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Seneca Falls Convention

SENECA FALLS CONVENTION

The Seneca Falls Convention, which took place in Seneca Falls, New York, in July 1848, was the first national women's rights convention and a pivotal event in the continuing story of U.S. and women's rights.

The idea for the convention occurred in London in 1840 when elizabeth cady stanton and Lucretia Mott, who were attending a meeting of the World Anti-Slavery Society, were denied the opportunity to speak from the floor or to be seated as delegates. Mott and Stanton left the hall where the meeting was taking place and began to discuss the fact that while they were trying to secure rights for enslaved African Americans, American women found themselves treated unequally in numerous ways. They concluded that what was needed was a national convention in which women could take steps to secure equal rights with men. Although they agreed that the need for such a convention was a pressing one, they were not to take action on their plan for several years.

Both Stanton and Mott were progressive leaders who had been active in reform movements. Mott, a former teacher who had grown up in Boston, had become interested in women's rights when she discovered that because she was female, she was earning a salary that was exactly half that of male teachers. In 1811 she married fellow teacher James Mott and moved to Philadelphia. She became a member of the Society of Friends (also known as the Quakers) and began to travel the country speaking on the topic of religion and issues including temperance, peace, and the abolition of slavery. In 1833 Mott attended the founding meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society. Shortly afterwards she founded a women's auxiliary, the Philadelphia Female Anti-slavery Society, and was elected president of the group. Her new position caused a rift within the Society of Friends, and some sought to revoke her membership. Undeterred by the conflict, Mott was an organizer of the Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women in 1837.

Stanton, the daughter of a lawyer and U.S. congressman, had studied her father's law books. In 1840 she married Henry Brewster Stanton, a lawyer and abolitionist. The command for the wife to "obey" her husband was left out of their wedding vows. Like Mott, Stanton and her husband were active members of the American Anti-Slavery Society. Following her meeting with Mott in London, Stanton returned to the United States where she began to travel and speak on the subject of women's rights. In 1848 Stanton helped circulate petitions that led to the enactment of a New York State married women's property bill. This law allowed married women to keep in their own name property they brought into the marriage. The law also gave them the right to keep the wages they had earned and to retain guardianship of their children in cases of separation or divorce.

In 1848, Stanton and Mott met with Mott's sister, Martha Coffin Wright, along with Jane Hunt and Mary Ann McClintock to organize the long-awaited women's rights convention. The plan was to hold a meeting in Seneca Falls, New York (where Stanton lived), on July 19 and 20, with follow-up meetings to take place in Rochester, New York. An announcement in the Seneca County Courier, a local periodical, stated that there would be "A Convention to discuss the social, civil and religious condition and rights of woman" and gave the particulars. The first day of the meeting was to be exclusively for women who were "earnestly invited to attend," with the second day open to the general public to hear a speech by Lucretia Mott.

The historic meeting took place at the Wesleyan Church chapel in Seneca Falls. Despite the plan to have the first day for women only, a large crowd of both men and women sought entry to the locked chapel. A male professor from Yale volunteered to enter through an open window and once the doors were opened, the crowd streamed in. Approximately 100 to 300 people were in attendance, including many men who supported the idea of women's rights. Although the majority was Caucasian, there were also some African Americans in attendance. Because none of the women felt capable of overseeing the proceedings, James Mott presided.

On the first day, Elizabeth Cady Stanton presented the organizers' Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions. The Seneca Falls declaration was carefully patterned on the Declaration of Independence that had been crafted by the colonial revolutionaries. The declaration written primarily by thomas jefferson stated that all men are created equal. The Seneca Falls declaration held that "all men and women" are created equal and are endowed with inalienable rights including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The Declaration of Independence listed 18 charges against George III, the king of England. The Declaration of Sentiments described 18 charges of "repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman" including the denial of the right to vote, unfair laws regarding separation and divorce, and inequality in regard to religion, education, and employment. It stated the hope that the convention in Seneca Falls would be followed by a series of conventions throughout the country. The 12 resolutions enunciated in the Declaration of Sentiments called for the repeal of laws that enforced unequal treatment of women, the recognition of women as the equals of men, the granting of the right to vote, the right for women to speak in churches, and the equal participation of women with men in "the various trades, professions, and commerce."

After much discussion and debate, the Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions was passed largely as written. The biggest obstacle was the resolution that called for women's right to vote, known as woman suffrage. Numerous attendees, men and women alike, felt that the right to vote was too radical an idea to gain public acceptance. Lucretia Mott was open to discarding the resolution, but Stanton held firm with strong support from the prominent African–American abolitionist frederick douglass. After Douglass

stated that "Suffrage is the power to choose rulers and make laws, and the right by which all others are secured," the woman suffrage resolution passed by a very narrow margin.

After two days of vigorous discussion and debate, 100 women and men signed the Seneca Falls Declaration, although some later removed their names after being subjected to intense criticism. A storm of sarcasm and protest broke out after the convention prompting Frederick Douglass to write that a discussion of animal rights would have brought forth less opposition than a call for women's rights. James Gordon Bennett, publisher of the widely read New York Herald, published the entire declaration as a gesture of ridicule. Welcoming the publicity, Stanton and many of the Seneca Falls attendees hailed Bennett's move as a way to disseminate their message on a broader scale.

