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The American women’s rights movement began with a meeting of reformers in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. Out of that first convention came a historic document, the ‘Declaration of Sentiments,’ which demanded equal social status and legal rights for women, including the right to vote.

Purpose of the Convention

The first convention for women’s rights in the United States was held in Seneca Falls, New York, from July 19-20, 1848. More than 300 people attended this meeting devoted exclusively to addressing the status of American women who, according to organizer Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902), ‘do feel themselves aggrieved, oppressed, and fraudulently deprived of their most sacred rights.

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‘ Stanton and Lucretia Mott (1793-1880) were the main organizers of the convention. Stanton was primarily responsible for the writing and presentation of the Declaration of Sentiments.The Declaration of Sentiments was a list of resolutions and grievances which included demands for a woman’s right to education, property, a profession, and the vote. At the close of the convention, 100 individuals (68 women and 32 men) signed the Declaration of Sentiments, including abolitionist Frederick Douglass.

Key Events

The first day of the Seneca Falls Convention was set aside for women speakers only, although several men attended the meeting.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton read a draft of the Declaration of Sentiments and the women discussed and made changes to the resolutions. Both Stanton and Mott gave speeches that helped define the women’s new cause.On the second day, even more people attended and participated, both men and women. Lucretia Mott’s husband, James Mott (an anti-slavery activist), served as chair of the day’s meeting.

Stanton again read the revised Declaration of Sentiments and the final version was submitted for signatures. Not all who attended the convention signed the declaration. There were just 100 signatures from among the estimated 300 who were present and heard it read. Even among reformers interested enough to attend the convention, there was still some reluctance about the full scope of women’s rights.

Lucretia and James Mott were active in the abolitionist and womens rights reform movements.

Lucretia and James Mott

The issue of women demanding the vote was considered especially radical in 1848 and was the most debated issue at the meeting. After the resolutions in the Declaration of Sentiments were accepted and signatures gathered, both men and women gave speeches to end the convention.

Significance

The American women’s movement grew directly out of the anti-slavery (or abolitionist) movement of the 1830s and 1840s.

In 1840, reformers Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Henry Stanton attended the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London on their honeymoon. A debate broke out about whether female delegates should participate in the convention. In the end, the women were not permitted to speak or vote on resolutions. This experience convinced Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her friend Lucretia Mott, who also attended the London convention, of the need to address ‘the present condition of woman.’ Before 1848, Stanton, Mott, and other reformers had been active in the anti-slavery movement and had also worked to support married women’s property rights in New York.

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