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.
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.
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.
The American women's movement grew directly out of the anti-slavery (or abolitionist) movement of the 1830s and 1840s. In 1840, reformers Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Henry Stanton attended the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London on their honeymoon. A debate broke out about whether female delegates should participate in the convention. In the end, the women were not permitted to speak or vote on resolutions. This experience convinced Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her friend Lucretia Mott, who also attended the London convention, of the need to address 'the present condition of woman.' Before 1848, Stanton, Mott, and other reformers had been active in the anti-slavery movement and had also worked to support married women's property rights in New York.
The Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 launched an organized American women's movement separate from the anti-slavery movement. Elizabeth Cady Stanton declared that women would 'employ agents, circulate tracts, petition the legislatures, and endeavor to enlist the pulpit and the press on our behalf,' and that is exactly what women's rights activists did in the coming decades. More local and state conventions were soon called. In 1850, just two years after Seneca Falls, the first national women's rights convention was held in Worcester, Massachusetts.
After 1870, however, the women's movement focused primarily on achieving the right to vote and led to the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920. Elizabeth Cady Stanton remained a key figure in the movement throughout the remainder of the century and her life. In 1870, she co-founded, with Susan B. Anthony, a women's rights paper, The Revolution, and later published the multi-volume History of Woman Suffrage to make a record of the movement she helped start.
The Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 in New York addressed numerous issues related to women's social and legal status in the United States. Main organizers included Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. Both women and men attended the two-day event, including the famous abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Key highlights included the Declaration of Sentiments, which was signed by 100 of the 300 people in attendance. The Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 launched an organized women's movement separate from the anti-slavery movement. Organizer Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who co-founded a women's newspaper with Susan B. Anthony, remained active in the movement for the rest of her life.
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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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