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Exhibition Shall Not Be Denied: Women Fight for the Vote

Early Feminist Inspirations

But I ask no favors for my sex. I surrender not our claim to equality. All I ask of our brethren is, that they will take their feet from off our necks, and permit us to stand upright on that ground which God has designed us to occupy.

—Sarah Grimké, Letters on Equality of the Sexes, 1838

The beginning of the American women’s suffrage movement is often marked by either the 1848 women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York, or the earlier 1840 World Antislavery Convention in London, where Lucretia Mott and five other American women delegates were barred from participating after making the long journey. The women’s treatment convinced Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton of the need to convene a meeting focusing exclusively on women’s rights. Although the 1840 and 1848 conventions were undeniably pivotal events, women had for decades been writing and speaking about their inequality in private letters, public lectures, and published books, as shown here. A half-century of feminist writing and political activism preceded Seneca Falls, providing both an intellectual framework and fearless role models for the first generation of suffragists.