July 20, 1848– The Seneca Falls Convention
Do you remember in his second inaugural address in January 2009, President Barack Obama surprised people by mentioning Stonewall in the same breath as Seneca Falls and Selma, giving the struggle for Gay Rights the historical weight of the fights for gender and racial equality? I found it to be an astonishing moment, but it also sent me on a search to know more about what happened at Seneca Falls, besides I adore alliteration.
Here’s what I learned, in short:
At Wesleyan Chapel in beautiful Seneca Falls, NY, the first ever American Women’s Rights Convention convened with almost 300 women in attendance. The convention was organized by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, two abolitionists who met at the 1840 World Anti-Slavery Convention in London. Because of their sex, Mott and Stanton were barred from the convention floor. The indignation that they both felt at the slight proved to be the impetus for their founding of the Women’s Rights Movement in the USA.
In 1848, at Stanton’s home near Seneca Falls, the pair of women, working with other activists and called for a Women’s Conference. The announcement, published in the Seneca County Courier 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 July 20th, the women heard Mott and Stanton read the Declaration of Sentiments and Grievances, a platform that they had drafted over the previous few days. Their declaration was modeled closely on the Declaration Of Independence, and its preamble featured this proclamation:
“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…”
Their Declaration then detailed the injustices inflicted upon women in the USA and called upon women to organize and petition for their rights.
On the second day of the convention, men were invited to intend, and at least 50 did, including the famous African-American abolitionist and friend of our current president, Frederick Douglass. That day, their Declaration was adopted and signed by the assembly. The convention also passed 12 resolutions, 11 unanimously, which called for specific Equal Rights for women. The ninth resolution, declared:
“It is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.”
This was the only resolution to meet opposition. After much debate, in which Douglass sided with Stanton in arguing the importance of female liberation, the resolution was passed. For proclaiming Women’s Right To Vote, the Seneca Falls Convention was subjected to public ridicule, and some supporters of Women’s Rights withdrew their support. But, this resolution marked the beginning of the Women’s Suffrage Movement in the USA.
The Seneca Falls Convention was followed two weeks later by an even larger event in Rochester. After that, National Woman’s Rights Conventions were held annually, providing the focus for the growing Women’s Suffrage Movement. After their years of struggle, the 19th Amendment was finally adopted in 1920, granting American women the constitutionally protected right to vote. I wonder what Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton would think of think of having 53% of women voters casting their ballot for a pussy grabbing gangster in 2016?