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Seneca Falls Convention of 1848: Definition, Summary & Significance

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  • 0:01 Purpose of the Convention
  • 1:00 Key Events
  • 2:12 Significance
  • 4:02 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor
Tiffany Wayne
Expert Contributor
Jeffrey Perry

Jeffrey Perry earned his Ph.D. in History from Purdue University and has taught History courses at private and state institutions of higher education since 2012.

The American women's rights movement began with a meeting of reformers in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. Out of that first convention came a historic document, the 'Declaration of Sentiments,' which demanded equal social status and legal rights for women, including the right to vote.

Purpose of the Convention

The first convention for women's rights in the United States was held in Seneca Falls, New York, from July 19-20, 1848. More than 300 people attended this meeting devoted exclusively to addressing the status of American women who, according to organizer Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902), 'do feel themselves aggrieved, oppressed, and fraudulently deprived of their most sacred rights.' Stanton and Lucretia Mott (1793-1880) were the main organizers of the convention. Stanton was primarily responsible for the writing and presentation of the Declaration of Sentiments.

The Declaration of Sentiments was a list of resolutions and grievances which included demands for a woman's right to education, property, a profession, and the vote. At the close of the convention, 100 individuals (68 women and 32 men) signed the Declaration of Sentiments, including abolitionist Frederick Douglass.

Key Events

The first day of the Seneca Falls Convention was set aside for women speakers only, although several men attended the meeting. Elizabeth Cady Stanton read a draft of the Declaration of Sentiments and the women discussed and made changes to the resolutions. Both Stanton and Mott gave speeches that helped define the women's new cause.

On the second day, even more people attended and participated, both men and women. Lucretia Mott's husband, James Mott (an anti-slavery activist), served as chair of the day's meeting. Stanton again read the revised Declaration of Sentiments and the final version was submitted for signatures. Not all who attended the convention signed the declaration. There were just 100 signatures from among the estimated 300 who were present and heard it read. Even among reformers interested enough to attend the convention, there was still some reluctance about the full scope of women's rights.

Lucretia and James Mott were active in the abolitionist and womens rights reform movements.
Lucretia and James Mott

The issue of women demanding the vote was considered especially radical in 1848 and was the most debated issue at the meeting. After the resolutions in the Declaration of Sentiments were accepted and signatures gathered, both men and women gave speeches to end the convention.

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Additional Activities

Writing Prompts for Seneca Falls Convention of 1848:

Writing Prompt No. 1:

Imagine you are a married woman in 1848. You've just read a copy of the Seneca Fall's "Declaration of Sentiments". Your husband does not support women's rights, and believes that, like abolitionists, reformers such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott are dangerous fanatics. Write him a letter expressing your concerns with his view. Try to convince him that women gaining some of the rights that the Declaration demanded would benefit you and not endanger society as he believes.

Writing Prompt No. 2:

You are a historian in 1920. You've just witnessed the ratification of the 19th Amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote. Write a brief history of the women's rights movement since its beginning in the 1840s. Be sure to detail its roots, strategies, participants, and successes.

Additional Questions to Consider:

  • Why did the women's rights movement split the abolition movement?
  • Why do you think that participation in the abolition movement led women such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott to launch the women's rights movement?
  • What strategies did women's rights activists employ to push for women's rights?
  • Why do you think that many Americans in the 19th century (1800s) believed extending basic political rights to women was a bad idea?

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