An Analysis of the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention for Women’s Rights (Fall 2012)

The Seneca Falls Convention was one of the first major women’s rights conventions to be organized in the United States.  It took place in Seneca Falls, New York during July 19-20, 1848 and was located at the Wesleyan Methodist Church.  It was attended by approximately three hundred people, both men and women.  The majority of the convention was organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott.  Stanton and Mott were aided in their organization by Martha Coffin Wright (Mott’s sister), Jane C. Hunt, and Mary Ann M’Clintock, and all the women were highly interested in women’s rights and anti-slavery issues.  All the women except for Stanton were Quakers, and this religion held that there should be equality for men and women.  In addition to the Quaker influence, there were many other factors that prompted the creation of the Seneca Falls Convention.  These included Abolitionism, women’s rights, and politics.

The idea of the convention was first formed when Stanton and Mott met in 1840 at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London.  At this convention, Mott, Stanton, and other women were not allowed to sit because of their gender.  This outraged feminists Mott and Stanton, and they “discussed the possibility of a women’s rights convention.” However, this did not fully come to fruition until some eight years later when they met again in New York.  It is important to know more about the lives of Stanton and Mott in order to better comprehend how they became involved in women’s rights.  

Elizabeth Cady Stanton was born in Johnstown, New York on November 12, 1815.  Her parents were Daniel Cady and Margaret Livingston Cady.  From early on, her father “made no secret of his preference for another son.” This prompted Stanton to excel in her schoolwork and become eager to succeed in the same ways as her male counterparts.  In 1832, she graduated from Emma Willard’s Female Seminary school in Troy, New York.  She often visited with her cousin Gerrit Smith, who was an abolitionist.  As a result of these frequent visits, she became very involved in the temperance, women’s rights, and abolitionist movements.  Stanton married another abolitionist, Henry Stanton, in 1840.  As a feminist, she eliminated “obey” from her marriage vows, as well as retained her maiden name.  She and Henry had seven children together and made their home in Seneca Falls.  Shortly after they were married, they travelled together to London for the World Anti-Slavery Convention, which is where Stanton met Lucretia Mott.  During the Seneca Falls Convention, Stanton was the one who drafted the Declaration of Sentiments.  She also “took the lead in proposing that women be granted the right to vote.” She met Susan B. Anthony, another prominent leader in women’s rights history, sometime during the early 1850s, and it was the beginning of a very long friendship and alliance.  Together, they strongly advocated for the women’s right to vote and formed the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA).  Stanton was the organization’s first president.  After a lifetime of dedication to the women’s rights movement, she died on October 26, 1902.  She will always be remembered as a strong component of the women’s rights movement through her eloquent writing and speaking abilities.

Lucretia Mott, the “women's rights activist, abolitionist, and religious reformer” was born on January 3, 1793 in Nantucket, Massachusetts.  She was a Quaker and was very strongly opposed to slavery.  All her life, Mott was very dedicated to supporting women’s rights and she became a prominent social reformer.  As a child, she went to a Quaker boarding school and eventually stayed on to become a teaching assistant.  This school is where she met her husband, James Mott.  After getting married in 1811, James and Lucretia settled in Philadelphia and had six children.  She eventually became a respected minister for the Quaker religion, and was renowned for her incredible speaking skills.  Lucretia and James attended the World Anti-Slavery Convention, upon which they met Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her husband Henry.  Elizabeth and Lucretia’s alliance dedicated them to the women’s rights movement and prompted the creation of the Seneca Falls Convention.  In addition to her tireless work as a social reformer, Mott was also a devoted wife and mother.  Her life’s work also included assisting in the foundation of Swarthmore College in 1864.  She continued to attend women’s rights conventions until her death on November 11, 1880.

Along with the two key individuals, Mott and Stanton, the convention was also organized in part by their friends Martha C. Wright, Jane C. Hunt, and Mary Ann M’Clintock.  Additionally, Mott and Stanton’s husbands were highly involved in the convention.  The women worked to form an agenda for the two-day convention and they drafted a Declaration of Sentiments.  This Declaration was the "grand basis for attaining the civil, social, political, and religious rights of women” and was signed by one hundred of the attendees at the Seneca Falls Convention.  

Over the two-day period, the convention was broken up into six sessions; three for each day.  During the morning session of the first day, Stanton was the first to speak.  She pleaded with the women in the audience to "understand the height, the depth, the length, and the breadth of her own degradation." She also urged them all to take responsibility of their lives, along with Mott who “encouraged all to take up the cause.” Stanton read her draft of the Declaration of Sentiments and opened it up to discussion.  The convention attendees talked about changes that could be made to the Declaration, as well as whether or not to let men sign it.  There was a break sometime during the afternoon.  When they returned, more discussion was held and alternate changes were made in regards to the Declaration.  Then Mott read a “humorous newspaper piece written by her sister Martha C. Wright in which Wright questioned why, after an overworked mother completed the myriad daily tasks that were required of her but not of her husband, she was the one upon whom written advice was ‘so lavishly bestowed’.” The day finished off with a speech by Mary Ann M’Clintock’s daughter, Elizabeth.  Sometime later during the evening, Mott spoke again “of the progress of other reform movements and so framed for her listeners the social and moral context for the struggle for women's rights.” She appealed to the men in attendance to help women gain their deserved equality.  Mott’s speech was said to be "one of the most eloquent, logical, and philosophical discourses which we ever listened to,” this according to a newspaper editor.

