By Irene DeMaris
In honor of Women’s History Month, we’ll be posting one story each day of March written by local citizen journalists about a revolutionary woman from history or today who has inspired them as women.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton is known as an abolitionist, suffragette and Susan B. Anthony’s bestie, but many don’t know her impact on theology as one of the foremothers of feminist biblical scholarship.
She was born into privilege in 1815 and received a seminary education. Stanton married fellow abolitionist, Henry Stanton – who supported her activism – which allowed her to use her gifts to seek justice. It was at an abolition meeting when Stanton realized she had no voice to support the movement because women couldn’t vote. She was one of the organizers of the original Seneca Falls convention in 1848 where the women’s rights movement gained momentum and through the movement she met fellow suffragette, Susan B. Anthony, who became her collaborator and friend.
Between raising seven children, Stanton worked closely with Anthony. Towards the end of her life she became increasingly progressive and returned to her early formative years in the church studying the Bible, which separated her from Anthony. The end of the nineteenth century was filled with literary critique, which was also applied to the Bible. Stanton had experienced sexism in the church, heard clergy preach against abolition, suffrage, and equality, so the next logical step was looking at the Bible from another angle. She set off to provide a new commentary on the Bible that became The Woman’s Bible.
In the introduction to The Woman’s Bible, Stanton wrote against the church’s practice of discriminating against women due to biblical interpretation. She began the process of reclaiming the Bible for women and the oppressed. In the age when women could not vote, when the majority of Christian denominations refused to ordain women and when the fundamentalist backlash of the Bible would begin, this was radical.
It was too much for the suffrage movement – and many began to distance themselves from Stanton, one of the mothers of the movement. The separation was great enough that many do not know the name Elizabeth Cady Stanton. She has been written out of history, but has left a lasting mark on feminist biblical critique.
The Woman’s Bible opened the eyes of many who had only heard the Bible repress women. Stanton read the Bible through the lens of equality and love and this is what she strived to achieve through her commentary. When she asked questions about how scripture was interpreted, others followed suit. She set the stage for feminist biblical scholars to reclaim scriptures and to look at the Bible as something that affirms the agency of women. Because of Stanton, I’ve been able to question scripture and claim it as my own. I am not the only one she has influenced; her impact on history is too numerous to quantify.
In her speech at Seneca Falls, she said: “We do not expect our path will be strewn with the flowers of popular applause, but over the thorns of bigotry and prejudice will be our way, and on our banners will beat the dark stormclouds of opposition from those who have entrenched themselves behind the stormy bulwarks of custom and authority, and who have fortified their position by every means, holy and unholy.” Her vision of equality hasn’t been fully actualized: women still haven’t gained full control over their bodies and women still can’t be ordained in some Christian traditions, or other religious traditions. We are still moving forward and there is still much to fight for; luckily we have women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton to follow.
Irene DeMaris is two classes away from her Master of Divinity at Seattle University and loves linking religion and politics, she is the Creative Liberation Convener at Valley & Mountain, and enjoys over-caffeinating herself in the morning and walking Seward Park with her dog, Leo.
Featured Image: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony (Public Domain image)