OTD in History… July 19–20, 1848, the first women’s rights convention is held in Seneca Falls

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OTD in History… July 19–20, 1848, the first women’s rights convention is held in Seneca Falls

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

On this day in history, July 19–20, 1848, abolitionists Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton organize the first women’s rights convention is held in Seneca Falls. The abolitionist movement founded William Lloyd Garrison was giving women a voice, and Mott and Stanton started planning the women’s rights convention after they were barred from the floor at the 1840 World Anti-Slavery Convention in London. The two-day convention featured six sessions, the first day would only have women attendees, with men only allowed to join on the second day. The most significant achievement out of the convention was the Declaration of Sentiments and Grievances the document modeled after the Declaration of Independence launched the women’s rights movement. As historian Judith Wellman notes in her book The Road to Seneca Falls: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the First Woman’s Rights Convention, the declaration was “the single most important factor in spreading news of the women’s rights movement around the country in 1848 and into the future.”

On July 14, Stanton along with four Quaker women, Mott, Martha Wright, Mary Ann McClintock, and Jane Hunt put in the Seneca County Courier announcement for their convention. The announcement read, “A Convention to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of women will be held in the Wesleyan Chapel, at Seneca Falls, N.Y., on Wednesday and Thursday, the 19th and 20th of July current; commencing at 10 o’clock A.M. During the first day the meeting will be exclusively for women, who are earnestly invited to attend. The public generally are invited to be present on the second day, when Lucretia Mott, of Philadelphia, and other ladies and gentlemen, will address the Convention.”

On the first day of the convention, 200 women and 40 men attended. Stanton read to the audience the “Declaration of Sentiments and Grievances,” modeled after Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, it included women, who were overlooked in the nation’s founding document. The document began with “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights…” the documents included the women’s grievances and demands, which included the controversial right to vote. Mott spoke a number of times the first day, including the evening session, where local paper the National Reformer called her speech, “one of the most eloquent, logical, and philosophical discourses which we ever listened to.”

On the second day of the convention, more men attended included African American abolitionist Frederick Douglass, the only African American in attendance. The convention adopted the Declaration, and passed 12 resolutions, 11 unanimously. The only one that met resistance was the one demanding the vote for women, which read, “Resolved, that it is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.” With Douglass’ support, the resolution passed. A hundred of the 300 attending the convention signed the Declaration including 68 women and 32 men.

The convention a start of a movement that radically altered women’s lives and their place in American history going from having almost no legal rights as married women, with barely any opportunities outside the home. Although laughed by the public at the time for a suffrage resolution, just over seventy years later in 1920 it would come to fruition. Major strides, however, would take over a century, outshining the dreams Stanton and Motts had as they started the convention. Over a hundred and 10 years later, starting in 1963, the modern feminist movement would take women on the quest for equality. In 1984, the first woman would be nominated to a major party ticket, when Democrat Walter Mondale chose Geraldine Ferraro as his vice presidential running mate, and coming close to pinnacle the Democrats would nominate Hillary Clinton for president in 2016, with her winning the popular but coming out short in the more important Electoral College.

Historian Sally McMillen in her book Seneca Falls and the Origins of the Women’s Rights Movement notes, “This meeting changed the way American society (and much of the western world) thought about and treated women in the mid-nineteenth century. It unleashed a complicated, lengthy struggle that continues to this day. At Seneca Falls, for the first time, women and men gathered for the sole purpose of articulating female grievances and demanding female equality.” (McMillen, 15) Civil War historian James McPherson writing in the preface of Sally McMillen’s book concludes, “The Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 was indeed a pivotal moment in American history — not just the history of women, but all Americans.”

SOURCES AND READ MORE

McMillen, Sally G. Seneca Falls and the Origins of the Women’s Rights Movement. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Wellman, Judith. The Road to Seneca Falls: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the First Woman’s Rights Convention. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004.

Bonnie K. Goodman has a BA and MLIS from McGill University and has done graduate work in religion at Concordia University. She is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor, and a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

Declaration of Sentiments

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one portion of the family of man to assume among the people of the earth a position different from that which they have hitherto occupied, but one to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes that impel them to such a course.

We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Whenever any form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of those who suffer from it to refuse allegiance to it, and to insist upon the institution of a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly, all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves, by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their duty to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of the women under this government, and such is now the necessity which constrains them to demand the equal station to which they are entitled.

The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise.

He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice.

He has withheld from her rights which are given to the most ignorant and degraded men – both natives and foreigners.

Having deprived her of this first right of a citizen, the elective franchise, thereby leaving her without representation in the halls of legislation, he has oppressed her on all sides.

