determination was of course, the Women's Rights Convention of July 1848. (See chapters on the Wesleyan Chapel and The Hunts.) With the backing of her Quaker friends in Waterloo, Stanton set in motion the first organized women's rights movement.

The effect of the Convention on Stanton's own situation was deep and immediate:

The discussions had cleared my ideas as to the primal steps to be taken for woman's enfranchisement, and the opportunity of expressing myself fully and freely on a subject I felt so deeply about was a great relief. . . . With these new duties and interests, and a broader outlook on human life, my petty domestic annoyances gradually took a subordinate place. Now I began to write articles for the press, letters to conventions held in other States, and private letters to friends to arouse them to thoughts on this question . . . instead of mourning, as I had done, over what I had lost in leaving Boston, I tried in every way to make the most of life in Seneca Falls. [21]

One of the reasons that Stanton was able to suddenly have the leisure time to engage in these activities was the fortuitous hiring of a 16-year-old Quaker housekeeper named Amelia Willard. [22] Stanton described her as "a treasure, a friend and comforter, a second mother to my children, . . . [she] understood all life's duties and gladly bore its burdens. She could fill any department in domestic life, and for thirty years was the joy of our household. But for this noble self-sacrificing woman, much of my public work would have been quite impossible." [23]

In addition to Amelia Willard, Stanton generally employed one or two women to act as housemaids or cooks. She seemed to have a singularly difficult time keeping them as her letters are full of woeful tales of inept servants or disappearing kitchen help. She tried to be philosophical about it, but rarely succeeded when it was she who had to fill in behind them. The servants left so frequently it seems, not because the Stantons were particularly difficult to work for, although the children did have the reputation in town of being somewhat hard to handle, but because the other opportunities available elsewhere were more attractive than domestic work. Stanton noted in an 1859 letter that one cook was leaving to take a job in a factory, and that she really could not blame her for being tired of "revolving round the cook stove." [24] Stanton was not the only Seneca Falls resident who had trouble retaining help. A farmer who settled a few miles outside of the village in 1848 recalled that "household help was difficult, if not impossible, to come by. . . . We tried sometimes to work it out with immigrant girls from Ireland or Germany, but just as soon as the girl learned the language and something of the ways of the family, she was apt to get restless and move on. Or some young fellow would come along and marry her, and off they'd go." [25]

Stanton's inability to secure good household help in Seneca Falls helped to strengthen her belief that a communal life-style was the most desirable and equitable domestic arrangement. She had spent a short time at the Brook Farm Community while living in Boston, and was much impressed with the utopian experiment. [26] To have men and women sharing equally in all domestic and agricultural work, and enjoying frequent literary and musical diversions with congenial companions, was to her, an ideal living arrangement. She spoke and wrote frequently on the subject, and never ceased calling for a more equitable distribution of household duties between the male and female members of a family. She was very resentful of the system which confined her to the house while her husband was free to pursue any interest he pleased. Henry Stanton was generally willing to let his wife pursue her reform interests if she could find the time, but even this very liberal individual was not going to volunteer to assume any of the domestic duties to allow her some leisure in which to work. Her frustration boiled over in the following letter to Susan B. Anthony:

Oh how I long for a few hours of blessed leisure each day. How rebellious it makes me feel to see Henry going about where and how he pleases. He can walk at will through the whole wide world or shut himself up alone, if he pleases, within four walls. As I contrast his freedom with my bondage and feel that, because of the false position of woman, I have been compelled to hold all my noblest aspirations in obeyance in order to be a wife, a mother, a nurse, a household drudge, I am fired anew . . . . [27]

Stanton decided that if she could not go out into the world for spiritual and intellectual stimulation, she would bring the world into her parlor. Her home became one of the standard stopping places and boarding points for the legions of reform lecturers and politicians who passed through the region in the 1840s and 1850s. Her son Gerrit provides here a rather irreverant look at the typical comings and goings at the Stanton house:

