This week marks the 171st anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention, often seen as the launching point for the Women’s Rights Movement. In honor of this anniversary, UT Libraries’ Graduate Research Assistant for Information Literacy Services, Natalia Kapacinskas has recommended some materials from the UT Libraries collection . Enjoy!
*This post discusses an historical event and may use some terms and vocabulary that some readers may feel are out of date. We acknowledge that terms are constantly evolving and certain terms have been abandoned or expanded by the communities that use them for good reason. However, for this post the decision has been made to use the vocabulary of the sources from which information was pulled unless deemed inappropriate.
In 1840, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton met at the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention. The women shared the Quaker faith, abolitionist beliefs, and were supporters of the growing movement in favor of expanding women’s political and social rights in the United States. Together, they worked towards these shared goals.
Eight years later, Mott and Stanton organized a convention on women’s rights in Seneca Falls, New York, held July 19-20, 1848. This month marks the 171st anniversary of that event. The Woman’s Rights Convention was attended by 240 people, the vast majority of whom were women. The Convention culminated in the writing of a “Declaration of Sentiments” in favor of increased women’s rights which mirrored the United States Declaration of Independence. However, unlike the original Declaration, the Seneca Falls Declaration asserted the importance of women’s rights to vote, own property, and receive adequate wages.
UT Libraries provides access to many of the primary sources generated by the Seneca Falls conference, including its news coverage and proceedings. For example, the Convention was publicized in the Seneca County Courier the week prior.
- The first convention ever called to discuss the civil and political rights of women. Seneca Falls, N.Y., July 19, 20, 1848. [Online Access]
Check out this printed version of the Convention proceedings.
- Proceedings of the Woman’s Rights Convention [Online Access]
- “The Rights of women.” North star [Rochester, New York] 28 July 1848: n.p.
After the Convention, Frederick Douglass published a brief report on what had transpired, titling the column, “The Rights of Women.”
- “Woman’s Rights Convention. A Convention for Investigating the.” THE NORTH STAR, 1848.
A more robust account of the Convention was published about two weeks later, also in the North Star. This time, it was front-page news, along with a full listing of the resolutions passed at the Convention.
*The above images were taken from UT Libraries’ microfilm holdings of The North Star, which are available to check out. You can also access The North Star online.
UT Libraries also has a number of autobiographies and original literary works written by the participants of the Woman’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls. Explore those below:
- The Autobiography of Frederick Douglass (audio recording) [Online Access]
“Based on material from Douglass’ three autobiographies: Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American slave, 1845; My bondage and my freedom, 1855; and Life and times of Frederick Douglass, 1881. Material edited for this recording by Dr. Philip S. Foner.”
“Elizabeth Cady Stanton recalls the discontent that led her to launch the woman suffrage movement at Seneca Falls in 1848 and the frustration of having no voice in her own government after a half century of hard work.”
“Juxtaposed with contemporary reports and biographical essays, the words of this legendary suffragist reveal Susan B. Anthony as a loyal, caring friend, and an eloquent, humorous crusader. ‘More than a collection of well-arranged quotations, the work informs, inspires, and gives historical perspective.’–The Houston Post.”
- Lucretia Mott speaks : the essential speeches and sermons / edited by Christopher Densmore, Carol Faulkner, Nancy Hewitt, and Beverly Wilson Palmer [eBook]
“Committed abolitionist, controversial Quaker minister, tireless pacifist, fiery crusader for women’s rights–Lucretia Mott was one of the great reformers in America history. Drawing on widely scattered archives, newspaper accounts, and other sources, Lucretia Mott Speaks unearths the essential speeches and remarks from Mott’s remarkable career. The editors have chosen selections representing important themes and events in her public life. Extensive annotations provide vibrant context and show Mott’s engagement with allies and opponents. The result is an authoritative resource, one that enriches our understanding of Mott’s views, rhetorical strategies, and still-powerful influence.”
