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A Family Affair: The Marriage of Elizabeth Cady and Henry Brewster Stanton and the Development of Reform Politics


Although devoted to insuring universal freedom and human rights for more than 60 years, Henry B. Stanton's historical legacy and his many contributions to antebellum reform have been obscured and even vilified in the shadows of his famous wife, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and his oftentimes tactical opponent within abolition circles, William Lloyd Garrison. Frequently portrayed as the antagonist in his wife's struggle for women's rights, as a husband and a father Henry Stanton has become synonymous in the historical discourse with the very oppression his wife devoted her life to ending. Because of this, Elizabeth's reformism is frequently depicted as having emerged from an imagined unhappy domestic life, rather than from an awareness of social and political inequalities. Elizabeth's feminism is thus all too frequently explicitly or implicitly viewed as first a private and then a public rebellion.

Through extensive primary source research, this dissertation seeks to redefine the pivotal moments in the Cady-Stanton marriage to better understand the many reasons, causes, and inspirations that led to Elizabeth Stanton's leadership of the Seneca Falls Convention in particular and the woman suffrage movement in general. This study offers an analysis of Henry Stanton's reform activities in the years prior to the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, and establishes the centrality of Henry Stanton, his extended family, and the example he provided of a politically based reform agenda in the decades before 1848 to the story of his wife.

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