The Seneca Falls Convention woke up all the cranks, long-haired individuals, ismists, both male and female in the State of New York and all roads led to Seneca Falls and the Stanton mansion. . . . The house with its wings had many bedrooms and as Mrs. Stanton was an hospitable hostess it was just the place for "advanced thinkers" to gather without being disturbed, express their views while partaking of the Stanton's viands by day and calmly reposing in the Stanton beds at night. . . . The writer's recollections of his early life at the Stanton home were rooms full of people and no vacant chairs in the dining room. For many years a constant string of invited and uninvited guests, principally the latter, came and generally lingered. They were poor in purse and often the Stanton family was called upon for railroad fare to help them to their destination. [28] (See Illustration 9.)

Stanton House
Illustration 9. Stanton House, c. 1880-1890. From SFHS Collection, neg. #60, print #685.

In addition to the "cranks" that Gerrit Stanton mentions, the Stantons also entertained such respected figures as James and Lucretia Mott, Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, and Gerrit Smith. During the 1848 Convention the Motts and Martha Wright stayed at the house, along with other guests whose names we do not know. [29] This recital of constant entertaining inevitably leads to the question of how the Stantons could afford to keep such a generous "open house" for their fellow reformers, in addition to providing them train fare home.

Unfortunately, there are no known records that can tell us how much money Henry Stanton was earning or of what the family income consisted. Popular tradition has held that Henry Stanton made little money as a lawyer, preferring to spend his time in nonremunerative political and reform activities. If this is so, and it may be, then he must have been receiving income from other sources, for the Stanton life-style certainly appears to have been in the comfortable upper middle class range. As noted earlier, they may have been receiving income from some of Judge Cady's properties. The 1851 assessment records list his holdings in Seneca Falls as a house and barn valued at $7,950, a vacant building listed at $250, and a plaster mill with a value of $800. As noted earlier, Henry Stanton is listed on the assessment records as the agent for these properties. It has often been assumed that because Judge Cady gave the Seneca Falls house and property to his daughter, her family must have been in financial difficulties. This is not necessarily true, as he may just have wished to present the house as a gift, or because it was to his benefit to have someone in Seneca Falls to keep an eye on his other properties there. In either event, the property was one of the larger homes in the village, coming in in the top seven percent on the assessment records for its ward in 1851. [30] If the family were having financial trouble, the acceptance of a large, vacant house with all of its attendant maintenance problems would hardly have seemed a reasonable thing to do.

The Stantons' social life and circle of friends certainly shows that they were at ease among the well-to-do, and in no embarrassment regarding the reciprocation of any social invitations. Stanton lists among her closest friends the Bascoms, the Sacketts, and the Hunt family of Waterloo, all wealthy entrepreneurs and leaders of Seneca Falls/Waterloo society. Elizabeth Cady Stanton also makes an interesting statement in her autobiography that the Tylers were "my nearest neighbors." [31] A quick glance at the village maps shows that there were almost three dozen families living closer to the Stantons than the Tylers, the implication being that Stanton considered the wealthy Tylers the nearest neighbors of her own social and economic class.

Although no definitive statement can be made about the Stantons' economic situation based on the available evidence, the various oblique references cited above seem to indicate that they were in comfortable circumstances. They may have been living on direct handouts from Judge Cady, but that does not alter the impression that they were living well, whether on money provided by Judge Cady or earned by Henry Stanton. The present author has not been able to find any references in the Stanton correspondence that indicate that any of Elizabeth Cady Stanton's generous entertaining activities, or Henry Stanton's extensive travelling had to be curtailed through lack of available funds.