Women of Color and Women’s Rights
Some groups were under- or un- represented at the Convention. The only African American individual to attend was Frederick Douglass, and there were no women of color at the Convention. However, women such as Sojourner Truth, Anna J. Cooper, and Ida B. Wells were highly involved in working toward women’s rights during this time period. You can learn more about their lives and work in the recommended reading list below.
“This memoir, first published in 1850, recounts the struggles of a distinguished African-American abolitionist and champion of women’s rights. Sojourner Truth tells of her life in slavery, her self-liberation, and her travels across America in pursuit of racial and sexual equality. Essential reading for students of American history.”
- A Voice from the South: By a Black Woman of the South by Anna J. Cooper [Open Access]
“Considered one of the original texts foretelling the black feminist movement, this collection of essays, first published in 1892, offers an unparalleled view into the thought of black women writers in nineteenth-century America. ”
Ida B. Wells (1862-1931) was one of the foremost crusaders against black oppression. This engaging memoir tells of her private life as mother of a growing family as well as her public activities as teacher, lecturer, and journalist in her fight against attitudes and laws oppressing blacks.
From the scholars
“The book covers 50 years of women’s activism, from 1840-1890, focusing on four extraordinary figures–Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, and Susan B. Anthony. McMillen tells the stories of their lives, how they came to take up the cause of women’s rights, the astonishing advances they made during their lifetimes, and the lasting and transformative effects of the work they did. At the convention they asserted full equality with men, argued for greater legal rights, greater professional and education opportunities, and the right to vote–ideas considered wildly radical at the time… A vibrant portrait of a major turning point in American women’s history, and in human history, this book is essential reading for anyone wishing to fully understand the origins of the woman’s rights movement.”
- Why They Marched by Susan Ware [eBook]
“For too long the history of how American women won the right to vote has been told as the visionary adventures of a few iconic leaders, all white and native-born, who spearheaded a national movement. In this essential reconsideration, Susan Ware uncovers a much broader and more diverse history waiting to be told. Why They Marched is the inspiring story of the dedicated women–and occasionally men–who carried the banner in communities across the nation, out of the spotlight, protesting, petitioning, and demonstrating for the right to become full citizens.”
- The Myth of Seneca Falls: Memory and the Women’s Suffrage Movement, 1848-1898 by Lisa Tetrault. [eBook]
“The story of how the women’s rights movement began at the Seneca Falls convention of 1848 is a cherished American myth. The standard account credits founders such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Lucretia Mott with defining and then leading the campaign for women’s suffrage. In her provocative new history, Lisa Tetrault demonstrates that Stanton, Anthony, and their peers gradually created and popularized this origins story during the second half of the nineteenth century in response to internal movement dynamics as well as the racial politics of memory after the Civil War.”
Although the Seneca Falls Convention is remembered as an initial step towards women’s right to vote in the United States, that right was not granted until 72 years later when the 19th amendment to the Constitution was passed in 1920.
Today, nearly 200 later, current events remind us of the assertions of the congregants at Seneca Falls: that women should have “equal right to think, speak and act on all subjects that interest the human family” (Abigail Bush. “Selections. Woman’s Rights Convention,” North Star, 11 August 1848).
Access to equal pay for women is one topic under discussion in recent days. Specifically, the victory of the US Women’s National Soccer team at the World Cup has brought attention to their efforts to be paid equally to the Men’s national team.
Read more about that issue here:
- Goff, Steven. “US women’s soccer team is using World Cup stage to shine spotlight on equality.” Washington Post, 24 May 2019. Opposing Viewpoints in Context.
- Clarke, Liz. “USWNT fights for equal pay as it fights to defend World Cup title.” Washington Post, 3 June 2019. Science In Context.
**Featured images left to right:
- Lucretia Coffin Mott; photograph by Frederic Gutekunst (1865), Public Domain
- Elizabeth Cady Stanton, seated, and Susan B. Anthony, standing; photograph by David B. Edmonston (between 1880 and 1902), Public Domain
- Frederick Douglass; photograph by unknown (circa 1866), Public Domain