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Seneca Falls Convention

The first women's rights convention in the United States was held at the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in Seneca Falls, New York, July 19-20, 1848. It was attended by about 300 people, including about 40 men.

The idea for holding a women's rights convention began when seven women, including Lucretia Coffin Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, were prevented from participating in the 1840 World Anti-Slavery Convention in London. Forced to observe the convention from behind a partition, the women spent part of the time discussing ways to bring the issue of women's rights before the general public. Their discussion ended when the convention ended, however, and it would take eight years for anything to come of it.

In July of 1848, Stanton was living in Seneca Falls when she got an invitation to a tea party from Mott, who was visiting her sister, Martha Coffin Wright, in nearby Waterloo. On the 13th, the three women, along with Jane Hunt, met at the home of Mary Ann McClintock. During the conversation the women decided it was time "to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of woman publicly", and that that discussion should be held on July 19th (just five days away).

With little time for planning, the women publicized "A Convention to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of women .." by word of mouth and one small notice in the Seneca County Courier. They also drafted a Declaration of Sentiments, a document based on the Declaration of Independence that outlined 18 grievances being committed against women and 11 resolutions for correcting them. Issues addressed by the Declaration included the right of women to earn their own money and to own property, equal protection in divorce and child custody cases, and equal educational opportunities. Against the advice of the other women, Stanton also included a resolution that women should be allowed to vote. Even though the Convention was called by and intended for women, its organizers asked Lucretia Mott's husband, James Mott, to act as president, to which he agreed.

The Convention's organizers were very pleasantly surprised when, on the appointed day, people began showing up in droves; they had expected a couple dozen at best, given the limited advertising. They were even more surprised at the number of men who made it a point to attend, one of whom was no less than noted abolitionist Frederick Douglass. After James Mott formally opened the proceedings and several speeches were given, Stanton read the Declaration of Sentiments. The attendees spent the remainder of the two days discussing, debating, and voting on the 11 resolutions. Ten of those resolutions passed unanimously, but the one calling for women getting the right to vote proved very contentious, just as all but Stanton expected. In the end, however, 68 women and 32 men signed the final draft of the Declaration of Sentiments, which included the woman suffrage resolution.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton reading the Declaration of Sentiments
Elizabeth Cady Stanton reading the Declaration of Sentiments

Although the Convention organizers and attendees believed they had accomplished something important, the rest of the country saw it as little more than a frivolous exercise. The only major papers to give favorable coverage and reviews were The North Star, run by Frederick Douglass, and Horace Greeley's New York Tribune. Some of the people who had signed the Declaration of Sentiments responded to the bad press by asking that their names be removed from the document, but most refused to back down. Stanton personally wrote lengthy responses to every negative article and editorial she read, although many of those responses were not published. Those women and men who continued to stand behind the Declaration despite the bad press organized a follow-up convention, which was held at Rochester, New York, on August 2, 1848.

The Seneca Falls Convention served as the blueprint for the women's rights movement until the Civil War, after which it was split over the woman suffrage issue. Many of the women and men who were active in the women's rights movement were also active in the abolitionist movement, and there was a real fear among them that including a provision for univeral woman suffrage into that movement's goals would hinder adoption of the 15th Amendment, outlawing slavery. By the time the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote, was ratified, only one person who had signed the Declaration of Sentiments was still alive. Unfortunately, Charlotte Woodward Pierce, who by then was 92 years old, was too ill to go to the polls when finally given the right to do so.

Lucretia Coffin Mott
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Frederick Douglass
Horace Greeley
Civil War

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This page was last updated on June 26, 2018.