Remarks that Stanton made in regard to the Conversation Club she inaugurated also hint that she was a member of the village elite. The Club was a weekly gathering where interested members all read or wrote on a predetermined social or political topic, and then met to share their ideas and impressions. Stanton recalled that "in this way we read and thought over a wide range of subjects and brought together the best minds in the community. Many young men and women who did not belong to what was considered the first circle,—for in every little country village there is always a small clique that consititutes the aristocracy—had the advantages of a social life otherwise denied them." [32] Dexter Bloomer noted that his wife Amelia regularly attended these meetings "in the parlors of prominent residents" and "derived much mental culture" [33] from them.

In addition to sponsoring the Conversation Club, Stanton sought to enrich the lives of the young women and girls in town by becoming a general mentor and "mother confessor" to them all. Seeing that the lack of funds for elaborate refreshments kept some of them from enjoying the companionship of a party or a dance, Stanton announced that she would host gatherings without any refreshments, to relieve anyone of the necessity of having to respond in kind. "I told the young people, whenever they wanted a little dance or a merry time, to make our house their rallying point, and I would light up and give them a glass of water and some cake. In that way we had many pleasant informal gatherings." [34] She also installed a billard table in the barn so that her older sons would have a congenial place to bring their friends. [35]

One teenage girl who frequently spent her spare time at the Stanton home, described Elizabeth Cady Stanton as

fascinating in manner, cultured by travel, society and books; warm-hearted, impulsive, 'a very woman,' for a secret was not safe an hour in her possession. She soon exerted a wide-spread influence over the younger and more advanced portion of society. The older and more conservative might point to her disregard of Sunday, or ordinary religious duties; but they were answered by an appeal to her conduct as a wife and mother, to her admirable housekeeping and charming hospitality, as proofs of Christianity in life and conduct. [36]

Many Seneca Falls residents were no doubt wary of entrusting their daughters to Stanton, as it was well known that she held advanced notions on child rearing. She had developed her new theories after some humorous and also frightening episodes with her own children. Rejecting many of the accepted child rearing practices of that dictatorial and non-scientific age, she created her own system based on common sense and the belief that children had rights and preferences too. She used her own seven children as her "guinea pigs" so to speak, and would later write and lecture extensively on the subject.

Stanton's new theories were rooted in the belief that children, as well as adults, were rational beings who could decide for themselves what they ought to do. Her children recalled in later years that "our mother had had enough of military rule in her childhood home. There was no inflexible order at her own fireside; every law bent easily to human needs." [37] Her permissiveness often created problems for those outside of the family who had to deal with the children. The young piano teacher remembered the day that 10-year-old Theodore decided that he wanted to go and play rather than practice his scales:

Mrs. Stanton happened to come into the room. I appealed to her. I will say here that one of her favorite theories about the bringing up of children was the uselessness of coercion. When differences arise between parents and children she would say impressively, sit down and talk over matters rationally with them; it will have far greater effect than arbitrary compulsion. In fact, she didn't believe in compelling children to do anything. . . . So when I appealed to her she stopped short; 'Theodore, be a reasonable being,' said she, and passed on. I was discouraged for Theodore had not the slightest intention of being a resonable being. He was going out to play, and that ended it. . . . [38]

The teacher was eventually able to keep Theodore at his lesson by promising to sing him a funny song, a triumph of bribery over reason, as she saw it. The children were always getting into scrapes, and one neighbor somewhat disapprovingly noted that they were always "roving around the neighborhood." [39] There were frequent complaints that the boys threw stones at the pigs, cows, and houses on Seneca Street, [40] that one of the children was seen floating down the Seneca River in a homemade, cork life preserver, or that the baby had been spotted perched on the roof of the house. [41]

In an effort to keep the boys out of mischief and involved in less hazardous pastimes, Stanton "had all sorts of swings, bars and ladders put on the grounds and had the barn equipped as a gymnasium for rainy days." [42] She was a firm believer in plenty of physical exercise and play for children, a view not often held in 19th century America, nor did she feel that physical education should be limited to boys only. When Stanton learned that gym classes were being offered for the boys of the village in Union Hall, she decided that the girls should enjoy this privilege as well since, in her view, the girls were even more in need of the exercise than the boys. Accordingly, she made it a practice to wait outside the Seneca Academy after classes where she would gather as many girls as she could. She then delivered them to Union Hall where she successfully persuaded the German instructor to give them the same course of training as the boys. [43]

