One hundred and sixty-seven years ago, on July 19-20, 1848, over three hundred men and women gathered at the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, New York for the first Women's Rights Convention. There in a small industrial town on a branch of the Erie Canal in upstate New York, began a fight that would last for 72 years. Which rights did women not have in 1848?
____ A. The right to vote
____ B. The right to own property (if married)
____ C. The right to an education
____ D. The right to custody of her children in the case of a divorce
____ E. All of the above
Today, the Wesleyan Chapel is the centerpiece of Women's Rights National Historical Park , a unit of the National Park Service. Each year, the Park celebrates the anniversary of that first Women's Rights Convention through Convention Days. That celebration happened in 2015 on July 17-19. Now, let's go back in time and find out a little about that first, historic women's rights convention.
In 1840, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton met in London at the World Anti-Slavery Convention. Lucretia Mott was denied a seat as were all of the women who were delegates to the Convention. Elizabeth Cady Stanton was there on her honeymoon; her husband was a delegate. These two women had much time to bond during the Convention and they decided that when they got back to the U.S., that they would advocate for the rights of women.
They finally had their opportunity in 1848. Together with Martha Coffin Wright, Jane Hunt, and Mary Ann M'Clintock, they put in place the logistics for that first meeting, issued a call for attendees to come to Seneca Falls, and drafted the document that would be read and approved at the convention - the Declaration of Sentiments.
Based on it more famous sister, the Declaration of Independence, the first paragraph of the Declaration of Sentiments is identical. But the second paragraph, had words that in 1848 were probably considered heresy, "We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men and women are created equal; . . ." Grievances listed in the document included that women did not have the right to vote, they were subjected to laws in which they had no representation, women had no rights if married, women had no rights to custody of their children in the case of divorce, women had no rights to their wages, and women were denied the right to an education. Sixty-eight women and thirty-two men signed that document. It launched the fight for women's right to vote that would take 72 years.
Although Susan B. Anthony was not present in Seneca Falls (she joined the suffrage movement later), she would become one of the most well-known advocates for women's right to vote. Her final words in 1906 were "Failure is Impossible." She knew that women would achieve the right to vote. And, she was correct. Equality Day, women's enfranchisement, was finally achieved with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution on August 26, 1920. With one exception, all of the women who had signed the Declaration of Sentiments were deceased by that time.
Learn about more she-roes and celebrate amazing women. Women's rights advocates and National Women's Hall of Fame Inductees Stanton, Mott and Anthony are among the many suffragists profiled in the book Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America. We stand in awe of their decades of effort on behalf of women's rights and truly could not have the lives we have today without all of their hard work.