PERSONAL INTERPRETATION 1
Given its humbleorigins, how and why did Seneca Falls Convention come to beconsidered the most prominent event that began the women’s rightsmovement? Did it fulfill its lofty intentions, as expressed in theDeclaration of Sentiments? Why or why not?
The Seneca Falls Convention was the first ever meeting held with theintention of discussing women’s rights. The convention took placein 1848 in New York City and was organized by Lucretia Mott andElizabeth Cady Stanton. During the meeting, Stanton demanded women begranted unconditional voting rights. At the time, this was thefirst-ever public demand for women’s rights. Her fearless utteranceset the tone for the remaining segment of the convention. Also, thedemand for political equality was the first step towards a women’srights movement in subsequent years. “The small spark figurativelyignited at Seneca Falls never produced revolutions, usurpation ofpower, or wars. Yet it led to a transformation of consciousness and amovement of empowerment on behalf of half the human race, whichhardly has its equal in human history” (Lerner, 2009).
The convention is also considered the beginning of the women’srights movement due to its origin. Mott and Stanton were motivated tohold the conference due to some hurtful experiences years back. In1840, a global Anti-Slavery Convention was held in London. During themeeting, British delegates barred women participants from havingseats. Having met in the U.K capital, Stanton and Mott established aplan for a convention. They decided to convene a protest once theyreturned to the United States. Although “pulling it off took eightyears,” the women were committed to holding the convention(Tetrault, 2014)
After her marriage and honeymoon, Stanton had settled down to familylife. She raised her children in Seneca Falls, albeit under domesticconfinement. Mott and Stanton met during one of the meetings held bythe Quaker network (Lerner, 2009). In a meeting of several women,Stanton relayed her domestic troubles to Mott. In conjunction withthe other women at the convention, Mott decided to implement neededchanges. In this respect, the women placed a notice in the city’snewspapers. The notice announced an upcoming conference gearedtowards addressing the religious, civil, and social conditions facedby women in the society.
The convention championed women’s rights since it was modeled onthe Declaration of Independence. The nation’s Founding Fathers hadorchestrated independence from the British by defending the equalstature enjoyed by all men. The women had only eight days betweenplacement of the notice and the actual convention date. In theconvening period, some women took it upon themselves to draft anagenda for the meeting. Stanton sought the help of ElizabethMcClintock along with other women in developing the manifesto. Themen would be held as hypocrites if they relied on the Declaration ofIndependence to voice their freedom while maligning women offundamental rights (Lerner, 2009). Some of these rights includedaccess to education and other mainstream careers that had been madethe preserve of men. Women were also hindered from owning propertyand expressing political opinions.
Granted, several advocates had previously attempted to legitimizewomen’s rights by making reference to the Declaration ofIndependence. In fact, “by the 1830s, pockets of Reformers,influenced by late eighteenth-century republican ideals andegalitarian Christian values, argued for a woman’s right to speakout on moral and political issues. In the 1830s and early 1840s,these local groups spoke out both in favor of abolitionism and legalreform” (Wellman, 2006). In 1846, a debate was held in New YorkCity seeking to examine the merits of women acquiring propertyrights. The Supreme Creator had created both males and females andimbibed them with particular rights. Therefore, neither male norfemale individuals were justified in restricting the other`s rights.In early 1848, a group of 44 married women penned a dissenting letterto the lawmaking authority in New York. The women ridiculed theassertion that governments derived their mandate from the governed.This was because the ruling government had never recognized ladiesregarding voting and political representation. Ironically, numerouslaws sought to control the actions of women in marriage. The shamefullevel of hypocrisy moved the legislature to permit married women toown property. However, it was the Seneca Falls Convention "thatbrought national attention to the issue of women`s rights"(Wellman, 2006).
The Declaration of Sentiments was signed by 300 males and females atSeneca Falls, New York (Timeline). The document was formulated as aplea to end the bias against women in the society. The declarationsought to engender support for women with regards to inclusion intodemocratic endeavors. If Americans believed that all men and womenwere created equal, then they would acknowledge the right of women tohave political opinions and vote as well. The women at the conferencedebated the merits of the declaration before adopting comprehensiveresolutions. 68 women and 32 men appended their signatures to thedocument (Text). Nevertheless, the radical nature of the statementdissuaded two-thirds of the attendees from signing. Nonetheless,Stanton called the women’s movement the “greatest rebellion theworld has ever seen” (Wellman, 2006).