We can only assume that Stanton's enlightened theories of childrearing ultimately produced well-adjusted, physically fit, productive adults. Susan B. Anthony seemed to have some doubts on this score as evidenced by the following letter written around 1862. "Most sincerely do I regret that your household must give you such greeting on your return—it is a shame that those large boys, young men, do not begin to feel a pride in helping to keep good order. . . . It is a shame that you can never be released from constant presence at your house." [44]

Henry Stanton, it seemed, tried to regulate the boys from a distance through his correspondence. One postscript in a letter to his wife reads "—Boys! Get the leaves & the ice out of the gutter! —Boys! Go to school!" [45] It is difficult to know exactly how Henry Stanton fit into the Seneca Falls household. By his wife's admission, he was very seldom home, and she mentions him only very briefly in her autobiography. He was extremely active in state politics, helping to form the Free Soil Party platform in Buffalo in 1848, campaigning across the state, serving two terms in the New York State legislature in 1849 and 1851, and helping to organize the new state Republican Party in 1855.

His letters home to his wife are full of affectionate bantering and queries as to the state of affairs in Seneca Falls. A touch of homesickness is apparent in the following letter he wrote from Washington in 1857:

Why don't you write me? It is too bad. This is the 4th or 5th letter I have written home, & not a word from there! Pray write & tell me how you all are. Have you ordered a mantilla? Have you plenty of wood? Do the potatoes freeze? Is the gutter up? How are the babies? Does Margaret Livingston Stanton go to dancing school? Does the judge go ditto? Is Mary Crowinshield married yet? [46]

In a later letter announcing his impending arrival home, he writes, "My dearest Lee—Lo, open wide your arms, for I shall rush into them with all the impulse which love and longing can inspire." [47]

In spite of these affectionate missives, we do not know how the two related to each other in the course of day to day living. Elizabeth Cady Stanton appears to have been very proud of Henry's political achievements and thoroughly enjoyed the extra company, rallies, and excitement which attended his profession. In 1855, she wrote to Susan B. Anthony that "I am rejoiced to say that Henry is heart and soul in the Republican movement and is faithfully stumping the state once more. I have attended all the Republican meetings and have had Senator John P. Hale staying with us." [48] Her husband, however, did not always appear to be quite so supportive of her work. In another letter to Anthony, she said she could not lecture around the state with her as "the pressure on me just now is too great. Henry sides with my friends, who oppose me in all that is dearest to my heart. They are not willing that I should write even on the woman question. But I will both write and speak. I wish you to consider this letter strictly confidential. Sometimes, Susan, I struggle in deep waters. . . ." [49]

We know that Henry Stanton did not sign the Declaration of Sentiments, and popular tradition says he left town the day of the Convention to show his disapproval of the venture. There is no absolute evidence by which we can prove this, but a statement by one of his sons certainly makes it appear plausible. In the article quoted earlier wherein Gerrit Stanton described the constant stream of reformers who descended on their home, there is the following sentence, "Through this long ordeal of [missing line] ton, who was a lawyer in town, would move to a hotel." [50] Because of the missing fragment, we cannot with absolute certainty say this statement refers to Henry Stanton, but the reasonable assumption is that Gerrit Stanton is here referring to his father, who preferred to board at a hotel rather than to share his home with a crowd of his wife's friends and acquaintances.

