Speaking Truth to Power: A Rhetorical Biography of Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Our forefathers’ proclamation in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” has held little value in the eyes of the countless citizens belonging to oppressed groups. The years following the summer of 1776 and the social inequalities that we as a people have collectively endured demonstrate that the notion of equal rights for all is an apocryphal assertion. Fortunately, America has been blessed with a select group of unrelenting leaders eager to stand at the vanguard of social movements. Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s efforts in the women’s movement unquestionably have positioned her as a prominent social activist. The selfless decision of Stanton to devote her life to women’s suffrage impacted the course of our nation’s history and is deserving of our study. With this analysis, I will examine speeches delivered by Stanton in an attempt to equip the reader with a more thorough understanding of the speaker’s rhetorical persona. A preliminary historical context is needed to fully comprehend and appreciate the reformer’s oratory. Elizabeth Cady Stanton was born in 1815 to a notable family of social standing. Her family’s good fortunes allowed for her to receive a quality education, a rare opportunity for women of the era. Perhaps even more uncommon than her ability to attend school is the nature of her education. Being the only girl in the class allowed her to benefit from a “boys” curriculum focused on academic advancement and not domestic servitude. She would go on to study law with her father, Judge Daniel Cady, who was a sitting justice of the Supreme Court of New York. It was at this time that Stanton’s awareness was heightened as to the mountain of inequity women faced. Much to her conservative family’s dismay, she wed abolitionist Henry Stanton in 1840. As a married couple, Elizabeth and her husband crossed the Atlantic to attend a worldwide antislavery convention being held in London. It was here that she met and formed a bond with the social reformer Lucretia Mott. The two women were indignant at the fact that women were excluded from participation in the convention on the basis of their gender, and that indignation would result in a discussion about holding a woman’s rights convention (Campbell 76). Justifiably frustrated over this gross act of hypocrisy, a fiery alliance had been forged in the early woman’s movement. The initial wave of the women’s rights movement is said to have begun roughly in the year 1840 and lasted until 1925. The events of the London convention sparked the wick of the cause, but it was not until 1848 that this intellectual fire grew to a roaring blaze. The signature event considered to be the birth of the suffrage movement was a gathering of concerned female activists met in Seneca Falls, New York (Wood 66). The Seneca Falls Convention was organized by Stanton and others who had experienced the deliberate exclusion of women’s voices in the antislavery battle. The reformers decided to narrow their focus to the rights of women. Consequently, the movement became almost lily white, both in interest and membership (Wood 68). The infant stages of the women’s movement did not have a restricted, single issue focus. Stanton’s rhetoric demonstrates her realization of the fact that women were being oppressed in all aspects of their lives. Coeducation, women’s sports, job training, equal wages, labor unions, birth control, cooperative nurseries and kitchens, property rights for wives, child custody rights for mothers, and reform of divorce laws were among the many issues confronted by the movement (Wood 67). While most women were not opposed to voicing opinion on these matters, many were fearful of the suffrage issue, an idea perceived as more radical in nature. Yet, Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s education and background provided her with a lucid political...
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