|Debra E. Marvin|
This coming weekend marks an annual event in upstate NY commemorating the first Women's Rights Convention in July of 1848.
Women's rights had actually been a topic of conversation, even publicly, for years. The new century was quickly becoming an age of renewal and reform. The Reverend Charles Finney spoke at many large prayer meetings across New York State, with such huge turn outs for his tent meeting revivals, they became known as The Second Great Awakening and the entire area called the Burned Over District! Finney allowed women to speak and pray aloud at these meetings, unheard of before this, and some consider it a fuel for the women's rights' movement.
Another hot topic as early as the 1820s was abolition. Men and women across the northeast publicly argued for the end of slavery. Noted abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison encouraged women to take part in his meetings and have equal say in the discussions. Even those men who favored abolition did not agree that women should be speaking publicly and there was a split in the movement.
|Statues inside the National Park Service building|
Many women became activists for the rights of women, Native Americans, and Blacks. In 1840, two of the most well-known, Lucretia Mott, a Philadelphia Quaker and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, traveled to London with their husbands for an international Anti Slavery Convention. They were allowed in the convention but not allowed to speak. Perhaps the seeds of a 'women's rights convention' took hold then.
|Quaker Activist Lucretia Mott|
Women throughout the Northeast began to work for change in the government regarding women's rights to hold office, own land, receive decent wages and inherit land and be protected from losing it.
An eloquent speaker, Elizabeth Cady Stanton gave her first public speech on temperance, in 1841, in her new hometown of Seneca Falls, NY. Throughout the next few years, Stanton and Lucretia Mott planned, while women such as Lucy Stone, Paulina Davis, Abby Kelley Foster and others wrote articles, gave speeches and began to gain momentum on the idea of women's rights. Amelia Bloomer set about to make change through fashion and is remembered for it by name!
|Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Political Activist|
In June 1848, the Liberty Party's candidate for president, Gerrit Smith, ran on a platform including women's right to vote. He happened to be cousin to Elizabeth Cady Stanton. You can imagine he did not get a lot of support at the time. Even some women feared such rapid change and Smith's speech in Buffalo, NY shocked many by its outrageous suggestions for equality. It was at this meeting that Elizabeth's name came up as vice-president on Smith's ticket!
The area's large Quaker population was very progressive and played a large role in the sentiments of the day.
The convention took place on July 19th and 20th, 1848, with teaching sessions scheduled both days. A DECLARATION of SENTIMENTS was created, presented and debated. Many thought that including voting rights for women would derail the entire movement. The eloquent Frederick Douglas, a former slave who now ran his own newspaper in Rochester, NY, pushed the conventioners to keep voting rights in the document.
It's estimated about three hundred attended. One hundred, including men, signed the Declaration. The proceedings drew quite a reaction from newspapers around the country. When Mrs. Stanton learned that one newspaper printed the whole declaration in order to mock it, she was pleased. She understood that publicity, even poor publicity, worked!
Stanton was a busy mother and wife throughout all her activist years. In 1851 she met temperance worker Susan B Anthony, and together they worked tirelessly for women's rights. They were both long gone when finally, in 1920, 72 years after the first convention, women finally won the right to vote. (One signer of the first declaration was still alive and cast her first vote!)
|Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B Anthony|
The setting of the convention is now the National Park's Service "Womens' Rights Park". For more on the park and events, the convention and these heroines for civil rights, follow this link. And the next time you have a chance to vote, don't find excuses not to.