There were others in Seneca Falls who disapproved of Elizabeth Cady Stanton's zealousness. After she became a well-known lecturer, and a widely respected figure in her later years, village residents would say with pride that she had once lived there. During the time of her actual residence though, before she had become nationally famous, it appears that many of her neighbors considered her to be decidedly eccentric. One young woman recalled that "just after I was married Mrs. Stanton was driving down the street one day, and she stopped and invited me to ride with her. But I wouldn't have been seen with her for anything, so I made some sort of flimsy excuse." [51] Another woman who visited Stanton often and thoroughly enjoyed her company, believed that the impetus behind her various reform causes was boredom, rather than deep convictions. This is no doubt the voice of someone who did not share these convictions, but it probably reflected the views of a number of others in the village. Discussing Stanton's advocacy of dress reform, she claimed that "Mrs. Stanton had worn the gloss of novelty off from most of her themes and was sighing for a new sensation, a new reform. Here it was ready to her hand, and forgetting, or not heeding, all she had said of the advantages of the long flowing robes over the male costume in her first speeches, she rushed with renewed ardor into 'dress reform.'" [52]

Although Stanton did exhibit much enthusiasm over any cause in which she was interested, she was not frivolous in what she chose to support. As with her views on child rearing, domestic arrangements, and personal health, her championship of dress reform was heartfelt and rooted in personal experience. Her cousin Elizabeth Miller had come to visit her in the winter of 1850-1851 wearing a knee-length dress with trousers beneath. Stanton was immediately enamored of the dress because of its practicality. "To see my cousin, with a lamp in one hand and a baby in the other, walk upstairs with ease and grace, while, with flowing robes, I pulled myself up with difficulty, lamp and baby out of the question, readily convinced me that there was sure need of reform in woman's dress, and I promptly donned a similar attire." [53] This change opened up a whole new range of thought for Stanton, who then proceeded to develop her ideas on the related issues of female health and exercise.

Actually wearing the so-called "Bloomer outfit" required a large dose of courage. Stanton created quite a stir the first time she appeared on the village streets in the outfit. A townswoman recalled:

Never shall I forget that first appearance! Mrs. Stanton is not slight or sylph-like in her proportions; she is, not to put too fine a point on it, the reverse. Imagine her then in a full black satin frock cut off at the knee, with Turkish trowsers of the same material, her wrap a double broche shawl, and on her head the hideous great bonnet then in fashion. I have seen scarecrows that did credit to farmers' boys' ingenuity, but never one better calculated to scare all birds, beasts and human beings than was Mrs. Stanton in the Bloomer dress. She was accompanied by Mrs. Miller in the same dress, and followed by a crowd of boys yelling, singing and laughing, while every door and window was lined with staring faces. The whole town was roused as never before. [54]

Stanton bravely clung to the dress for about two years, even though she met opposition even within her own family circle. In 1851, her eldest son asked her not to come to visit him at school while wearing the outfit. "You do not wish me to visit you in a short dress!" she replied, "Why, my dear child, I have no other. . . . You want me to be like other people. You do not like to have me laughed at. You must learn not to care for what foolish people say. Such good men as cousin Gerrit and Mr. Weld will tell you that a short dress is the right kind. So no matter if ignorant silly persons do laugh." [55] After enduring two years of ridicule and scorn, and finding herself the subject of crude doggerel whenever she appeared in public, Stanton finally discarded the "short dress" as she felt it had become more of a hindrance than a help to her work.

The harrassment that these early women reformers suffered was one reason that the Stanton house became such a popular retreat for them. Gerrit Stanton wrote that "it was the only place and the only surroundings where the ladies were not subject to insult and ridicule from their fellow beings and where missiles were not thrown. Nearly everyone was an 'anti' at that time and occasionally a vicious one." [56] Stanton was never content to hide at home among sympathetic friends, however, she had the courage of her convictions and firmly believed in showing them to the world. One rather shocked resident remembered how, "at a time when the prejudice against color was far greater than now, [1880] she boldly walked down the main street of this town in the broad light of a June day arm in arm with Frederick Douglass." [57] She also cut her hair at this time, an almost unthinkable thing for a woman then to do. As one Seneca Falls resident rather succinctly put it, "Mrs. Stanton has never, her life through, gone willingly in a beaten path; whatever she is, she is original." [58]

