©2001 NewFoundations

The Educational Theory of Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815 - 1902)

Barbara Sroba


1. Theory of Value:

Knowledge of equal employment and educational opportunities were as important for women as liberalized divorce and women's suffrage. (A: p.54)

Critical discussion on multiple subjects promotes clear, logical thinking. (A: p.16) More educated mothers would produce more effective citizens. "Education for usefulness" was to bring its subjects to the perfection of their moral, intellectual and physical nature: in order that [women] might be the greatest possible use to themselves and others."(A: p.18)

"The stimulus of sex promotes alike a healthy condition of the intellectual and the moral faculties and gives to both a development they never acquire alone." (B: p.37)

Elizabeth Cady Stanton felt as though education balanced society and protected against discrimination. She hoped it would improve the status of the lower class. (A: p.206)

"The Solitude of Self" speech revealed that nature's big lesson was "self-dependence, self-protection and self-support." (E: p.154)

2. Theory of Knowledge:

Stanton felt as though she was "well born" and "put together" with rare knowledge provided by her parents. (A: p.128)

Stanton was "open-minded" in her time of unusual practices and believed strongly in regards to family qualities and prenatal influences. (A: p. 225)

Our experiences teach us to learn by our mistakes. (B: p. 37) Stanton's motto was " Seek Truth for Authority, not Authority for Truth." (D: p.27)

It is a mistake not to question authority and progressively stand up for what you believe in and take action. (B: p. 467)

3. Theory of Human Nature:

Stanton spoke of the "individuality of each human soul" in her " Solitude of Self" speech. She went on to say "But when all the artificial trammels are removed and women are recognized for their own environments, thoroughly educated for all positions of life they may be called to fill; with all the resources in themselves that liberal thought and broad culture can give; guided by their own conscience and judgment, trained to self - protection, by a healthy development of their muscular system, and skill in the use of weapons of defense; and stimulated to self-support by a knowledge of the business world and the pleasure that pecuniary independence must ever give; when women are trained in this way, they will in a measure be fitted for those hours of solitude that come alike to all, whether prepared or otherwise." (A: p. 204)

Stanton disagreed with the "separate spheres" theory of male and female behavior stating that women are not suited for public life. Furthermore, lawmakers should not conflict with God's intentions regarding women's capabilities. (A: p.198)

Stanton's natural rights philosophy claimed that women had the same natural rights as men, which made them equal. There were definitely different physical functions, but "equal mental capabilities." (A: p. 54)

4. Theory of Learning:

Stanton attributes learning to role modeling, reading, and keeping an "open mind" to new ideas. Many of her strong personality traits were learned from her parents, as well as some of the mentors and reformers she was exposed to at the time. (A: p. 223)

Female relatives and friends taught the girls their domestic skills and boys learned from the men. However, Elizabeth Cady Stanton had both male and female role models, which allowed her the opportunity to be open to new ideas and "set a pattern for independent behavior." (A: p.13)

Stanton realized later in life that her ability to shape her own character had a feminist dimension to it. She encouraged women to be self-reliant and independent. (E: p. 11)

5. Theory of Transmission:

The Bayards (tutors) made lessons so easy that Elizabeth and her siblings studied with pleasure and they had more time to play. (B: p.27)

Emma Willard did great educational work for her sex giving out free scholarships to a large number of promising girls fitting them for teachers with a provision that when the opportunity arose, they should, in turn, educate others. (B: p. 37)

"Edward Bayard was a companion in all their amusements, a teacher in the higher departments of knowledge and counselor in all youthful trials and disappointments. He took nothing for granted, and like Socrates, went about asking questions. Nothing pleased him more then to get a bevy of bright young girls about him and teach them how to think clearly and reason logically." (B: p.46)

Training in analysis and logic made the Stanton children a match for any of their father's law students in their debates. (B: p.48)

"It was really pitiful to hear narrow-minded bigots, pretending to be teachers and leaders of menÉto absolute subjection to ordinary masculine type of humanity." (B: p. 81)

"What is the reason today that a large majority of teachers on our schools are women? Is it because women are better teachers than men? Not at all, simply because they teach at half price." (C: p.6)

6. Theory of Society:

"Social science affirms that woman's place in society marks the level of civilization." (B: title page)

The social order changed due to production moving out of the homes and into the factories. (A: p. 14)

The "Declaration of Sentiments" specified women's unequal status in society regarding divorce, religion, property rights, suffrage and education. (C: p. 3)

"Girls learned their roles and responsibilities from female relatives and friends; boys learned theirs from males." (A: p. 13)

"The Revolution" was a significant publication supporting the education and advancement of women. It was a spirited voice informing society that a women's place was not in the home, but in the colleges, universities and professions. (C: p. 8)

Stanton had long believed that "radical reform must start in our homes, in our nurseries, in ourselves" rather than in conventions. (A: p.162)

Stanton thought that legislative hearings educated the public and modified the prejudices of lawmakers. (A: p. 194)

7. Theory of Opportunity

"Stanton saw education as a social equalizer and safeguard against the prejudices of immigrants and natives alike; she expected education to improve and elevate the lower classes." She also endorsed free adult education classes on weekends. (A: p. 206)

Stanton promoted coeducation, free kindergartens, and women's admittance to graduate school. (A: p. 208)

"The Revolution", a publication edited by Stanton, was mainly educational material focused on the education of women. The theme arousing the most attention was its claim for the necessity of allowing admittance of women to male colleges and universities. It advocated the education and advancement of women. (C: p.3 - 8)

8. Theory of Consensus

Stanton's interests were outside the "sexual spheres" of females, as defined by the social conservatives of the time. (A: p. 9)

Stanton fought against the "restrictions of her confining, uncomfortable costume" and also had a problem with most of the rules. (A: p. 12)

Stanton was "reconciled to rest with many debatable questions relegated to the unknown." (A: p. 210)

Stanton knew that political equality was necessary for other equality. Women needed to vote to have the power to change laws, especially those laws placing women beneath men. "By demanding political power, they could struggle collectively against their own degradation, seeking legislation that would resolve aggravating problems." (F: p. 257)

Stanton and Anthony gave speeches around the country, collected petitions and delivered them to state and national legislatures to keep the suffrage issue public. Their newspaper, The Revolution, had the motto, "Men, their rights, and nothing more; women, their rights, and nothing less" reached a significant number of people with their more radical views. (F: p. 268)

Stanton sought Lucretia Mott's approval. "She was Stanton's inspirationÉa model of intellectual independence, religious skepticism, tart rhetoric, É Mott was the acknowledged leader of the new women's movement and regarded among all reformers as an equal to the male leaders of the abolition societies. She was older, wiser, and universally respected." (A: p.75)


A: Griffith, E. (1984). In Her Own Right The Life of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. New York: Oxford University Press

B: Stanton, E. (1970). Eighty Years and More. New York: Source Book Press

C: Butcher, P. (1983). The Theme of Education of Women in "The Revolution", 1868-1870. U.S. New Jersey

D: Bohannon, L. (2001). Women's Rights and Nothing Less The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Greensboro: Morgan Reynolds Incorporated

E: Banner, L. (1980). Elizabeth Cady Stanton A Radical for Woman's Rights. Boston: Little, Brown and Company

F: Libresco, A. (1995). Suffrage and Social Change The Organizing Strategies of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Social Education, 59, 266-269.