Seneca Falls Convention of 1848

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Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. US Library of Congress.

Standing at the opening of the world’s first women’s rights convention, at the front of the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, New York, on July 19, 1848, the convention’s main organizer Elizabeth Cady Stanton declared that the time had come for public action, to inaugurate, as she later recalled, “the greatest rebellion the world has ever seen.”  For the next two days, three hundred people met to discuss not only the social and civil condition and rights of women, but also their political rights, particularly the right to vote. When the meeting was over, one hundred people had signed Stanton’s Declaration of Sentiments—patterned after the Declaration of Independence—which detailed the “injuries and usurpations” that men had inflicted onto women.  Asserting “that all men and women are created equal” and including resolutions  that a man should not withhold a woman’s rights, take her property, or refuse her the vote, the Declaration was, in the words of the prominent African-American anti-slavery activist, Frederick Douglass, “the grand basis for attending the civil, social, political and religious rights of women.”  In  those of historian Judith Wellman, “the fires of women’s discontent had long been smoldering…the Seneca Falls convention fanned them into bright flames” (1991: 9).

As historian Ellen Carol DuBois has argued, “For many years before 1848, American women had manifested considerable discontent with their lot…Yet women’s discontent remained unexamined, implicit, and above all, disorganized… The women’s rights movement crystalized these sentiments into a feminist politics… [and] began a new phase of in the history of feminism.” For the next three-quarters of a century, American women centered their aspirations for freedom and power on the demand for the vote.  Struggles were, of course, not restricted to the franchise; women demanded equality in all areas of civil, political, economic, and private life. But as the suffrage movement gained support and respectability throughout the remainder of the century, and as women in the temperance crusade and other reform groups began to realize their inability to influence legislators without the leverage of the vote, hundreds of thousands of women joined the struggle. The suffrage campaigns ultimately became one of the largest mass movements of women in American history, and is widely considered, along with the Black liberation and labor movements, to be one of the three great reform crusades in American history (DuBois 1999: 15).

Works Cited:

Wellman, Judith (1991) “The Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention: A Study of Social Networks.” Journal of Women’s History 3 (1): 9-37.

E. C. DuBois (1999). Feminism and Suffrage: The Emergence of an Independent Women’s Movement in America, 1848-1869. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Further reading:

Gurko, Miriam (1974) The Ladies of Seneca Falls: The Birth of the Women’s Rights Movement. New York: Macmillan.

Wellman, Judith (1991) “The Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention: A Study of Social Networks.” Journal of Women’s History 3 (1): 9-37.

The Seneca Falls Convention, 1848 (http://faculty.uml.edu/sgallagher/SenecaFalls.htm)

 One Hundred Years Towards Suffrage: An Overview (Compiled by E. Susan Barber) (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/naw/nawstime.html)

LeBaron, Genevieve

LeBaron, Genevieve

LeBaron, Genevieve

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