The Seneca Falls Convention, July 19-20, 1848
July 20, 2010 10:56 PM   Subscribe

When a long train of abuses and usurpation, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of the women under this government, and such is now the necessity which constrains them to demand the equal station to which they are entitled. 152 years ago yesterday was the last day of the Seneca Falls Convention when the Declaration of Sentiments along with an accompanying set of resolutions were signed by 68 women and 32 men.

On the second day of the convention, Elizabeth Cady Stanton added a resolution stating that it was "the duty of women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise."

This was seen as extremely controversial (her own husband Henry Stanton, an abolitionist) argued against including it in the Declaration) -- there were even concerns that this would end up discrediting the movement:
When I spoke to Lucretia Mott about my intention to present this, she amazed me by objecting, "Why, Lizzie, thee will make us ridiculous." But I persisted, for I saw clearly that the power to make the laws was the right through which all other rights could be secured.

Opposition of the movement in general and the call for suffrage specifically was met with forceful opposition. It was typical of many psychologists and anti-suffragists to automatically associate feminism with mental illness.

Some of the discourse by those opposing the suffrage/feminist movement is depressingly familiar:
Especially in two respects has woman restricted the discussion.

She has placed her taboo upon all generalisations about women, taking exception to these on the threefold ground that there would be no generalisations which would hold true of all women; that generalisations when reached possess no practical utility; and that the element of sex does not leave upon women any general imprint such as could properly be brought up in connexion with the question of admitting them to the electorate.

Woman has further stifled discussion by placing her taboo upon anything seriously unflattering being said about her in public.
posted by Deathalicious (12 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Wikipedia's timeline of women's suffrage is an interesting glimpse at how things played out internationally -- or should I say still playing out in some cases (e.g. Saudi Arabia).
posted by Rhomboid at 11:47 PM on July 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you ever want to read a fictionalized but well-researched and entertaining as hell account of the lives of many of the suffragists, check out Marge Piercey's Sex Wars, a great novel about the feminist movement in the years after the Civil War.
posted by lunasol at 11:57 PM on July 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her.

That's not bad for a one sentence summary of 5000 years of history.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:59 AM on July 21, 2010

That's not bad for a one sentence summary of 5000 years of history.

Only 5000? What are you, a Young Earth Creationist?
posted by DreamerFi at 3:01 AM on July 21, 2010

(I like how, in the signature section of the resolutions, men are separate but equal...)
posted by Mooseli at 3:32 AM on July 21, 2010

Only 5000? What are you, a Young Earth Creationist?

No, but history pretty much begins with literacy. Before that, it's other disciplines that get to do the heavy lifting.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:16 AM on July 21, 2010

Thank you so much for posting this. This in particular is a breathtaking statement:

"Resolved, That all laws which prevent woman from occupying such a station in society as her conscience shall dictate, or which place her in a position inferior to that of man, are contrary to the great precept of nature, and therefore of no force or authority."

I'm 32. I'm not married, haven't married, my life isn't about getting married -- I'm a career gal and I'm a friend and a musician and I haven't got big ambitions beyond just wanting to work closely with people to make cool things (not necessarily babies, a comfortable home or a delicious pie) -- and that 152 year old statement is a fantastic reminder that it's NOT folley to want those things.

Sad that I still feel like maybe I just won't be accepted in those pursuits because of my gender, but fuck it, that's just a feeling.
posted by pazazygeek at 6:05 AM on July 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

I was sort of depressed that the Arguments of the the Anti-Suffragettes have not progressed much. We still hear pretty much the same things, except for fear that women will hide extra ballots in their sleeves. Well,

Allowing women to vote would lead to foreign aggression and war.

is slightly startling, too. Nowadays, there seems to be a fear that women voting would lead to insufficient foreign aggression and war....
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:06 AM on July 21, 2010

One important voice for women's rights was that of Matilda Joslyn Gage, the person who arguably influenced the literary creation of the Utopian land of Oz (author Baum was her son-in-law). Upstairs in the Gage Home is Susan B. Anthony's signature, which Anthony herself scratched into a windowpane. An integral part of the National Woman Suffrage Association, she fought slavery and defended the rights of Native Americans, and was highly regarded by the Iroquois.

Gage spoke forcefully for the separation of church and state:

"...alarmed by the conservative religious movement that had as its goal the establishment of a Christian state, Gage formed the Women’s National Liberal Union in 1890, to fight moves to unite church and state. Her book Woman, Church and State (1893) articulates her views."

Unfortunately, many were anxious about Gage's radical views regarding religion and some in the movement distanced themselves from her. She was, however, way ahead of her time and is often unfairly omitted in discussions of the women's rights movement. Were she around today, she doubtless would have embraced gay rights as well, as clearly her primary focus was on basic human rights.

The fight continues. We could use more people like Matilda now.
posted by kinnakeet at 6:23 AM on July 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

Thank you Deathalicious.

I still have to remind people that women in the US have only had the vote since 1920--that there are still women alive who were born without the right to vote in this country. That the right to have your own bank account or credit card, took even longer. That women still aren't given equal status in the military despite largely having equal risks, at least in recent wars.

That when my mom started looking for work in the 60s, the classifieds still specified which jobs were for women and which for men.

I am always heartened by the progress we've made, and always frustrated by our cultural amnesia about how bad it was so recently.
posted by emjaybee at 6:58 AM on July 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

"It was typical of many psychologists and anti-suffragists to automatically associate feminism with mental illness."

The 'mental illness' ploy has been popular worldwide for over a century, especially after WW2. Because people condemned to a 'mental institution' (or whatever you call the prison) are powerless to defend themselves - it's 'good behavior' or life - it's a powerful social-engineering tool. In the US the most egregious examples are from the 50s and 60s.
posted by Twang at 11:42 PM on July 21, 2010

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