For the next several decades, Stanton, Mott and temperance supporter susan b. anthony led the struggle for women's rights including the vote. Stanton helped co-found the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) in 1869. The following year the fifteenth amendment that secured the right to vote for African–American males was ratified by Congress. In 1876 Mott and the NWSA issued a Declaration and Protest of the Women of the United States that renewed the fight for women's rights and sought the impeachment of political leaders who permitted women to be taxed while denying them representation and who also did not allow women on juries thus denying them the right to a trial by a jury of their peers. Mott, who continued to actively support the abolition of slavery as well as temperance, peace, and women's rights, died in 1880. In 1890 the NWSA merged with a rival organization, the American Woman Suffrage Association, to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Stanton was elected president. She was succeeded in 1892 by Anthony. In 1878 Stanton had drafted a federal woman suffrage amendment that continued to be introduced in each new term of Congress. Stanton died in 1902 and her amendment continued to be brought up until it was passed in the form of the nineteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920. At the time that woman suffrage passed, only one signer from the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, Charlotte Woodward, lived long enough to cast her ballot.

Despite the long delay before women were politically enfranchised, the movement that emanated from the Seneca Falls convention made slow but inexorable progress. Some colleges began to admit women as students and more states enacted married women's property acts.

further readings

Bernhard, Virginia, and Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, eds. 1995. The Birth of American Feminism: The Seneca Falls Women's Rights Convention of 1848. Naugatuck, Conn.: Brandywine.

Griffith, Elisabeth. 1985. In Her Own Right: The Life of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

Miller, Bradford. 1995. Returning to Seneca Falls. Herndon, Va.: Lindisfarne Books.

cross-references

"Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments" (Appendix, Primary Document); Women's Rights.

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Seneca Falls Convention

SENECA FALLS CONVENTION

SENECA FALLS CONVENTION was the first public gathering in the United States called explicitly for the purpose of debating the issue of women's rights. Meeting in Seneca Falls, New York, on 19–20 July 1848, a group of almost three hundred women and men passed a series of resolutions that protested against the moral, political, social, and legal status of women.

The American Revolution indirectly raised the question of women's rights by bringing the issues of equality and natural rights to the fore. In response, some Americans began to discuss the meaning of women's rights. However, their discussions occurred largely in private, and no organized, collective feminist movement emerged. Women remained largely invisible under the law, unable to vote, hold public office, or enjoy the same social or professional opportunities as men. In most states women were not even legally entitled to possess the wages they had earned.

Attitudes began to change in the early nineteenth century as women joined various social reform groups, such as temperance societies, anti-prostitution leagues, and antislavery organizations. The abolitionist movement, in particular, became a magnet for women committed to eradicating social evils. However, because women could not vote or hold office, they could advocate their position only through indirect means, such as petitioning, moral suasion, or by using their influence over male politicians. Over time women began to feel the limits of these constraints. They began to see analogies between the plight of slaves held in bondage and their own condition. Some of the more radical members of the antislavery organizations concluded that they must agitate for the rights of women along with the abolition of slavery.

The antislavery advocates Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were the prime movers behind the Seneca Falls Convention. During a casual visit by Mott at Stanton's home in Seneca Falls, the two shared their common frustration with the slow pace of progress for women. Deciding to act, they placed an advertisement in a local newspaper calling for a meeting on the subject of women's rights to be convened the very next week. In preparation, they met with other local women, including Mott's sister, Martha Wright, as well as Jane Hunt and Mary Ann McClintock, to draft the declarations, resolutions, and speeches that would be presented to the gathering.

On 19 July 1848 the convention convened in the Wesleyan Methodist Church to discuss women's rights. James Mott, Lucretia Mott's husband and a respected Quaker leader, chaired the session. The convention voted


on a variety of measures, including the Declaration of Sentiments. Modeled on the Declaration of Independence, this document asserted women's equality with men and protested against the "long train of abuses" that "reduce [women] under absolute despotism." The convention unanimously passed a series of resolutions that challenged women's current status. They opposed women's exclusion from the rights of citizenship; rejected their second-class legal position; objected to the moral double standard; and inveighed against their inability to obtain the same educational and professional opportunities as men.

Stanton, however, proposed one resolution that aroused a great deal of controversy. She insisted that women be permitted to exercise "their sacred right to the elective franchise." Many participants, including Lucretia Mott, feared that this demand would be too radical and might alienate potential supporters. Ultimately the proposal did pass by a narrow margin. Sixty-eight women and thirty-two men signed the convention's final statement.

Seneca Falls represented the beginning of the country's first feminist movement. Subsequently throughout the 1840s and 1850s, conventions met all over the country to discuss the issue of women's rights. Yet not until 1920, with passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, did women gain the right to vote.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Anderson, Bonnie S. Joyous Greetings: The First International Women's Movement, 1830–1860. Oxford, U.K., and New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

DuBois, Ellen Carol. Feminism and Suffrage: The Emergence of an Independent Women's Movement in America, 1848–1869. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1978; reprint, 1999.

Isenberg, Nancy. Sex and Citizenship in Antebellum America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.

Stanton, Elizabeth Cady, Susan B. Anthony, Ida Husted Harper, and Matilda Joslyn Gage, eds. History of Woman Suffrage. 6 vols. New York: Fowler and Wells, 1881. Reprint, Salem, N.H.: Ayer, 1985.

RosemarieZagarri

See alsoWomen's Rights Movement: The Nineteenth Century ; andvol. 9:Seneca Falls Declaration of Rights and Sentiments .

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Seneca Falls Convention

Seneca Falls Convention (1848) Women's rights convention held at Seneca Falls, New York. Elizabeth Stanton and Lucretia Mott organized the convention, the first aimed at obtaining equal rights for women. About 300 people attended, and a “Declaration of Sentiments” was issued.

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