The success of the convention can be judged by examining the progressmade in women rights since 1848. The rights currently enjoyed bywomen include access to quality education, property rights, holdingoffice, voting, and right to earn. Other liberties include the civilrights owing to women as equal partners to men. The emancipation ofwomen has also sought to release them from bondage to maletraditions. In this regard, ladies have been restricted and oppresseddue to their gender. Their autonomy and self-determination have beenundermined in many communities (Lerner, 2009). Also, they have beenassigned the heavier portion of performing house chores and rearingchildren. Granted, some communities have stubbornly clung to pastforms of social and religious oppression. Nevertheless, many ladiesnow enjoy a measure of social, cultural, and financial independence.In retrospect, it can be said that the convention stirred up theclamor for women’s rights.
In the 1960s, feminism emerged as a popular phenomenon. One group ofcampaigners focused on the acquisition of political and legal rightswhereby women from different classes and ethnicities could berespected (Lerner, 2009). The other group of women started as aunited front fighting for liberation. However, the groupdisintegrated into minor categories focusing on distinct aspects.Others focused on sexual harassment and violence while other portionsdealt with abortion rights. In past decades, women had limitedmandate to determine what happened to their bodies. This emboldenedmen to instigate physical abuse on women. It also assigned women thesole task of bearing children and maintaining cleanliness in thehome. Despite societal restrictions, “the Seneca Falls Declarationof Sentiments tied women’s rights to the country’s natural-rightstradition, incorporating widespread grassroots support for women’srights into a coherent intellectual framework that challengedAmericans everywhere to include women in the great Americandemocratic experiment” (Wellman, 2006).
Furthermore, abortion rights have granted ladies the mandate todecide whether to keep or terminate a pregnancy. Other groups havecreated cultural institutions that promote self-empowerment. Suchgroups include music festivals and lesbian networks. Since men haddifferent demands, issues, and interests, it is expected that womentoo would have varying requirements and agenda (Lerner, 2009). Theproliferation of feminism in later years proved the effectiveness ofthe conference in championing women’s rights.
In some instances, the Seneca Falls Convention failed to live up tothe intentions of the Declaration of Sentiments. For example, theconvention did not include grievances against sexual harassment. Manywomen had been facing adverse circumstances in their marriages. Somewomen endured frequent occurrences of marital rape (Lerner, 2009).Other women had to persevere through the nuances of husbands battlingalcohol addiction. Also, some men would abuse their wives bothphysically and emotionally. Moreover, some women felt that thereexisted legitimate reasons to justify battering and oppression.
Granted, future conventions included the feminist themes into theirdiscussions. Moreover, Stanton pressurized law-making authorities toprohibit drunkards from marrying women. She also fought for women tobe granted the right to absolve themselves from abusive unions(Lerner, 2009). Nevertheless, the conference should have emphasizedthe evil of sexual oppression in no uncertain terms. Embracing acautious, peaceful approach seemed to show that women were merelybargaining for their rights. However, such rights had to be demandedand claimed at the conference in the presence of male participants.Therefore, the convention failed to live up to the lofty expectationsof the declaration since the women were fearful of offending the maleattendees.
Wellman, J. (2006). The Seneca Falls Convention: Setting the NationalStage for Women’s Suffrage. History Now 7: n. pag. The GilderLehrman Institute of American History. Retrieved fromhttp://www.gilderlehrman.org/historynow/2007-06/age-exploration
Lerner, G. (2009). The Meaning of Seneca Falls. Living withHistory/Making Social Change. Chapel Hill: University of NorthCarolina Press. Retrieved fromhttp://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5149/9780807887868_lerner.8
Tetrault, L. (2014) Prologue: Getting Acquainted with History. TheMyth of Seneca Falls: Memory and the Women`s Suffrage Movement,1848-1898. University of North Carolina Press.
Text of "The Seneca Falls Declaration of Rights and Sentiments."from History of Women Suffrage Vol. 1, ed. Elizabeth Cady Stanton etal. (1881). New York: Fowler and Wells.
Timeline of Legal History of Women in the United States. NationalWomen’s History Project. Retrieved fromhttp://www.nwhp.org/resources/womens-rights-movement/detailedtimeline/