On July 19, 1848, the Seneca Falls Convention convened. Heralded as the first American women’s rights convention, the two day event was held in the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, New York. The convention had been advertised on July 11, 1848 in the Seneca County Courier. Despite the minimal amount of publicity , there were an estimated 300 attendees at the inaugural meeting. It is not surprising that many of the convention attendees lived locally, as there were a number of abolitionists living nearby. Many women and men working in the anti-slavery movement eventually became a part of the struggle to obtain equal rights for women. Convention organizer Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her husband Henry B. Stanton were both well-known and active abolitionists. In fact, all five women credited with organizing the Seneca Falls Convention were also active in the abolitionist movement.
Women’s rights activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton made her first public speech on the initial day of the convention, which provided a framework with which to understand the purpose and goals of the Seneca Falls gathering:
We are assembled to protest against a form of government, existing without the consent of the governed – to declare our right to be free as man is free, to be represented in the government which we are taxed to support, to have such disgraceful laws as give man the power to chastise and imprison his wife, to take the wages which she earns, the property which she inherits, and, in case of separation, the children of her love; laws test against such unjust laws as these that we are assembled today, and to have them, if possible, forever erased from our statute-books, deeming them as a shame and a disgrace to a Christian republic in the nineteenth century.…
In addition to her speech, Elizabeth Cady Stanton also read aloud the Declaration of Sentiments, which was then discussed at length. The Declaration of Sentiments was modeled after the Declaration of Independence, but with the express goal of granting women the rights and freedoms that the Declaration of Independence granted to men. On the second day of the convention, the resolutions would again be debated over and put to a vote. Notably, while only women were allowed to attend the first day of the Seneca Falls Convention, the general public, including men, were invited to participate in the second day.
- The “Declaration of Sentiments,” resolutions, and excerpts from Stanton’s address are online in The First Convention Ever Called to Discuss the Civil and Political Rights of Women available through the National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection. This collection documents the suffrage campaign with 167 books, pamphlets, and other artifacts gathered from the archives of National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) collection held in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress.
- See the tableExternal where the Declaration of Sentiments was drafted, and read a newspaper clipping that details it’s place of honor at consecutive meetings.
- Read Rhoda J Palmer’s memories of the 1848 woman’s rights convention, Seneca Falls, New York.
- Enjoy William Lloyd Garrison’s “supplement” to Scotsman Robert Burns poem “A Man’s a Man, For A’ That” (1794). Garrison’s adaptation “Human Equality,” in America Singing: Nineteenth-Century Song Sheets, urges the cause of women’s rights.
- To learn more about Seneca Falls as a historic landmark, see the National Park Service’s site Women’s Rights National Historical Park.
Additional Library of Congress Collections Documenting the Campaign for Women’s Suffrage Include:
- Votes for Women–The Struggle for Women’s Suffrage: Selected Images from the Collections of the Library of Congress
- Miller NAWSA Suffrage Scrapbooks, 1897-1911
- Women of Protest: Photographs from the Records of the National Woman’s Party
- American Women: A Gateway to Library of Congress Resources for the Study of Women’s History and Culture in the United States is simultaneously a guide, an online magnet for digitized women’s history materials drawn from a plethora of Library sources, and a gateway. One section of the guide describes the Women’s Suffrage collections held by the Manuscript Division.