Monday, July 20, 2015

The 167th Anniversary of Seneca Falls

     167 years ago yesterday, a women’s rights convention, the first of its kind in American history, convened inside the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, New York. Organized by abolitionists Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, with nearly 200 women in attendance, the gathering sought to spark vital discourse surrounding “the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of women.” It was this convention that acted as one of the primary catalysts for what would be known in the United States as the first wave of women’s rights movement.
     The Convention opened with the “Declaration of Sentiments and Grievances” which functioned as a treatise fashioned after the Declaration of Independence that detailed the injustices American women faced. The declaration called upon women to band together to petition for a proper redress of such injuries. The wording of the document’s preamble paralleled its famous predecessor, reading “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.”
     On the second day of the Convention, with 40 men in attendance, including African American abolitionist Frederick Douglass, the Declaration was signed and ratified by the assembly. In addition, the assembly passed 12 resolutions, 11 of which had unanimous majority, all of which had specified certain rights to be afforded to women. The only resolution which met contention was the ninth one, which stated that “it is the duty of women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.” The notion of suffrage was incredibly controversial and even some of the most fervent of women’s rights advocates at the time had difficulty supporting such an endeavor. Despite the controversy triggered by the ninth resolution, Seneca Falls brought much needed focus to the rising suffrage movement and paved the way for the adoption of the 19th Amendment in 1920.
The Seneca Falls Convention marks one of the first times in which women were able to affect meaningful change in the political arena. Their efforts made possible the election of important women leaders, landmark Supreme Court decisions, and the passing of legislature which in aggregate have greatly improved the lives of women in the United States. In hindsight, it is incredible how far we’ve come, yet, when we look ahead, we see how far we still have left to go. We are far from achieving a Congressional parity that models the actual gender demography of the United States; women still receive less pay than their male counterparts for equal work, many states continue to encroach upon a woman’s right to choose, and a slew of other obstacles that unfortunately persist in the 21st century. While it is important to see how far we have come and remember those who before us who worked tirelessly for the rights we enjoy now, it is equally important to know how far we have left to go and to continue working to achieve that which the women in Seneca Falls had dreamed of.