On July 19-20, 1848, hundreds of women and men met in Seneca Falls, New York for the very first woman’s rights convention in the United States. Its purpose was "to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of women.” Organized by women for women, many consider the Seneca Falls Convention to be the event that triggered and solidified the women's rights movement in America. Historians and other scholars agree that the leaders of the Seneca Falls Convention played a significant role in shaping the first wave of feminism in the United States and starting the fight for women’s suffrage.
Stanton and Mott
The leaders of the Seneca Falls Convention were Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her friend Lucretia Mott. These two abolitionists met nearly ten years earlier at London’s World Anti-Slavery Convention in 1840. Although they were outspoken activists against slavery and other social injustices, their voices remained unheard in a world where men’s voices dominated. Together, the duo vowed to work toward a society where women’s voices would resound loudly and their rights would be equal to men’s.
Stanton and Mott were a likely pair from the start. Both northerners (Stanton from New York and Mott from Massachusetts), they were outspoken activists from early ages. In her 20s, Mott became a progressive Quaker minister well-known for her speeches against social injustice. At the age of 17, Stanton graduated from Emma Willard's Troy Female Seminary and began her fight for abolition, temperance, and women's rights. With Stanton’s eloquent writing skills and Mott’s powerful speaking abilities, the two were destined to be heard.
Declaration of Sentiments and Grievances
Drafted by Stanton and introduced at the Seneca Falls Convention, the Declaration of Sentiments and Grievances was a treatise modeled closely on the Declaration of Independence. Stanton added “women” to its preamble proclaiming “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal…” She went on to describe the injustices, inequities, and invisibilities that American women felt and ended the Declaration with a call for action. Stanton wanted U.S. women to organize and fight for equality. On the second day of the convention, the Declaration of Sentiments and Grievances was ratified by the assembly which included Frederick Douglass. They also passed 12 resolutions that specifically necessitated equal rights for women including the ninth resolution that proclaimed women’s right to vote. This effectively marked the beginning of the women’s suffrage movement in America.
The Lasting Significance of Seneca Falls
Following the Seneca Falls Convention, many national woman’s rights conventions were held annually throughout the United States with many focusing on women’s suffrage. Serving as its first President, Stanton founded the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) in 1869 along with Susan B. Anthony. More than 70 years after the women’s suffrage movement began in Seneca Falls, Congress passed the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote in 1920. This landmark victory changed American women’s lives forever and later ushered in new waves of feminism focused on a wide range of issues including reproductive rights, sexuality, family, the workplace, immigration, and gender equality.
Commemorating the Women of Seneca Falls
In 1948, a U.S. postage stamp commemorating the Seneca Falls Convention titled “100 Years of Progress of Women” was issued. It featured Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Carrie Chapman Catt, and Lucretia Mott.
In 1980, a seven-acre park was established in Seneca Falls and named “The Women's Rights National Historical Park.” It includes the location of the Seneca Falls Convention (Wesleyan Methodist Church), Elizabeth Cady Stanton's home which she referred to as “the Center of the Rebellion,” and the M'Clintock House where Mary Ann M'Clintock hosted a planning session on July 16, 1848 for the Convention and where the Declaration of Sentiments and Grievances was written.
In 1998, First Lady Hillary Clinton gave a speech to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention. She reflected about these events with passion and candor:
“I often wonder, when reflecting back on the Seneca Falls Convention, who of us - men and women - would have left our homes, our families, our work to make that journey one hundred and fifty years ago. Think about the incredible courage it must have taken to join that procession. Ordinary men and women, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, husbands and wives, friends and neighbors. And just like those who have embarked on other journeys throughout American history, seeking freedom or escaping religious or political persecution, speaking out against slavery, working for labor rights. These men and women were motivated by dreams of better lives and more just societies…. Help us imagine a future that keeps faith with the sentiments expressed here in 1848.”
In 2016, the U.S. treasury announced new changes. Keeping in theme with the changes to the $20 bill which include Harriet Tubman prominently featured on its front, on the back of the newly redesigned $10 bill sit five powerful women who contributed to the women's suffrage movement including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul, and Sojourner Truth.
Although these women have been celebrated in numerous ways throughout history, this is the first time Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott will be featured on U.S. cash. Their roles in the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention secured them a place in women’s rights history and it is notable that they will be commemorated in this way. As pioneers in the drive for women’s suffrage and anti-slavery activism, their voices at the Seneca Falls Convention continue to resound loudly.