The Seneca Falls Convention was the first women’s rights convention in the United States. Held in July 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York, the meeting launched the women’s suffrage movement, which more than seven decades later guaranteed women the right to vote.
What was the Seneca Falls Convention?
Originally known as the Women’s Rights Convention, the Seneca Falls Convention fought for women’s social, civil, and religious rights. The meeting was held July 19-20, 1848, at the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, New York.
Despite little publicity, 300 people showed up, mostly area residents. The first day only women could attend (the second day was open to men).
elizabeth cady stantonone of the organizers of the meeting, began with a speech about the goals and purpose of the convention:
“We come together to protest against a form of government, which exists without the consent of the governed, to declare our right to be free as man is free, to be represented in the government we are bound to support, to have such shameful laws such as giving a man the power to punish and imprison his wife, take the salary he earns, the property he inherits and, in case of separation, the children of his love.”
The convention proceeded to discuss the 11 resolutions on Women rights. All were unanimously approved except for the ninth resolution, which demanded the right to vote for women. Stanton and the African American abolitionist frederick douglas he made impassioned speeches in its defense before it finally (and barely) passed.
Who organized the Seneca Falls convention
- elizabeth cady stanton, a prominent women’s rights advocate who was a key organizer of the Seneca Falls Convention. Stanton first became interested in women’s rights after speaking with her father, a law professor, and her students. She studied at the Troy Female Seminary and worked on reforming women’s property rights in the early 1840s.
- Lucrecia MottA Quaker preacher from Philadelphia, she was known for her activism against slavery, women’s rights, and religious reform.
- Mary McClintockanti-slavery Quaker’s daughter, temperance and women’s rights activists. In 1833 M’Clintock and Mott organized the Philadelphia Women’s Anti-Slavery Society. At the Seneca Falls Convention, M’Clintock was appointed secretary.
- martha coffin wright, sister of Lucretia Mott. In addition to being a lifelong advocate of women’s rights, she was an abolitionist who ran a station in the underground railway from his home in Auburn, New York.
- jane huntanother Quaker activist, he was a member of the extended M’Clintock family by marriage.
Stanton and Mott first met in London in 1840, where they were attending the World Anti-Slavery Convention with their husbands. When the convention excluded women delegates solely because of their sex, the couple resolved to hold a women’s rights convention.
In the United States, women’s rights reformers had already begun fighting for women’s rights to speak out on moral and political issues beginning in the 1830s. Around the same time, in New York, where she lived Stanton, legal reformers had been discussing equality and challenging state laws that prohibited married women from owning property. By 1848, equal rights for women was a divisive issue.
In July 1848, Stanton, frustrated with her role of staying at home raising children, convinced Mott, Wright, and M’Clintock to help organize the Seneca Falls Convention and write its main manifesto, the Declaration of Sentiments.
Together, the five women drafted a notice announcing “a convention to discuss the social, civic and religious status and rights of women” around Hunt’s. tea table.
Statement of Feelings
The Declaration of Sentiments was the manifesto of the Seneca Falls Convention outlining the grievances and demands of women. Written primarily by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, it distilled the importance of the Seneca Falls Convention: for women to fight for their constitutionally guaranteed right to equality as American citizens.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men and women are created equal,” the document said. Inspired by the Declaration of Independencethe Declaration of Sentiments affirmed the equality of women in politics, family, education, work, religion and morality.
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The statement began with 19 “abuses and usurpations” that were intended to destroy a woman’s “confidence in her own strength, lower her self-esteem and make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life.”
Because women did not have the right to vote, a right granted to “the most ignorant and degraded men,” they were forced to submit to laws to which they did not consent. Women were denied an education and given an inferior role in the church.
Additionally, women were required to obey their husbands and were prevented from owning property, including the wages they earned (which technically belonged to their husbands). And they received unequal rights upon divorce.
In light of these abuses, the statement called on the women to “throw away that government.”
Then came a list of 11 resolutions, which called for women to be considered equal to men. The resolutions called on Americans to regard any law that places women in a lower position than men as “without force or authority.” They resolved that women should have the same rights within the church and the same access to jobs.
The ninth resolution was the most controversial, as it called on women to “secure their sacred right to elective suffrage,” or the right to vote.
Although its passage led many women’s rights advocates to withdraw their support, the ninth resolution became a cornerstone of the women’s suffrage movement.
Reactions to the Seneca Falls Convention
In New York and across the United States, newspapers covered the convention, both in support of and against its goals.
Horace Greelythe influential publisher of The New York Tribune, echoed the opinion of many people at the time. While skeptical of giving women the right to vote, he argued that if Americans truly believed in the Constitution, women must achieve equal rights:
“When a sincere Republican is asked soberly what adequate reason he can give for rejecting women’s demand for equal participation with men in political rights, he must answer: None at all. However reckless and wrong the demand may be, it is but the assertion of a natural right, and such must be granted.”
The fight for women’s rights
Two weeks later, on August 2, 1848, the Seneca Falls Convention reconvened at the First Unitarian Church in Rochester, New York, to reaffirm the movement’s goals with a larger audience.
In subsequent years, convention leaders continued to campaign for women’s rights at state and national events. Reformers frequently referred to the Declaration of Sentiments when campaigning for women’s rights.
Between 1848 and 1862, participants in the Seneca Falls Convention used the Declaration of Sentiments to “employ agents, circulate tracts, petition state and national legislatures, and endeavor to win the pulpit and press in our favor.”
After 72 years of organized struggle, American women finally won the same rights as men at the polls when, in 1920, women won the right to vote with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
In November 1920, more than 8 million American women cast ballots in the presidential election. these voters included many black women, though many others were prevented from voting by discriminatory laws, intimidation, and other disenfranchisement tactics. Native American women (and men) did not win suffrage until four years later, when the Indian Citizens Act made Native Americans American citizens. By 1965, the Voting Rights Act protected the right to vote for all American citizens, men and women.
Statement of Feelings and Resolutions. Rutgers University.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton. National Park Service.
Jane Hunt. National Park Service.
Lucrecia Mott. National Park Service.
Maria M’Clintock. National Park Service.
Martha C. Wright. National Park Service.
Report of the Convention on the Rights of Women. National Park Service.
Second day of the Seneca Falls Convention, July 20, 1848. Library of Congress.
Seneca Falls Convention. The New York State Encyclopedia.
The Declaration of Sentiments, Seneca Falls Conference, 1848. Fordham University.
The Seneca Falls Convention. Library of Congress.
The Seneca Falls Convention: Setting the National Stage for Women’s Suffrage. The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.