Susan B. Anthony’s best friend was Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Born November 12, 1815, Stanton was Anthony’s opposite in many ways. However, their bond of common reforms – temperance, antislavery, and women’s rights – held them together even when their differences might have torn them apart.
Early years of their friendship
They met around 1853. In their early years, when Stanton was birthing and raising seven children, they spent a good deal of time at Stanton’s Seneca Falls, NY home, about 50 miles from Susan’s residence in Rochester. When Susan arrived, she took turns rocking cradles and making puddings while Stanton wrote; then Susan edited and arranged for Stanton’s articles or traveled to give the speeches herself.
Susan visited Seneca Falls so often that the Stanton children began to call her “Aunt Susan.” Elizabeth’s husband Henry summed up their friendship well when he said to his wife, “You stir up Susan, and she stirs up the world.”
Elizabeth described their collaboration this way: “In thought and sympathy we were one, and in the division of labor we exactly complemented each other. . . While she is slow and analytical in composition, I am rapid and synthetic. I am the better writer, she the better critic. She supplied the facts and statistics, I the philosophy and rhetoric, and together we made arguments which have stood unshaken by the storms of nearly fifty long years.”
Later, when Stanton’s children had fledged, she joined Anthony on the lecture circuit. A newspaper reporter described Stanton as smiling, serene, and motherly. Anthony, on the other hand, appeared as “anxious, earnest, . . . sarcastic, funny, and unconventional.” 340
Anthony’s anxiety probably stemmed from ther role as organizer of their mutual reform movements. “When Mrs. Stanton and she reached a place where a meeting was to be held, the former would go at once to bed, while the latter rushed to the newspaper office . . . then to the hall to see that all was in readiniess, and usually conducted the afternoon session alone. In the evening Mrs. Stanton would appear, rested and radiant, . . . while Miss Anthony, …would make a few improptu remarks.” 273
Stanton teased about their respective temperaments at Anthony’s 50th birthday celebration. On that occasion she said, “She has kept me on the war-path at the point of the bayonet so long that I have often wished that [Susan] might, like Elijah, be translated a few years before I was summoned, that I might spend the sunset of my life in some quiet chimney-corner.” 667
Serious difference of opinion
They had a serious difference of opinion, however, over their most daring writing project. From 1868 to 1870, they co-published The Revolution, a radical newspaper devoted to women’s rights. Despite their best efforts it went bankrupt. The result? A $10,000 debt, enough to buy three nine-room homes in that era.
To Susan’s dismay, Stanton announced that she could not take any responsibility to repay the money. She needed to provide for her daughters’ college educations.
As a result, Susan felt honor-bound to settle the debt herself (as any Type One individual would be). Did she resent Stanton’s default on the Revolution during the next six years on the lecture circuit? She did not say, but rejoiced when the monies were finally repaid. Fortunately, the rift healed enough to work together with Matilda Joslyn Gage to write The History of Woman Suffrage.
Susan too crushed to speak
In poor health, Elizabeth Cady Stanton died in 1902 (four years before Susan). On this occasion, Susan at first was too crushed to speak. “If I had died first she would have found beautiful phrases to describe our friendship . . . . She said she wanted to outlive me so that she could give her tribute to the world.” 1
Eventually, Susan gathered her thoughts enough to write an eleven-page article in the North American Review, which ended with the following tribute.
“A deep feeling of regret will always prevail that the Liberator of Woman, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, could not live to see the complete triumph of her cause . . . but she died in the full knowledge that the day of its victory is clearly marked on the calendar of the near future.” (p. 1266, Harper)
The friendship of Anthony and Stanton is a recurring theme in my children’s biography Susan B. Anthony and Justice For All. If you have a young person in your life who needs to write a book report, please get it for them! It features a table of contents, glossary, and timeline to make their writing easier. Be sure to get the Centennial edition, which has been updated.
In today’s post, I’ve chosen to mine these two women’s own writings about each other to describe their friendship. You may also wish to read this more objective summary of Stanton’s life.
- Page numbers in this post refer to Ida Husted Harper, Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony. Salem, NH: Ayer Company, 1983 edition.