Though many in the village did not agree with some of her more radical views, it seems that Stanton was widely respected and liked for her unfailing good humor, bountiful generosity, and plain common sense. She relates in her autobiography how she was often called out at night to arbitrate a fight between a drunken husband and a terrified wife in the Irish settlement along nearby Seneca Street. She was also often called to assist the women in childbirth. [59] These midnight forays into families where alcoholism and unwanted children were common, made a strong impression on her and were instrumental in forming her liberal views regarding birth control, sexual equality in marriages, and divorce. "They who have sympathy & imagination to make the sorrows of others their own," she wrote, "can readily learn all the hard lessons of life from the experience of others." [60]

One woman who did not share Stanton's advanced notions, nevertheless recognized in her a kind and generous spirit. She believed that Stanton's

private life, laid open to the world, would reflect far more honor upon her than any public effort she has ever made. Mrs. Stanton would turn from her desk, where lay a manuscript of a lecture upon the wrongs of woman in marriage, to give a young girl about to be married the most loving sympathy and the wisest and most judicious advice. I know of wives who will never cease to hold Mrs. Stanton in loving and grateful remembrance,—however they may look upon her public career,—for advice given at that most important time, so wise and good that they feel they owe much of the happiness of their lives to her counsel. [61]

Contrary to most people's notions of what a reform minded woman had to be, Elizabeth Cady Stanton was very fond of the traditional domestic tasks of cooking, entertaining, child rearing, etc. She took great pride in maintaining a modern, pleasant, efficient home, and would later deliver very popular lectures on home management and economy based on her experiments in Seneca Falls. As she became increasingly involved in the women's rights movement though, she found it ever more difficult to manage both her home and her new interests. Even with the help of the faithful Amelia Willard, she was often overwhelmed by all she had to do. "My babies, the boys and these Irish girls, [servants] as well as the generally unsettled condition of the moral, religious, and political world," she wrote her cousin, "are enough to fret to pieces the best constructed machinery. Some days I feel a general giving away." [62]

Fortunately, her "machinery" was given an overhaul by the arrival of Susan B. Anthony on the scene in 1850. An active temperance worker, she was introduced to Stanton by Amelia Bloomer on a Seneca Falls street corner after an antislavery lecture. [63] The two women forged a partnership which produced for the women's rights movement a philosophy and strategy, enabling it to grow and expand into a truly national movement. Not the least of Anthony's contribution to this partnership was her assumption of some of Stanton's domestic duties to provide the necessary leisure time for Stanton to concoct the speeches and letters that Anthony would then deliver. Anthony became almost a tenth member of the family, spending as much time in Seneca Falls as in her own home in Rochester. Stanton recalled how "we took turns on the domestic watchtowers, directing amusements, settling disputes, protecting the weak against the strong, and trying to secure equal rights to all in the home as well as the nation." [64]

The Stanton home on Locust Hill became the unlikely center from which most of the early women's rights ideas originated. Amidst the clamor of seven children, the arrivals and departures of innumerable guests, and the ordinary happenstances of everyday living, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony would identify their targets, collect their thoughts, and commit their views to paper. Stanton wrote that among her childrens' earliest recollections was

the tableau of 'Mother and Susan,' seated by a large table covered with books and papers, always writing and talking about the Constitution, interrupted with occasional visits from others of the faithful. [65] Night after night, by an old-fashioned fireplace, we plotted and planned the coming agitation; how, when, and where each entering wedge could be driven, by which women might be recognized and their rights secured. [66] Here we forged resolutions, protests, appeals, petitions, agricultural reports, and constitutional arguments; for we made it a matter of conscience to accept every invitation to speak on every question, in order to maintain woman's right to do so. [67]

