Through out history, Americans have fought for the rights of freedom in their country, freedoms that have been passed down through dozen’s of generations. Freedom’s such as religion, speech, press, slavery and the right to vote. Americans, though very aware of their freedoms, often take them for granted and forget the struggles that their ancestors went through to obtain them. One example of this struggle is a woman’s right to be treated and looked upon by the government as equals. This was not an easy battle to win, and it took a strong few to begin to bring the struggle that women had faced for centuries to an end.
The need for women’s rights began back in colonial America where women were referred to as “inferior beings”. This era, though it is not particularly noted for it’s feminist movements, did hold such people as Margaret Brent, who was a wealthy holder of land in Maryland and was a strong, but unsuccessful voice in securing a place for women in the legislature of the colony. It was also a period where Quakers, and many other individuals, such as famous American patriot, Thomas Paine supported the rights of women, but at the time it was not enough to make a significant difference and it wasn’t until the 19th century that women would get the real chance to make a difference.
One of the main leaders in the Women’s Rights movement was Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who was born in Jamestown, New York on November 12th, 1815 into a strict Presbyterian home. She attended Johnstown Academy, where only boys were admitted, but because of her sex she could not attend colleges that offered higher degrees, so she was accepted into Emma Willard’s academy in Troy, New York where she graduated in 1832. After graduating she studied law with her father, Judge Daniel Cady, but was not admitted to the bar, once again because of her sex.
On May 10th, 1840, Elizabeth Cady was wed to Henry Brewster Stanton, but when they took their vows, Elizabeth did not vow to “obey” her husband. Henry and Elizabeth had seven children together. Later that year, the couple attended an anti-slavery convention, where Elizabeth along with seven other female delegates were denied the right to take vocal parts in the convention. Stanton along with fellow American Feminist, Lucretia Coffin Mott, were placed behind a curtain, out of view, not allow to take part in the proceedings. 1846, the Stanton Family moved from Boston, where they had been vocal in temperance and abolition, to the industrial area of Seneca Falls, New York.
Eight years after their denial to take part at the London Anti-Slavery Convention, Stanton and Mott along with many other American women feminists such as Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, Abby Kelley Foster, and Ernestine all came together on July 9th, 1848 and agreed to take immediate action on women’s rights issues. The decided to hold the first ever Women’s Rights Convention in American History ten days later at the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, New York. The convention would last two days, the first day was only open to women, and the second day, both men and women were invited to hear the address of Lucretia Mott, among many other supporters.
On July 14th, 1848, a local semi-weekly journal, The Seneca County Courier printed this announcement five days before the convention stating the following:
A Convention to discuss the social, civil and religious condition and rights of women, will be held in the Wesleyan Chapel, at Seneca Falls, N.Y., on Wednesday and Thursday, the 19th and 20th of July, current; commencing at 10 o’clock, A.M.
During the first day the meeting will be exclusively for women, who are earnestly invited to attend. The public generally are invited to be present the second day, when Lucretia Mott of Philadelphia, and others, ladies and gentlemen will address the convention.
Over one hundred people attended the convention, among them many male supporters. After long and involved discussions, the delegates agreed that their main goal would be the “attainment of franchise”. They next adopted the “Declaration of Sentiments” which was modeled after the Declaration of independence replacing “King George” with”men and women”. The Document was intended to state the struggles and the rights that had not been given to them because of their sex and why the existing laws needed to be changed.
When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for
One Portion of the family of man to assume among he people of
Earth a postion different from that which they have hitherto occupied, but one to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes that impel them to such a course.
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; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed
The document goes on to make fourteen points of what rights men have taken away from women throughout history. These rights include the “right to the elective franchise”, the right to submit laws, the right to own property, keep the wages they earn, to receive an education, and to take part in public participation in the church among others. The document also goes on to say that man “has withheld from her rights which are given to the most ignorant and degraded men”. It also talks about the emotionally struggle men have put on women, such as making her “an irresponsible being”, “civilly dead” along with destroying self-confidence and self respect.
The public’s reaction to the convention was less than welcoming. Though many well-respected people were supporters of the movement, most of the public, including newspapers ridiculed it. Suffragists were called unfeminine, and even accused of drunkenness. Though the majority of the public did not support the suffragists, they went on to travel on speaking tours, gaining support throughout the country. The meetings they held were often stuck with violence of gangs. Despite the violence, the women continued speaking for many years.
Later, many years after the First women’s rights convention, a suffragist, Carrie Chapmen Catt, whom later became an American feminist leader, commented on the work of the predecessors. “Hundreds of women gave the accumulated possibilities of an entire lifetime, thousands gave years of their lives, hundreds of thousands gave constant interest, and such aid as they could. It was a continuous, seemingly endless, chain of activity. Young suffragists who helped forge the last links of that chain were not born when it began. Old suffragists who forged the first links were dead when it ended.” The women’s effort to make themselves and those of their sex equals worked, Stanton, Anthony among others, continued to speak and write about what they believed was right and by the year 1919 The 19th amendment was added that granted all citizens the right to vote, despite sex. The amendment was ratified on August 18th, 1920.
In conclusion, the women who organized the First Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York on those historic days in July and those who inspired them are true pioneers. They began the wave for more women and men to keep fighting for what they believe in and to change things if they think they are wrong. These were the people that made America what it is today, they gave them their freedoms, and all Americans need to be grateful for that.
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Gottshall, Jon. “Seneca Falls, New York: The First Women’s Rights Convention July
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“Stanton, Elizabeth Stanton.” Encyclopedia Americana. Grolier Online 2004. 31
December 2003 http://public1.hccc.suny.edu:2128/ea-ol/static/0000013.html