On this day in 1848, the two day Women’s Rights Convention opened in Seneca Falls. The Convention itself might have been overwhelmingly white, to the point that the only African American in attendance was Frederick Douglass (a man), but it was nonetheless the first ever women’s rights convention and a monumental occasion. The meeting was organized by a group of local female Quakers, along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and they planned the meeting to take advantage of Lucretia Mott’s visit to the area and have her speak at the convention.
The convention included six sessions: a law lecture, a humorous presentation, and several discussions about the role of women in society. The numerous speakers included Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and Elizabeth W. M’Clintock.Two documents were presented, prepared in advance by Stanton and the Quaker women. These included the Declaration of Sentiments, as well as a related list of resolutions that they intended to be discussed, edited, and signed. The meeting included a large debate over these resolutions, most notably over women’s right to vote, which was almost left out. Thankfully it was included, due in large part to the support of Frederick Douglass, who said that as a black man, he could not accept the right to vote if that right were not also given to women, and went on to speak powerfully, “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.” In the end, 100 of the convention’s 300 attendants signed the document; the signatories were about 60% women and 40% men.
The Declaration itself begins by referencing the Declaration of Independence, and then goes on to state in part: “The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpation on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her.” What follows is a list of the “sentiments”, aka the facts submitted to show the tyranny of man over women. They included lines such as the following:
- He has made her, if married, in the eye of the law, civilly dead.
- He has taken from her all right in property, even to the wages she earns.
- He has made her morally, an irresponsible being, as she can commit many crimes with impunity, provided they be done in the presence of her husband. In the covenant of marriage, she is compelled to promise obedience to her husband, he becoming, to all intents and purposes, her master—the law giving him power to deprive her of her liberty, and to administer chastisement
The meeting closed with the appointing of a committee to publish the proceedings of the convention. Many people, including Stanton, saw this meeting of women and their supporters to be the beginning of the women’s rights movement. Afterwards, the Declaration of Sentiments debated and signed there was said to become one of the “the single most important factor in spreading news of the women’s rights movement around the country in 1848 and into the future”.