Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Seneca Falls

In a quiet village in upstate New York on this date in 1848, a revolution was born. Three hundred women and men gathered in Seneca Falls' Wesleyan Chapel for a two-day Women's Rights Convention, the first such meeting in history. Those present included Elizabeth Cady Stanton, one of the principal organizers of the event and the author of the Declaration of Sentiments, Frederick Douglass, Lucretia Mott and her husband James Mott, who presided over the meeting because none of the women present felt capable of doing so.

The Declaration of Sentiments adopted at the Convention (also known as the Seneca Falls Declaration) was modeled after the Declaration of Independence. A number of specific complaints were leveled against mankind, echoing the complaints made in 1776 against King George III:

The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise.

He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice.

He has withheld from her rights which are given to the most ignorant and degraded men--both natives and foreigners.

Having deprived her of this first right of a citizen, the elective franchise, thereby leaving her without representation in the halls of legislation, he has oppressed her on all sides.

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.

(For the remainder of the document, go here.)

By the time the Nineteenth Amendment guaranteeing women's suffrage was adopted in 1920, only one of the women who had signed the Seneca Falls Declaration was still alive. Nonetheless, the revolution begun on July 19-20, 1848, was instrumental in moving the United States and the world from a concern for the rights of man only to a concern for human rights.