By Jasmine Willis
SENECA FALLS — The birthplace of the Women’s Rights Movement happened in the heartbeat of a historic village, and their voices created timeless echoes that could not be silenced.
On a trip to Seneca Falls to honor the 100th Anniversary of the Women’s Rights, the Women’s Rights National Historical Park had a tour of the Visitor Center and the Wesleyan Chapel.
National Historical Park Ranger, Mary O’Neill shared the story of the first Women’s Rights Convention, the Declaration of Sentiments, and the Women’s Rights Movement.
It was Elizabeth Cady Stanton that encouraged women to challenge America, and make sure their rights, voices, and justice was heard.
“Elizabeth writes a lot about how her grandparents influenced her. What you need to remember is that her grandparents were part of the American Revolutionary War. They lived through a time when we were literally writing America’s history. They were in a time when changes were being made in industry and large population growth,” O’Neill said. “When our Founding Fathers wrote the Declaration of Independence, they decided what freedom meant. This was the personal history being told to an 11-year-old Elizabeth from her grandparents. When her older brother died suddenly her father told her he wished she was a boy. This changed a lot of how Elizabeth saw herself as well. She decided the only thing that separated her from boys was they had courage and education.”
O’Neill mention how it was personal tragedy that pushed Stanton to be the amazing woman she turned out to be in history.
It was women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Jane Hunt, Mary Ann M’Clintock, and Martha Wright who first picked up the torch for women’s rights in 1848. The first Women’s Rights Convention was held on July 19 and 20 in 1848 to demand full and equal rights with men. There were hundreds present at the meetings, and only 100 signatures were on the petition. Among those were Fredrick Douglas and 14-year-old Susan Quinn.
“The 100-year birthplace of Women’s Rights happened right here at the Wesleyan Chapel. The most controversial thing about the Declaration of Sentiments was the right to vote. Elizabeth was very keen on the law, and Fredrick Douglas was backing her up on the women’s right to vote. Afterall he had escaped slavery and started his own business at a newspaper,” O’Neill said. “It took 72 years for the Declaration of Sentiments to pass nationwide from 1848 to 1920. In 1917 New York State passed the vote. It took 72 years for the Declaration of Independence to take hold too. These kinds of important points in history don’t just happen overnight.”
Susan B. Anthony, a Quaker School Teacher enters the spotlight in 1851, and has a lasting friendship with Stanton. She is often the first name that comes to mind when we think Women’s Rights. They would continue their partnership to lobby for the 1848 Married Women’s Property Act of New York. This groundbreaking act of 1860 made it so wives could hold property, keep earnings, make contracts, sue in court, and share child custody.
Stanton and Anthony go on to form the National Woman Suffrage Association in 1869. Lucy Stone heads the American Woman Suffrage Association to support voting rights first, for black males then for women.
In 1879, Frances Willard became president of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, which was established in 1874 to fight alcohol-related social ills. It turns out to be the largest women’s organization by the 1880s.
In 1889 the first settlement house is built and led by Jane Addams and Ellen Starr to better the lives and educate single women, wives, mothers, and grandmothers as they investigate labor conditions.
They saw this as a way to not only improve quality of life, but to improve the better of society as a whole.
In 1902 Elizabeth Cady Stanton dies at 86, and her good friend, Susan B. Anthony dies four years later at 85. This demands a new generation of suffragists who will pick up the torch and finish what these brave women started. In 1890 the two suffrage associations merged, and by the time the icons of the movement pass away the charge is led by Anna Howard Shaw and Carrie Chapman Catt.
Stanton’s daughter, Harriot Stanton Blatch organizes the first suffrage parade in New York City in
1910. She got immense support from the newly formed Women’s Trade Union League. This was her way to keep her mother’s legacy alive.
In 1913 Alice Paul comes on the scene with many other new generations of suffragists to take up arms and put on several demonstrations. These include hunger strikes, mass demonstrations, constant pressure on those in political power, and several thousand marched in protest on Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration in March 1913. They formed the National Woman’s Party in 1916.
In 1917 the Women’s Bureau is formed to handle women’s concerns in the workforce when they are told to take over during WWI. For several decades this remains the only federal agency dealing with women’s rights in the workplace.
In 1918 Jeanette Rankin reintroduces the Women’s Suffrage amendment. She is the first woman elected to the U.S. Congress and it passes both houses in 1919.
The 19thAmendment or “Susan B. Anthony Amendment” is ratified in 1920. It allows voting rights for women throughout the nation. The old association becomes League of Women Voters. This is when the Women’s Rights Movement sees fruits of labor.
Today the fight for Women’s Rights is still raging on in several ways. Women still seek political influence, better pay, better education, health reform, job equity, legal reform, and the demands echoed throughout time sound like the bells of justice.
It took 100 years for these powerful women to keep fighting, and for many they never saw the victory. However, it was their daughters and granddaughters who kept the fight going. The Women’s Rights Movement is never fully over, but each woman who picks up the torch is doing her part in keeping the legacy alive.
For more information on Women’s Right National Historical Park visit https://www.nps.gov/wori/index.htm