Elizabeth Cady Stanton


At the tender age of eleven, Elizabeth Cady Stanton learned that her father valued boys over girls.

“Oh, my daughter, I wish you were a boy!”

Yet, she grew to surpass her male peers academically and become one of the most courageous and important intellects and leaders we have ever known. 72 years before women were granted the right to vote in the United States, Elizabeth organized the world’s first women’s rights convention declaring,

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal.”

At the age of 35, Stanton met the younger Susan B. Anthony and formed a lifelong friendship. Together, they became the two central figures of the women’s rights movement. Stanton wrote the speeches. Or as Anthony later put it, Stanton,

“Forged the thunderbolts and I fired them.”

But the issue of religion later caused a rift between them. Anthony did not want to estrange religious women while Stanton was convinced that religion was holding back women more than any other institution. She said,

“Sometimes, yes often, I think the best thing that could be done for woman and hence for humanity would be to destroy the present false idea of a personal God in the skies or elsewhere, that we might see and worship the divine in humanity.”

Regarding The Bible, she said,

“I know no other books that so fully teach the subjection and degradation of woman. … When our bishops, archbishops and ordained clergymen stand up in their pulpits and read selections from the Pentateuch with reverential voice, they make the women of their congregation believe that there really is some divine authority for their subjection.”

Stanton later assembled a committee to reinterpret the Bible’s message, putting together “The Woman’s Bible.”

“Religion is native to us; but, to exalt the true God, we must dethrone the false.”

“…when we shall have outgrown the popular idea of a male God in the skies or elsewhere:  then, we might see and worship God in humanity; then, we might love home and deify each other.”

She wanted a Bible that was,

“in harmony with science and philosophy, worthy the reverence and belief of intelligent human beings.”

Stanton’s convictions may have been a direct result of her upbringing. Her education, rare for a woman at the time, also included religious instruction. As a bright impressionable sixteen-year-old, she attended sermons of a popular Christian evangelist. She became so horrified at all the talk of sin and damnation that she became sick and had to take leave and recover at home.  But these events led to a critical psychological assessment of her faith and fearful religious instruction,

“Such preaching worked incalculable harm to the very souls he sought to save. Fear of the judgment seized my soul. Visions of the lost haunted my dreams. Mental anguish prostrated my health…Returning at night, I often at night roused my father from his slumbers to pray for me, lest I should be cast into the bottomless pit before morning.”

Her brother-in-law later encouraged her to read books and articles on science. She wrote:

“My religious superstitions gave place to rational ideas based on scientific facts … I view it as one of the greatest crimes to shadow the minds of the young with these gloomy superstitions; and with fears of the unknown and the unknowable to poison all their joy in life.”

Stanton believed in God. But not a theistic God:

“What we call God is the infinite ideal of humanity. The preposterous, ridiculous absurdity of supposing God so defined to be of the male sex, and to call God ‘him,’ does not need a word to make it apparent. This ideal which we all reverence, and for which we yearn, necessarily enfolds in One the attributes which, separated in our human race, express themselves in Manhood and Womanhood.”

Stanton’s idea of God was pantheistic; the “Supreme Law” of Nature:

“The sun moon & stars the constellations the days & nights, the seasons…the centripetal & centrifugal forces, positive & negative magnetism, the laws of gravitation cohesion attraction are all immutable and unchangeable one & all moving in harmony together. God was to us sunshine, flowers, affection, all that is grand and beautiful in nature.”

She imagined a future religion:

“I think the next form of religion will be the ‘Religion of Humanity,’ in which men and women will worship what they see of the divine in each other.”

When she was married at the age of 25, Stanton requested that “promise to obey” be removed from her wedding vows. It was just another example of her strength, courage, intelligence, and defiance against unreasonable social norms. She was a champion of women’s rights with deep pantheistic philosophical convictions that made her a champion for all of humanity.

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