Image from: Center for Women
Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her husband returned from the London World Anti-Slavery Convention to their home in upstate New York, where they settled down to married life. Although Elizabeth wanted to be active in the women’s rights cause, and even though her husband Henry was supportive, circumstances forced her to focus most of her energies on being a homemaker and a mother - she birthed seven children between 1842-1859 (Virginia Commonwealth University). Although Elizabeth was able to do occasional writing and attend a few speaking engagements, she felt frustrated and alienated from her friends in the women’s rights reform network (Stafford).
Fortunately, Lucretia Mott and her husband happened to be vacationing in upstate New York early in the summer of 1848 and connected with Stanton, who convened an informal caucus of five women (four of whom were Quakers). They then took action: endorsing a proposal to call a convention of women, putting a notice in the newspaper, and drawing up an agenda. Within a week they had rented a chapel in which to hold the conference (Stafford). And they did this all before telephones, email, and text messaging!
Image from: National Parks Service Website
On 19-20 July 1838, the first women’s rights convention was held at the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, New York (Constitution Daily). Originally, the convention planned to ban men, but thought better of it when 40 men (among them Frederick Douglass) showed up on the first day. In total, 300 people were in attendance. The convention produced a “Declaration of Principles,” modeled on the Declaration of Independence. The stated principles were: 1) equal education; 2) equal employment opportunity; 3) equality before the law so that married women no longer were legally “invisible;” 4) an equal right to the public platform; and 5) the right to vote (Stafford).
However, the convention’s greatest work was “The Declaration of Sentiments,” penned by Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Resembling the “Declaration of Principles,” It was modeled in its language and process after the Declaration of Independence, It even opens with the phrase, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal…” The Declaration also included an explanation of how Jefferson’s principles were male-focused, and “described the unequal, separate spheres women are forced into and called for action” (Constitution Daily).
On July 20, convention delegates ratified the Declaration. The only controversial item was the right to vote. Some people felt that women’s suffrage could be tackled at a later date. However, Cady Stanton and Frederick Douglass argued powerfully to keep female suffrage in the Declaration and it carried the day. Sixty-eight women and 32 men, among them Frederick Douglass, signed the Declaration (Constitution Daily).
Please take the time to read the Declaration of Sentiments. Ask yourself, how far have we come since 1848? What rights are women still lacking?
The Seneca Falls Convention was the beginning in earnest of the struggle for women’s rights. I’ll have more stories about women in U.S History as we continue through March.
Constitution Daily. Smart Conversation from the National Constitution Center. NCC Staff, “On this day, the Seneca Falls Convention begins,” 19 July 2018.
Stafford, Janet R. CD: “Dissertation & Grad School: Comprehensive exams/19th Cent US Women /Feminism. Circa 1996.
Virginia Commonwealth University. VCU Libraries Social Welfare Project website. “Stanton, Elizabeth Cady.”
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder