My friend Mary Ellen pointed out an item about the Seneca Falls convention this morning.
The Seneca Falls Convention — the first convention for women’s rights — began on this date in 1848. The seed had been planted eight years earlier, and grew out of the abolitionist movement. Lucretia Mott and her husband were traveling to London to attend the World Anti-Slavery Convention. Aboard the ship, they met a pair of newlyweds — Henry and Elizabeth Cady Stanton — who were also on their way to the conference for their honeymoon. Once in London, the six female delegates, including Mott and Stanton, found that they would not be seated and could only attend the conference behind a drapery partition, because women were “constitutionally unfit for public and business meetings.” Mott and Stanton were outraged, and together they agreed that they really should organize their own convention.
Huh. That sounds vaguely familiar…
Eight years later, on July 11, they ran an unsigned announcement in the Seneca County Courier that read: “A Convention to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of women will be held in the Wesleyan Chapel, at Seneca Falls, N.Y. […] During the first day the meeting will be exclusively for women, who are earnestly invited to attend.” Just a few days before, Stanton took the Declaration of Independence as her model and drafted what she called a Declaration of Sentiments, calling for religious, economical, and political equality.
Reaction to the convention in the press and the pulpit was mostly negative. The Oneida Whig wrote: “This bolt is the most shocking and unnatural incident ever recorded in the history of womanity. If our ladies will insist on voting and legislating, where, gentlemen, will be our dinners and our elbows? Where our domestic firesides and the holes in our stockings?”
The opposition is a little different now. Less about firesides and stockings, more about bitches and sexual harassment.
Philadelphia’s Public Ledger and Daily Transcript declared: “A woman is nobody. A wife is everything. The ladies of Philadelphia […] are resolved to maintain their rights as Wives, Belles, Virgins and Mothers.”
And the Albany Mechanic’s Advocate claimed that equal rights would “demoralize and degrade [women] from their high sphere and noble destiny, […] and prove a monstrous injury to all mankind.”
In response, Frederick Douglass wrote in The North Star: “A discussion of the rights of animals would be regarded with far more complacency by many of what are called the wise and the good of our land, than would be a discussion of the rights of woman.”
Frederick Douglass rocks.