Lucretia Mott
 

 


Seneca Falls Convention

Lucretia Mott’s decision to begin working for women’s rights came at an international abolitionists convention.  When American women were denied seating and a voice equal to that of men at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840 and were confined to the gallery as silent observers, Mott met Elizabeth Cady Stanton (who attended with her husband but was not a delegate herself) and the two talked much about women’s rights and the possibility of an organized women’s rights movement.[30]  Mott and other women had been sent to London as American delegates to the convention, but were not recognized as delegates upon arrival.  The seriousness of their inferior status to men was realized when abolitionist men fighting for the rights of blacks did not believe that abolitionist women were their equals.  From this point forward, Mott’s work in the two movements would be inseparably intertwined.

Eight years after their encounter at the World Anti-Slavery Convention of 1840, Mott and Stanton’s dream of forming an organized women’s rights movement became reality.  In 1848, the first women’s rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York.[31]  The impact that this event had on American society is immeasurable; most importantly though, the convention was the impetus to the organized feminist movement.  To organize the convention, women organizers drew on skills they had acquired during the abolitionist movement.[32]  The first logical step was to promote interest in the convention.  To do this, Mott, Stanton, and others advertised in the local newspaper a meeting for women to discuss their civil, religious, and social rights.[33]  An advertisement such as this likely created a stir and an air of curiosity.  Would women be interested or offended?  Would women be afraid to come?

Despite what worries organizers may have had, more than three hundred women and men (mostly women) came.[34]  Although most of the men who attended the convention were probably there out of curiosity, the turnout of women demonstrates the sense of urgency that must have permeated Seneca Falls and the surrounding communities.  Five women, including Mott, her sister Martha Wright, and Stanton, planned the convention.[35]  However, it was Mott’s husband, James Mott, who presided over the meeting.[36]  None of the women thought that they should take on such a role because they did not know if it was proper or not.  They still were not sure if there were boundaries to what they were trying to achieve or not.

This one element of organization did not halt progress however.  The business to get on with was the making of resolutions regarding women’s rights.  These resolutions, as they were called, were goals of a sort on which the women would vote to decide if the goals should be a part of the women’s rights movement.  Lucretia Mott herself was one of the convention speakers, and one resolution she made was that women should be able to do whatever jobs they pleased.[37]  This and other resolutions were put together in a document that is today famous.  The Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions, as it was titled, was an exact analogy to the George III situation years earlier.[38]  It was fashioned after the Declaration of Independence, with an adapted Preamble, list of grievances, and a call for women’s release from the oppression of men.[39]  The act of fashioning the document after the Declaration of Independence was ingenious, for there was no better way to draw on the emotions of a young republic than to remind it of its own struggle for independence.  In addition to Mott’s proposal that women should be permitted in various vocations, other resolutions called for representation in Congress, property rights, and more liberal divorce laws, none of which seem terribly radical today.  Click here to read the Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions.[40]

However, at the time of the Seneca Falls Convention, these resolutions did indeed cause a stir.  And none caused a stir quite like the one that women’s suffrage did.  Lucretia Mott herself was not sure about the call for women’s voting rights; the issue was most controversial because it would mean that women were totally equal to men.[41]  Mott undoubtedly feared that this resolution might create so much controversy that none of the convention’s other resolutions would be taken seriously.  Even if it meant making temporary sacrifices, Mott considered it prudent to wait for a better foothold to work for such a revolutionary right.  This is in no way to say that Mott was unsure if women should be able to vote or not.  She did.  When convention attendees voted on the resolutions, the right to vote was the only one controversial; nonetheless, the voting resolution did pass with the others,[42] and over one hundred women and men signed the document of resolutions.[43] 

So what was the outcome of the Seneca Falls Convention and the Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions?  To be sure, Mott and her counterparts definitely stepped on toes.  Women attendees to the convention were criticized in newspapers for doing things deemed by men inappropriate for women.[44]  No matter the criticism, women were now well on the way to making strides for their independence.  This struggle for independence was now a formal, organized movement.  Furthermore, women now met more often to discuss women’s rights, and many local and national women’s rights organizations sprung up.  Women everywhere could take heart in and follow the example of Seneca Falls.  And this effect was almost immediate.  Only two weeks following the Seneca Falls Convention, a women’s rights meeting was held in Rochester, New York, a city larger than Seneca Falls and therefore with a larger audience than the first.[45]  At this meeting, women fully presided, and the resolution for female suffrage passed without the conflict that had occurred in Seneca Falls.[46]  Within the two weeks between these two meetings, women were already taking for themselves greater liberties than previously.  Also because of the Rochester meeting, many small-town, state, and national meetings and organizations were formed in the next decade (1850s).[47]  If Mott had done no more in the women’s rights movement, she would have at least partly spearheaded the beginning of the organized movement itself.

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[30] Young, “Women’s Place,” 317.

[31] Sigerman, Battle, 33.

[32] Goldberg, New Ground, 134.

[33] Ibid., 134.

[34] Ibid., 135.

[35] Sigerman, Battle, 34.

[36] Matthews, Struggle, 56.

[37] Ibid., 56.

[38] Ibid., 56.

[39] Sigerman, Battle, 34.

[40] Declaration of Sentiments, Close Up Foundation, 1999, Available from http://www.closeup.org/sentiment.htm, Accessed 10 February, 2001.

[41] Sigerman, Battle, 35.

[42] Goldberg, New Ground, 134-36.

[43] Young, “Women’s Place,” 318.

[44] Sigerman, Battle, 36.

[45] Papachristou, Together, 26.

[46] Ibid., 26.

[47] Ibid., 29.