Childhood and family background
Elizabeth Cady, the eighth of eleven children, was born in Johnstown, New York, to Daniel Cady and Margaret Livingston Cady. Five of her siblings died in early childhood or infancy. A sixth sibling, her older brother Eleazar, died at age 20 just before his graduation from Union College in Schenectady, New York. Only Elizabeth Cady and four sisters lived well into adulthood and old age. Later in life, Elizabeth named her two daughters after two of her sisters, Margaret and Harriot.
Daniel Cady, Stanton's father, was a prominent Federalist attorney who served one term in the United States Congress (1814–1817) and then became both a circuit court judge and, in 1847, a New York Supreme Court justice. Judge Cady introduced his daughter to the law and, together with her brother-in-law, Edward Bayard, planted the early seeds that grew into her legal and social activism. Even as a young girl, she enjoyed reading her father's law books and debating legal issues with his law clerks. It was this early exposure to law that, in part, caused Stanton to realize how disproportionately the law favored men over women, particularly married women. Her realization that married women had virtually no property, income, employment, or even custody rights over their own children, helped set her course toward changing these inequities.
Stanton's mother, Margaret Livingston Cady, a descendant of early Dutch settlers, was the daughter of Colonel James Livingston, an officer in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. Having fought at Saratoga and Quebec, Livingston assisted in the capture of Major John Andre at West Point, New York where Andre and Benedict Arnold, who escaped aboard HMS Vulture, were planning to turn West Point over to the English. Margaret Cady, an unusually tall woman for her time, had a commanding presence, and Stanton routinely described her mother as "queenly." While Stanton's daughter, Harriot Stanton Blatch, remembers her grandmother as being fun, affectionate, and lively, Stanton herself did not apparently share such memories. Emotionally devastated by the loss of so many children, Margaret Cady fell into a depression, which kept her from being fully involved in the lives of her surviving children and left a maternal void in Stanton's childhood.
With Stanton's mother depressed, and since Stanton's father contended with the loss of several children, including his eldest son Eleazar, by immersing himself in his work, many of the child rearing responsibilities fell to Stanton's elder sister, Tryphena, eleven years her senior, and Tryphena's husband, Edward Bayard. Bayard, a Union College classmate of Eleazar Cady's and son of James A. Bayard, Sr., a U.S. Senator from Wilmington, Delaware was, at the time of his engagement and marriage to Tryphena, an apprentice in Daniel Cady's law office. He was instrumental in nurturing Stanton's growing understanding of the explicit and implicit gender hierarchies within the legal system.
Slavery did not end in New York State until July 4, 1827, and, like many men of his day, Stanton's father was a slaveowner. Peter Teabout, a slave in the Cady household who was later freed in Johnstown, took care of Stanton and her sister Margaret. While she makes no mention of Teabout's position as a slave in her family's household, he is remembered with particular fondness by Stanton in her memoir, Eighty Years & More. Among other things, she reminisces about the pleasure she took in attending the Episcopal church with Teabout, where she and her sisters enjoyed sitting with him in the back of the church rather than alone in front with the white families of the congregation. It seems it was, however, not immediately that her family owned at least one slave, but her exposure to the abolition movement as a young woman visiting her cousin, Gerrit Smith, in Peterboro, New York, that led to her staunch abolitionist sentiments.