Seneca Falls, New York was the site of the first women’s rights convention organized by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1848. The women met while campaigning for the abolition of slavery. While in London at the World Anti-Slavery Convention, Mott and Stanton were denied the right to speak because of their gender. This event led both women to work for women’s rights and organize a convention to discuss the plight of women. Seneca Falls was the first formal meeting to discuss women’s rights exclusively and strengthened the women’s movement in the United States. The convention and the document it produced, the “Declaration of Sentiments,” were covered by newspapers nationwide and opened up debates about the role of women in the American republic.
Seneca Falls event led both women to work for women’s rights and organize a convention to discuss the plight of women.
About three hundred women met in Seneca Falls, New York on July 19th and 20th. At the convention, Elizabeth Cady Stanton read the “Declaration of Sentiments” that she was the principal author of. The document outlined injustices against women and demanded women’s rights. The “Declaration of Sentiments” was written in the style of the Declaration of Independence beginning with “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights….” Among other demands in the Declaration, Stanton called for equal opportunities in education, employment, voting, and those related to property. After the convention, women organized local groups and held conferences in states across the north and throughout the Midwest. African American women, like Sojourner Truth, added to the campaign for women’s full citizenship rights by speaking to audiences about the double plight of being a woman and a minority. In her “Ain’t I a Woman” speech in 1851, Truth captured the problems of minority women by recounting her own experiences. Other women joined the movement like Susan B. Anthony who began with her involvement in the Temperance movement, but like others was forbidden to speak at a temperance convention because she was a woman.
Stanton called for equal opportunities in education, employment, voting, and those related to property.
The Road to Seneca
The Women’s Rights Movement actually began before Seneca Falls. Many historians point to Abigail Adams as one of the first champions of women’s rights when she wrote to her husband John Adams during the Continental Congress in 1776 and asked him to “remember the ladies.” Women had not received any mention in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution and they had faced discrimination. Women were denied jobs, had limited access to education beyond elementary school, could not serve on juries, and could not vote. Once married, women lost property and legal rights to their husbands. Unmarried women were often made a ward of a male relative. During the Revolutionary War and early Constitutional period, women were given the role of “Republican Mothers.” That is, women were relegated to fostering Republican values and raising children who would be responsible citizens in the new republic. Republican Motherhood reinforced the ideal of women staying at home but also encouraged a basic education for women so they could teach their children.
Republican Motherhood reinforced the ideal of women staying at home but also encouraged a basic education for women so they could teach their children.
The Overlooked Woman
Woman began demanding more rights with the growth of the nation. By 1815, the Market Revolution was in full swing and men were leaving their homes to go to work in factories. With the economic growth of the United States and the Market Revolution, “Republican Motherhood” evolved into an ideal known as the “cult of domesticity,” meaning that, the women’s role in the early 1800s was to be at home to foster a caring, loving and safe environment for their husbands and children. Staying at home was an ideal; only women in middle and upper classes could stay home. Poorer families relied on all members of the household to work. Some industries actively recruited women for work, of course for less pay and in traditional roles such as the textile industry in Lowell, Massachusetts. Young women in Lowell boarded in dormitories but were expected to quit working once they were married. Other women began making money in “cottage industries,” or working from home, to produce things like baskets, cloth, or baked goods. As women earned money and contributed to the family income, whether in a factory or from home, they demanded more say in financial decisions and eventually demanded more rights outside the family unit.
As women earned money and contributed to the family income, whether in a factory or from home, they demanded more say in financial decisions and eventually demanded more rights outside the family unit.
Emerging Social Reform Movements
With all of the rapid economic changes of the Market Revolution, American society changed as well with the advent of the Second Great Awakening. The Second Great Awakening was a religious revival with its roots in the North. This revival included frontier meetings throughout the country with an emphasis on the perfectibility of man which influenced many reform movements. These reform movements before the Civil War, or antebellum reforms, included the Abolitionist Movement, prison reform, and educational reform among others; women were active members in all of them. Some of these reform movements worked in tandem. In 1838, Sarah Grimke, a leader in the Abolitionist Movement, published “Letters on the Equality of the Sexes and Conditions of Women.” Parts of this publication were even published in William Lloyd Garrison’s abolition paper, The Liberator. Even Frederick Douglass advanced women’s issues and was an attendee at Seneca Falls. As the moral leaders in the family, women worked tirelessly to improve society. But as they were working for the rights of others, they found themselves unable to even speak at rallies such as the World Anti-Slavery Convention simply because of their gender. Seneca Falls provided an opportunity for women to intensify their own movement to gain equal political rights and equality in society.
As the moral leaders in the family, women worked tirelessly to improve society. But as they were working for the rights of others, they found themselves unable to even speak at rallies such as the World Anti-Slavery Convention simply because of their gender.
The convention at Seneca Falls was a result of a changing America. As people left their farms to pursue jobs in factories during the Market Revolution, women also were able to obtain jobs and earn money. In addition to the changing economy, the nation was consumed with religious revivals that inspired numerous reform movements. While women played integral parts in these reform movements, they found themselves without many basic rights. Women gathered at Seneca Falls, New York to discuss common issues like property and voting rights and wrote the “Declaration of Sentiments” that outlined grievances and demands for equality. The convention at Seneca Falls and the “Declaration of Sentiments” that it produced became a blueprint for the Women’s Rights Movement demanding equal social status and legal rights. Women’s conventions are still held today to bring attention to issues like the continuing gender wage gap, health care, childcare, and domestic violence.
The convention at Seneca Falls and the “Declaration of Sentiments” that it produced became a blueprint for the Women’s Rights Movement demanding equal social status and legal rights.
For all of America’s history, the nation had relied upon women to be the glue that held the country together in times of war and change. As men left to fight for war, women ran the home. As men went to factories, women molded children into American citizens. As politicians and preachers proclaimed equality, women were relegated with inequality. These trials of American women endowed them with confidence and a sense of dignity that pushed against the status-quo of inequality. Seneca Falls was the first, collaborated voice of the Women’s Rights Movement and produced became a blueprint for the Women’s Rights Movement demanding equal social status and legal rights.