He has made her, if married, in the eye of the law, civilly dead.

He has taken from her all right in property, even to the wages she earns.

He has made her, morally, an irresponsible being, as she can commit many crimes, with impunity, provided they be done in the presence of her husband. In the covenant of marriage, she is compelled to promise obedience to her husband, he becoming, to all intents and purposes, her master – the law giving him power to deprive her of her liberty, and to administer chastisement.

He has so framed the laws of divorce, as to what shall be the proper causes of divorce; in case of separation, to whom the guardianship of the children shall be given, as to be wholly regardless of the happiness of women – the law, in all cases, going upon the false supposition of the supremacy of man, and giving all power into his hands.

After depriving her of all rights as a married woman, if single and the owner of property, he has taxed her to support a government which recognizes her only when her property can be made profitable to it.

He has monopolized nearly all the profitable employments, and from those she is permitted to follow, she receives but a scanty remuneration.

He closes against her all the avenues to wealth and distinction, which he considers most honorable to himself. As a teacher of theology, medicine, or law, she is not known.

He has denied her the facilities for obtaining a thorough education – all colleges being closed against her.

He allows her in Church as well as State, but a subordinate position, claiming Apostolic authority for her exclusion from the ministry, and with some exceptions, from any public participation in the affairs of the Church.

He has created a false public sentiment, by giving to the world a different code of morals for men and women, by which moral delinquencies which exclude women from society, are not only tolerated but deemed of little account in man.

He has usurped the prerogative of Jehovah himself, claiming it as his right to assign for her a sphere of action, when that belongs to her conscience and her God.

He has endeavored, in every way that he could to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life.

Now, in view of this entire disfranchisement of one-half the people of this country, their social and religious degradation, – in view of the unjust laws above mentioned, and because women do feel themselves aggrieved, oppressed, and fraudulently deprived of their most sacred rights, we insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of these United States.

In entering upon the great work before us, we anticipate no small amount of misconception, misrepresentation, and ridicule; but we shall use every instrumentality within our power to effect our object. We shall employ agents, circulate tracts, petition the State and national Legislatures, and endeavor to enlist the pulpit and the press in our behalf. We hope this Convention will be followed by a series of Conventions, embracing every part of the country.

Firmly relying upon the final triumph of the Right and the True, we do this day affix our signatures to this declaration.

Lucretia Mott
Harriet Cady Eaton
Margaret Pryor
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Eunice Newton Foote
Mary Ann M’Clintock
Margaret Schooley
Martha C. Wright
Jane C. Hunt
Amy Post
Catharine F. Stebbins
Mary Ann Frink
Lydia Mount
Delia Mathews
Catharine C. Paine
Elizabeth W. M’Clintock
Malvina Seymour
Phebe Mosher
Catharine Shaw
Deborah Scott
Sarah Hallowell
Mary M’Clintock
Mary Gilbert
Sophrone Taylor
Cynthia Davis
Hannah Plant
Lucy Jones
Sarah Whitney
Mary H. Hallowell
Elizabeth Conklin
Sally Pitcher
Mary Conklin
Susan Quinn
Mary S. Mirror
Phebe King
Julia Ann Drake
Charlotte Woodward
Martha Underhill
Dorothy Mathews
Eunice Barker
Sarah R. Woods
Lydia Gild
Sarah Hoffman
Elizabeth Leslie
Martha Ridley
Rachel D. Bonnel
Betsey Tewksbury
Rhoda Palmer
Margaret Jenkins
Cynthia Fuller
Mary Martin
P. A. Culvert
Susan R. Doty
Rebecca Race
Sarah A. Mosher
Mary E. Vail
Lucy Spalding
Lavinia Latham
Sarah Smith
Eliza Martin
Maria E. Wilbur
Elizabeth D. Smith
Caroline Barker
Ann Porter
Experience Gibbs
Antoinette E. Segur
Hannah J. Latham
Sarah Sisson

The following are the names of the gentlemen present in favor of the movement:

Richard P. Hunt
Samuel D. Tillman
Justin Williams
Elisha Foote
Frederick Douglass
Henry Seymour
Henry W. Seymour
David Spalding
William G. Barker
Elias J. Doty
John Jones
William S. Dell
James Mott
William Burroughs
Robert Smallbridge
Jacob Mathews
Charles L. Hoskins
Thomas M’Clintock
Saron Phillips
Jacob P. Chamberlain
Jonathan Metcalf
Nathan J. Milliken
S.E. Woodworth
Edward F. Underhill
George W. Pryor
Joel D. Bunker
Isaac Van Tassel
Thomas Dell
E. W. Capron
Stephen Shear
Henry Hatley
Azaliah Schooley

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