This month is National Women’s History Month. And it just so happens that we are currently working with collections from Women’s Rights National Historic Park in Seneca Falls, NY, a site that played a big role in shaping the history of women.
Why Seneca Falls? Setting the stage for Equality
On July 19-20, 1848, Seneca Falls, NY became home to the First Women’s Rights Convention. To many, Seneca Falls may seem like an odd place for this kind of event. Why not Boston, or Philadelphia?
Women as wage earners
By the 1840s, Seneca Falls had developed a booming manufacturing industry. With the growth of the manufacturing industry, women were given the opportunity to work outside of the home, and in doing so, these women became more aware that they were not seen as equals to men. They earned lower wages and did not have the right to vote, even though their wages were taxed (taxation without representation).
Seneca Falls also had a large Quaker community. One of the four tenets followed by many Quakers is equality. Because of this, many Quakers became social activists. Four out of five of the organizers of the First Women’s Rights Convention were Quakers.
Anti-slavery sentiments were also strong in Seneca Falls, with Seneca Falls even serving as a stop on the Underground Railroad. All five of the organizers of the First Women’s Rights Convention were self-identified abolitionists.
The Temperance Movement
Because of the correlation between drinking and domestic violence, the temperance movement existed alongside the women’s rights movement. Many of the key players in the women’s rights movement and the First Women’s Rights Convention were also members of the temperance movement.
Key Players in the fight for women’s rights
Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902)
Elizabeth Cady Stanton was one of the principal organizers of the First Women’s Rights Convention. Raised by a lawyer, Stanton became aware at a young age of the lack of rights among women, especially married women. She was also a firm belief in abolition. Stanton met her husband, Henry Brewster Stanton, an abolitionist, through her own anti-slavery efforts.
While on her honeymoon in London, England, in 1840, Stanton tried to attend an anti-slavery meeting, only to be turned away for being a woman. It was at this meeting that she met Lucretia Mott. The two bonded over their outrage at being turned away and made plans to hold a convention on the rights of women. This plan was later realized in 1848 when they held the First Women’s Rights Convention.
Lucretia Mott (1793-1880)
Brought up as a Quaker, Lucretia Mott learned early on about the horrors of slavery at her Quaker boarding school, Nine Partners. She was also exposed to the inequality between men and women when she learned that the female teachers at her school earned less than the males.
In 1833, Mott was one of the organizers of the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society. In 1840, Mott served as a delegate from the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London, where she met Stanton.
Mary Ann M’Clintock (1800-1884)
Like Mott, Mary Ann M’Clintock was raised a Quaker and, along with Mott, joined the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society in 1833.
In 1836, M’Clintock and her family moved to Waterloo, New York and became part of a network of Quaker abolitionists. In 1842, M’Clintock and her husband became founding members of the Western New York Anti-Slavery Society.
Prior to the First Woman’s Rights Convention, M’Clintock hosted a second planning meeting at her house on July 16, where she, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and possibly several others drafted the Declaration of Sentiments. This Declaration was read and signed by participants at the Convention.
Martha C. Wright (1806-75)
Martha Wright was the younger sister to Lucretia Mott. Working alongside her sister, Wright usually took on a more supportive role, often serving as secretary. Wright was also a strong supporter of the abolitionist movement, with her home in Auburn, New York serving as a station on the Underground Railroad.
Jane Hunt (1812-1889)
Jane Hunt was related to Martha C. Wright, Lucretia Mott, and Mary Ann M’Clintock. It was at a gathering at her home on July 9, 1941, attended by Wright, Mott, M’Clintock, and Stanton, that the decision was made to go forward with a convention on women’s rights.
All five of these women were not only instrumental in the success of the First Women’s Rights Convention, but they spent their lives fighting for the rights of women. Their ability to see disparity and their willingness to fight for what they believed in helped fuel the woman’s rights movement. Although none survived to see their efforts pay off, in 1920 women were officially given the right to vote in the United States of America.
Griffith, Elisabeth, 1984. In Her Own Right: The Life of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Oxford University Press. New York, NY.
Hsu, Dick Ping; Linda Towle, 1984. Stanton House Report. Division of Cultural Resources, North Atlantic Regional Office, National Park Service, Boston, Massachusetts.