Like many leaders of her time, Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s feminist convictions grew out of her antislavery activities. On their wedding trip in 1840, she and her husband traveled to London for an antislavery convention where the Quaker radical feminist Lucretia Mott was refused admission. In the following years, Mott and Stanton became friends. In 1848, with the help of Mott and two other Quaker women, Stanton organized the event that marks the beginning of the American feminist movement, the first Woman’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York.

By that time, Stanton had borne three of her eventual seven children. Taking pleasure in her children, friends, food, parties and games, she defended her large size and sensuality at a time when neither was considered respectable. She was never anti-male, but believed that if men and women were truly equal, society would achieve a beneficial balance.

Around 1850, she formed a friendship with Susan B. Anthony that was a working partnership in activism. In time, Anthony—neither as caustic nor as controversial as Stanton—became the most widely recognized leader of the woman suffrage movement. But Stanton had always been interested in more than votes for women. In the 1880s, Stanton turned her attention to theology. She believed religion was one reason women accepted traditional views on marriage, divorce and birth control instead of thinking for themselves.

For her entire public career, Stanton had been opposed by individuals quoting Scripture to prove their points. Stanton examined those passages in the Bible she believed reinforced the oppression of women. Beginning in 1882, she tried without success to assemble a committee of women scholars for an entirely new translation of the Bible. Eventually, relying on the Revised Version of the Bible published in 1881, a Bible translation by Julia Smith and her own ability to read both Latin and Greek, Stanton wrote a commentary on the 10 percent of the Scriptures she estimated dealt directly with women. More polemical than scholarly, Stanton’s commentary, called The Woman’s Bible, maintained that organized Christianity had not incorporated the concept of the “curse of Eve” until the writings of Augustine in the fifth century and that the story of Eve was a myth used by men to maintain patriarchy.

Published in two volumes in 1895 and 1898, The Woman’s Bible was a scandalous success, denounced by ministers and ignored by scholars, but bought by the public. Critics said such attacks on religion were a natural result of feminism and would increase if women were given the vote. Because of the controversy, the National American Woman Suffrage Association—of which Stanton was honorary president—passed a resolution disassociating the organization from the book. As Susan B. Anthony vehemently pointed out, most of the women who were censuring Stanton had not yet been born when the old leader convened the first Woman’s Rights Convention almost 50 years before.

Despite failing health, Stanton enjoyed a radiant old age, surrounded by family and friends until her death at age 87 in 1902. A grace she had written expressed her feelings about religion more succinctly than The Woman’s Bible: “Heavenly Father and Mother, make us thankful for all the blessings of this life and ever mindful of the patient hands that oft in weariness set our tables and prepare our food. For humanity’s sake, Amen.”