On July 9, 1848 three of the five women who met for tea in the parlor of Jane Hunt, Waterloo, New York were Quakers. Lucretia Mott and Martha Wright were sisters; Mary Ann M'Clintock and Jane Hunt were from Waterloo, Martha Wright was from Auburn; Lucretia Mott was from Philadelphia and Elizabeth Cady Stanton had moved from Boston to Seneca Falls, N.Y. less than a year earlier. They and their husbands were deeply committed to the anti-slavery movement. The two most important attendees, Elizabeth Stanton and Lucretia Mott, were as highly educated as women could be at that time. All were fairly prosperous. Jane Hunt's husband, Richard owned a successful woolen mill in Waterloo; Mary Ann M'Clintock's husband, Thomas owned a drug store and a book store; David Wright was an attorney in Auburn, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton was married to Henry Brewster Stanton, who had read for the law under Elizabeth's father, Daniel Cady of Johnstown, N.Y. Daniel had been recently elected a Justice of New York's Supreme Court.
Elizabeth and Lucretia had met 8 years earlier in London where Mott had been a delegate from Philadelphia to the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London. Elizabeth and Henry, who was then making his living speaking against slavery, were there on a honeymoon and Henry was also a delegate from Boston. That convention refused to seat the Women delegates and thus, an idea was formed, grew and prospered. Years later, Stanton wrote, "The acquaintance of Lucretia Mott who was a broad, liberal thinker on politics, religion and all questions of reform, opened to me a new world of thought."
Lucretia Mott had been educated at the Friends’ Boarding School in Poughkeepsie, NY and married James Mott, who was a teacher there. They later became founders of Swarthmore College. Their home in Auburn and the Hunt’s home in Waterloo were stations on the Underground Railroad.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton was 33 in 1848. She attended Johnstown Academy and then the Troy Female Seminary, later known as the Emma Willard School. She met Henry during a visit to the home of her first cousin, the anti-slavery activist, Gerrit Smith, in Peterboro, NY. When she and Henry married, by common agreement, the word obey was omitted from the marriage service.
The anti-slavery cause and the issue of women's rights had much in common. Married women were little more than their husband's property in the eyes of the law. The wages of a married woman went to her husband, and her property was held in her husband's name. Women could not vote and did not win the right to vote in federal elections until more than a half century after the abolition of slavery.
The group that met in Jane Hunt's home decided that a convention should be held in Seneca Falls to discuss the rights of women. Stanton said, "I poured out that day the torrent of my long-accumulating discontent, with such vehemence and indignation that I stirred myself, as well as the rest of the party, to do and dare anything. My discontent, according to Emerson must have been healthy, for it moved us all to prompt action." It was the group's idea to create a declaration, patterned after the Declaration of Independence, complete with a list of grievances which would be the basis for a Declaration of Rights. After the meeting, Stanton wrote a draft of the declaration. It was reviewed on Sunday, July 16 at a second meeting of the group held at the M'Clintock home. Accompanying the resolution was a statement that women should be given the right to vote. That statement nearly lost Lucretia Mott, who felt it would create ridicule and political pandemonium which, as it turned out, it did. The suffrage statement lost Henry Stanton, who discovered he was too busy to attend the convention. Judge Cady, when he heard of his daughter's views, questioned her sanity.
The ad that ran on July 14th in the Seneca County Courier read as follows: "A convention to discuss the social, civil and religious condition and rights of Woman, will be held in the Wesleyan Chapel, at Seneca Falls, N.Y. on Wednesday and Thursday the 19th and 20th of July current, commencing at 10 o'clock, a.m." The first day, for women only, prompted the Courier to report in its' July 21st edition, "On the first day, the 'lords of creation' were excluded."
About 300 people showed up for that convention. From the Quaker Community in Rochester came Frederick Douglass, a renowned self-freed slave whose escape had been, in part, financed by the Hunts. Douglass, an editor for the North Star in Rochester, and Nathan Milliken, who published the Courier, signed the Declaration of Sentiments. In all, 100 persons signed the Declaration of Sentiments and thus was born the first Women's Rights Convention.
One hundred sixty-two years later we are still struggling for rights…the rights of all people to live a full, productive, successful life. Our goal, as the Convention Days Committee is to celebrate Seneca Falls, New York as a cornerstone of America’s democratic tradition. We promote the region as the center for advancement of issues relating to human rights as reflected in the first American women’s rights Convention of 1848.We continue fighting this uphill battle because, while we can see how much we have gained, we also see how much of the course is still left uncharted. We can only imagine, in looking forward, where the next one hundred sixty-two years will take us. What we do know is that if we stop our forward march at this time that in one hundred sixty-two years we will be in exactly the same place we are now. We cannot let that happen. We have fought too long and too hard for what we have now. Every woman, every man, every child, deserves to live a full and productive life. We must gather together in the spirit of community to ensure that right now and in the future.
|Original photograph of statues and Trinity Church courtesy of Linda Solan.|