Anthony was often frustrated by the responsibilities which kept Stanton tied to children and home, leaving her to do most of the actual presentations and field work herself. She complained to Stanton that "those of you who have the talent to do honor to poor—oh! how poor—womanhood, have all given yourself over to baby-making; and left poor brainless me to do battle alone. It is a shame." [68] Stanton would indeed, sometimes call a halt to her reform activities and insist that she wanted nothing more to do with it. After the birth of her fifth child she protested to Anthony, "I forbid you to ask me to send one thought or one line to any convention, any paper, or any individual; for I swear by all the saints that whilst I am nursing this baby I will not be tormented with suffering humanity." [69] Her social conscience would soon reassert itself, however, and she would once again be back at work spearheading the movement from her parlor table.

With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, Stanton temporarily halted her efforts for women's rights to concentrate on securing the immediate emancipation of southern slaves. About the same time, Henry Stanton received an appointment in the New York Custom House and began writing for the New York Tribune. The family decided to relocate, and in 1862, they moved to Brooklyn. As her children grew older and more independent, Stanton began lecturing extensively on women's rights in the late 1860s, becoming the national spokeswoman for the movement.

Nearly all of the ideas that Stanton included in her women's rights philosophy had their beginnings in Seneca Falls. It was here that her vague, generalized sense of dissatisfaction finally exploded into an articulated call for women's rights through the Convention of 1848. If she had not come to Seneca Falls, had not found hereself marooned in an isolated house with too many children and too little help, she might never have inaugurated the movement for women's rights. Her sudden exposure to the realities of the average woman's existance showed her as nothing else could, that women were being abused and discriminated against in almost every facet of their lives.

Her intense involvement in her own domestic cares and those of her friends and neighbors was instrumental in the development of her uniquely humanistic and far-ranging approach toward solving the problems of women. She did not limit her fight to achieving legal equality or the right to vote, but extended it to a demand for a complete social reformation which would allow women to reach their full potential in whatever sphere they chose. She advocated communal households to free women from mindless drudgery and to provide them with intellectual and social diversions. She demanded more liberal divorce and property laws to give women some control over themselves and their earnings. Her lectures on child rearing, household management, and personal health were all geared toward releasing women from repressive, nonsensical traditions and habits. She had dealt with all of these issues either on a personal level or through acquaintences while in Seneca Falls, and her perceptive, sympathetic mind had gathered them together and redefined them into a new philosophy of women's rights. As she once wrote to Susan B. Anthony, "It is not in vain that in myself I have experienced all the wearisome cares to which woman in her best estate is subject." [70] By the time of her death on October 26, 1902, she had done much to publicize and alleviate some of those wearisome cares.

Important Sources of Information and Suggestions for Further Research

1. The standard manuscript collections and published works on Elizabeth Cady Stanton are well-known and need no repetition here. Perhaps the best possible source of new information on the Stantons will be found in the various Family Papers of village residents housed at the Seneca Falls Historical Soceity. There is a large collection of Family Papers at the Society covering the entire 19th century. References to the Stantons and the Convention may very well be contained in letters, diaries, and memoirs. Information contained in this report was found in the papers of various village families, but a complete, thorough examination of them all still needs to be done.

2. "Domesticity and Equality: Elizabeth Cady Stanton on Home Life," a paper prepared by Corinne Guntzel for the Second Seneca Falls Women's Conference, 1982. Copy at Women's Rights National Historical Park.

A good, concise look at some of Stanton's theories and preferences regarding domestic economy and household management.

3. "History of the Stanton House," Corinne Guntzel. Copy at Women's Rights National Historical Park, 1982.

A short paper quickly outlining the basic construction and ownership history of the house.

4. "The Stanton House: Preliminary Historic Structure Report," Barbara Pearson, North Atlantic Historic Preservation Center, 1982.

5. "Architectural Survey—Women's Rights National Historical Park, Seneca Falls, New York," Barbara Pearson—North Atlantic Historic Preservation Center, 1984.

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Last Updated: 10-Dec-2005