Updated date:

Who Was the First Feminist? Legacy of Elizabeth Cady Stanton

I'm passionate about the rich history of our American nation, and I enjoy thoroughly researching historical topics.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton died before women finally gained the right to vote, but she was a major force behind the suffrage movement.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton died before women finally gained the right to vote, but she was a major force behind the suffrage movement.

Early Feminism: Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Throughout the past century, feminism has been redefining itself. However, it was spearheaded by the first wave in the 19th and 20th centuries in the United States. It climaxed in the roaring twenties when the 19th amendment, ratified on August, 18, 1920, gave women the right to vote.

Feminism is the equalization of women to men through political means. Elizabeth Cady Stanton embodies this definition because she advocated for women’s suffrage and started the National Woman’s Suffrage Association. The NWSA influenced citizens and politicians and expanded women’s influential sphere in society.

An illustration depicting the suffrage movement.

An illustration depicting the suffrage movement.

Stanton's Actions and Legacy

Elizabeth Cady Stanton pushed and advocated for women’s suffrage, shaping the late 19th and early 20th century political landscape. To advance women’s suffrage, Stanton organized the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848. After the convention’s two days, the Declaration of Sentiments, which was the first step to organized suffrage, was signed by 100 men and woman. Men’s signatures were significant at the time because it was thought politics were out of a woman’s mental capacity.

In 1869, the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) was founded by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. Stanton served as its first president and launched a grass roots campaign exclusively to advocate for women’s voting rights through orations and publications, including her persuasive newspaper The Revolution.

As a result of her grassroots campaign, states began passing permanent suffrage laws. These meant women could elect their local politicians such as majors, state representatives, and senators; however, they could not elect the president of the Unites States. In 1869, Wyoming was the first state to enact permanent suffrage laws.

Stanton passed away in 1902; however, her legacy of the National Woman’s Suffrage Association continued to push legislation to enable women the right to vote.

Wyoming was the first state to enact permanent suffrage laws.

Wyoming was the first state to enact permanent suffrage laws.

The Anti-Suffragist Turncoat

In August 26, 1920, Harry Burn, a 24-year-old representative from East Tennessee, joined suffragists by casting the 36th vote needed to ratify the 19th amendment. This amendment states that the right of citizens to vote "shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex." This is applied on a state and national level.

When Burn joined the suffragists, he traded the red rose worn on his lapel for a yellow one, the symbol of suffrage. The wearing of the rose was called the war of roses.

Harry Burn

Harry Burn

Febb Ensminger Burn: The Mother That Made History

The motive behind Burn’s change was a letter from his mother Phoebe King "Febb" Ensminger Burn. It was written that morning urging him to:

Hurray and vote for suffrage and don’t keep them in doubt. I noticed (an opponent’s) speech, it was very bitter. I’ve been waiting to see how you stood but have not seen anything yet . . . Don’t forget to be a good boy and help Mrs. Cat put the 'rat' in ratification.

"Mrs. Cat" referred to Carrie Chapman Catt, the president of NWSA at the time.

The letter from Febb Ensminger Burn to her son, Harry Burn, that helped change his views on the suffrage movement.

The letter from Febb Ensminger Burn to her son, Harry Burn, that helped change his views on the suffrage movement.

The "New Women" and Their Legacy

The premise for advocating women’s suffrage was so women could tackle women’s issues. When women began influencing the political sphere, they gave emphasis to social reform laws like child labor and prison reform. The ratification of the 19th amendment proved there was no “proper sphere of life” for women. Instead, they could equally participate in politics alongside men.

Women’s suffrage included women of all ethnicities. During the 1920s, these “new women” (women who voted and feminists that were a product of the NWSA grassroots campaign movement) were harshly criticized. However, their actions did not go without appreciation. Over almost half a century later, according to a Gallop poll from 1999 asking Americans about The Most Important Events of the Century From the Viewpoint of the People,women’s suffrage came in second, below WWII.

Women's political influence led to child labor laws and other social reform.

Women's political influence led to child labor laws and other social reform.

Without Her

Without Elizabeth Cady Stanton, there may not have been a suffrage movement, much less the 19th amendment and the woman’s right to vote ratified. She was a first-wave feminist, and her organization, the NWSA, influenced citizens and politicians alike. Through the NWSA's efforts, women’s influential sphere was expanded in society.

Sources

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2019 Catalyst Muse