Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
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Sunday, July 19, 2015

Seneca Falls Convention: Day One

Seneca Falls Convention (first day, 19 July 1848)

Women's efforts to secure equality--in education, in the arts, as writers, under the law--were a centuries' long process. But we still identify the mid-nineteenth century movements in the U.S. and Great Britain as the so called first wave of feminism.

Lucretia Mott, 1841
In the United States, there is no more important event for first-wave feminism than the Seneca Falls Convention (held in Seneca Falls, New York).

There were certainly important events leading up to this momentous occasion--women's active participation in the abolitionist movement, for example, led to their taking more prominent roles in social reform, including speaking in public meetings and publishing. (We've already noted the work of Angelina and Sarah Grimk√©.)

Many of these women drew a parallel between  the status of enslaved people and women--a comparison that was not new, but that had been made in previous centuries by women like Mary Astell, Olympe de Gouges, and Mary Wollstonecraft, about whom I write in this blog.

In 1845 in the United States, Margaret Fuller published The Great Lawsuit, expanded as Woman in the Nineteenth Century. And we've also noted the work by Caroline Norton on behalf of women in Britain; her political activity began in the late 1830s.

But the idea of a women's rights conventions seems to have grown out of a trip by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott to London in 1840, where they attended a meeting of the World Anti-Slavery Society--where they were refused a seat as delegates in the hall and denied the opportunity to speak. The organizing and planning that followed resulted in the two-day Seneca Falls Convention.

On the first day of the meeting, in the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, Stanton spoke first, followed by Mott; Stanton then began the process of reading the "Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions." The day was filled with discussion, alterations, and revisions.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton,
For the rest of today's post, I'll include the complete text of the "Declaration of Sentiments":
When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one portion of the family of man to assume among the people of the earth a position different from that which they have hitherto occupied, but one to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes that impel them to such a course.
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of those who suffer from it to refuse allegiance to it, and to insist upon the institution of a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they were accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their duty to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of the women under this government, and such is now the necessity which constrains them to demand the equal station to which they are entitled.
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.
He has made her, morally, an irresponsible being, as she can commit many crimes with impunity, provided they be done in the presence of her husband. In the covenant of marriage, she is compelled to promise obedience to her husband, he becoming, to all intents and purposes, her master—the law giving him power to deprive her of her liberty, and to administer chastisement.

He has so framed the laws of divorce, as to what shall be the proper causes, and in case of separation, to whom the guardianship of the children shall be given, as to be wholly regardless of the happiness of women—the law, in all cases, going upon a false supposition of the supremacy of man, and giving all power into his hands.
After depriving her of all rights as a married woman, if single, and the owner of property, he has taxed her to support a government which recognizes her only when her property can be made profitable to it.
He has monopolized nearly all the profitable employments, and from those she is permitted to follow, she receives but a scanty remuneration. He closes against her all the avenues to wealth and distinction which he considers most honorable to himself. As a teacher of theology, medicine, or law, she is not known.
He has denied her the facilities for obtaining a thorough education, all colleges being closed against her.
He allows her in Church, as well as State, but a subordinate position, claiming Apostolic authority for her exclusion from the ministry, and, with some exceptions, from any public participation in the affairs of the Church.
He has created a false public sentiment by giving to the world a different code of morals for men and women, by which moral delinquencies which exclude women from society, are not only tolerated, but deemed of little account in man.
He has usurped the prerogative of Jehovah himself, claiming it as his right to assign for her a sphere of action, when that belongs to her conscience and to her God.
He has endeavored, in every way that he could, to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life.
Now, in view of this entire disfranchisement of one-half the people of this country, their social and religious degradation—in view of the unjust laws above mentioned, and because women do feel themselves aggrieved, oppressed, and fraudulently deprived of their most sacred rights, we insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of the United States.
In entering upon the great work before us, we anticipate no small amount of misconception, misrepresentation, and ridicule; but we shall use every instrumentality within our power to effect our object. We shall employ agents, circulate tracts, petition the State and National legislatures, and endeavor to enlist the pulpit and the press in our behalf. We hope this Convention will be followed by a series of Conventions embracing every part of the country.
The announcement of the Seneca Falls Convention,
Seneca County Courier
If you're looking for an overview on the Seneca Falls Convention, I recommend the excellent entry in West's Encyclopedia of American Law, available by clicking here.

Update, 9 February 2019: For an interesting essay on the search for the original copy of the "Declaration of Sentiments," you may want to check out the New York Times piece by Liz Robbins and Sam Roberts, "Early Feminists Issued a Declaration of Independence. Where Is It Now?" You can access it by clicking here.

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