The next day a larger crowd came, which included more men.  Stanton again read the Declaration after Mott started the convention.  A New York Assemblyman, Ansel Bascom, spoke at length about the Married Woman’s Property Act, which had recently been passed.  This act gave women the right to secure property, including “property acquired after marriage.” Frederick Douglass, a famous abolitionist who escaped slavery, also spoke about his thoughts on the Declaration.  At this time, the attendees unanimously accepted the Declaration and it was agreed that men could sign, but in a separate section.  There were one hundred signatures in all: 68 women and 32 men.  During the afternoon session on the second day, the Declaration’s resolutions were read once again and were individually voted on.  “The only one that was materially questioned was the ninth, the one Stanton had added regarding women's right to vote.”  Many people thought this was too radical and would take support away from the “more rational resolutions.” Other people argued that politics should be kept out of it.  Mott and her husband were opposed to it as well.  However, Frederick Douglass spoke once again, declaring his support.  He said, “In this denial of the right to participate in government, not merely the degradation of woman and the perpetuation of a great injustice happens, but the maiming and repudiation of one-half of the moral and intellectual power of the government of the world.” The majority agreed with him and the resolution was passed.  The last evening session began with Thomas M’Clintock, Mary Ann’s husband, as a speaker.  He read excerpts from Sir William Blackstone’s laws, “to expose for the audience the basis of woman's current legal condition of servitude to man.” Then Mott spoke once more before the close of the convention.  Lastly, “a committee was appointed to edit and publish the convention proceedings.”

The aftermath of the Seneca Falls Convention saw many reviews, both positive and negative.  News of the convention spread quickly, and newspapers across the United States were commenting on the story.  The women’s rights and suffrage movements gained national attention and the Declaration of Sentiments “became the blueprint” they followed.  Stanton said of the attention, “Imagine the publicity given to our ideas by thus appearing in a widely circulated sheet like the Herald. It will start women thinking, and men too; and when men and women think about a new question, the first step in progress is taken.” Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton became powerhouses in the women’s rights movement and kept busy after the convention in Seneca Falls.  They continued to speak at and help organize future conventions.

The “personal identities” history force can be related to the Seneca Falls Convention.  This event had a huge impact on women’s rights and changed the course of history forever.  The women and men who led the way with conventions, protests, and rallies forged the way for women today.  The Seneca Falls Convention was a major event because it was the first of its kind in the United States.  It promoted strong women leaders like Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.  With the recognition they received from the convention Mott, Stanton, and others like them were able to further their goals as public speakers and writers on the topic of women’s rights.  This history force is closely related to politics and religion.  This can be seen through the impact of the Quaker religion on the views of those who led the convention.  Mott was a devout Quaker and even became a minister.  Her beliefs from her religion were related to the ways she thought about women’s rights.  The right for women to vote was one of the controversial resolutions that were discussed in the Declaration of Sentiments.  Many people connected politics to this, which ultimately affected the way they thought.  

The “role of specific individuals” is another history force that is strongly connected to the convention.  This force says that a certain individual can have an impact, positive or negative, on history.  Both Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton had a positive impact in their role as leaders in the women’s rights movement.  They were determined and confident in a time when women were supposed to be demure and unobtrusive.  They each paved the way as individuals during this movement.  Each woman gained notoriety for her eloquent speaking and writing skills, as well as her ability to lead other women and men for the cause.


Sources
  1. The Birth of the Women’s Rights Movement in Seneca County (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.co.seneca.ny.us/history/Birth%20of%20the%20Women's%20Rights%20Movement%20in%20Seneca%20County.pdf
  2. Declaration of Sentiments. (n.d.) Retrieved November 29, 2012 from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Declaration_of_Sentiments
  3. Elizabeth Cady Stanton. (2012). The Biography Channel website. Retrieved November 29, 2012, from http://www.biography.com/people/elizabeth-cady-stanton-9492182
  4. Kelly, M. (n.d.) Seneca falls convention: Background and details. Retrieved from http://americanhistory.about.com/od/womenssuffrage/a/senecafalls.htm
  5. Lewis, J. J. (n.d.) Seneca falls: Seneca falls 1848 women's rights convention. Retrieved from http://womenshistory.about.com/od/suffrage1848/a/seneca_falls.htm
  6. Lucretia Mott. (2012). The Biography Channel website. Retrieved November 29, 2012, from http://www.biography.com/people/lucretia-mott-9416590
  7. Rynder, C. B. (1999). Seneca falls convention: First women’s rights convention. American History Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.historynet.com/seneca-falls-convention
  8. Seneca Falls Convention. (n.d.) Retrieved November 29, 2012 from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seneca_Falls_Convention#Declaration.2C_grievances.2C_resolutions
  9. The Seneca Falls Convention July 19-20, 1848. (n.d.) The National Portrait Gallery. Retrieved from http://www.npg.si.edu/col/seneca/senfalls1.htm

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