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Seneca Falls Essay, Research Paper

Seneca Falls

Since the beginning of human existence, women have been viewed as inferior to men. Biblical teachings imply that the first woman came from the rib of a man. In the opinion of many people, both past and present, man is the head of the house. Patriarchal societies have dominated the world for thousands of years. Despite being regarded as subordinate human beings, forces were at work undermining such attitudes from the earliest colonial days .

In the early years of American Colonial Society, the rights, roles, and responsibilities of women swayed from one viewpoint to another. In the mid 1600s, the first question of women s rights was raised after Anne Hutchinson confronted the Puritan Church concerning the exclusion of women in church affairs. She eventually went to court and was found guilty. She was also banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

The actions taken by the Colony did not represent the beliefs that other colonies had concerning women s roles in society. The dangers of the New World, disease, Indian Wars, and westward expansion sometimes left women widowed, and having to bare her husband s responsibilities. Through the necessity of having to perform tasks outside of their domestic obligation, women obtained a high amount of respect from their male counterparts. In fact, some colonies granted women the right to vote and own property.

Women played an active role in the development of this country and its struggle for liberty (from England). Miriam Gurko calls it ironic that it was the arrival of independence and the spread of democracy that cost women their rights and labeled them second class citizens.

Due to their passive nature, they almost became non-existent. When the United States of America was formed, women did not have any form of representation. It was not until the early to mid 19th century, when many states lifted voting restrictions to include all white men while overlooking the suffrage to women, that women began to publicly protest against their being legally and politically inferior. It was only a matter of time before they would collectively meet and form the Women s Rights Movement.

Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton met for the first time in London at the World Anti-Slavery Convention of 1840. These two prominent women, along with many other females who attempted to attend the conference, were denied entrance into the meetings amongst the delegates because of their sex. In spite of their exclusion, Mott and Stanton did not let their time in London go to waste. They spent hours-discussing religion, social theories, and reform movements of the day. They also talked about women and their unjustified position in America. Many historians mark their meeting as the conception of the Women s Rights Movement in the United States. However, in the book, Ladies of Seneca Falls, Miriam Gurko notes that, the Women s Movement may have been conceived at this moment in 1840, but its actual birth was delayed for eight years.

In July of 1848, Mott and Stanton would reunite. Along with a handful of other ladies, they drafted an announcement for a Women s Rights Convention. This meeting took place on July 19-20, 1848 at the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, New York. The organizers set aside the first day for women only and opened the second day to the public. Although this was a convention for women, at that time it was unheard of for a woman to serve as a chairperson, so James Mott (husband of Lucretia) was called on to serve as chair. Mrs. Mott delivered the first speech of the meeting. She set the emotional tone that would be followed by Stanton.

Stanton began by reading the Declaration of Sentiments , an adaptation of the Declaration of Independence written by Thomas Jefferson. The organizers felt that the rights of man must include the rights of women . The women saw fit to include the words and women so that the Declaration begins by stating:

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, the 300 people in attendance voted on the Declaration and a number of other resolutions revised by Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The Declaration and all but one resolution passed. The ninth resolution stated that it is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise . The first reaction to this resolution was not favorable. Many thought that the idea of seeking suffrage would make the whole movement ridiculous. Stanton, along with Black abolitionist Frederick Douglas advocated for the passing of the ninth resolution. They felt that the power to choose rulers and make laws, was the right by which all other (demands) could be secured . A small majority eventually passed the resolution.

Historians agree that the right to vote is an impacting tool that can used to create change. Some, however, look at the ninth resolution as being brought about due to the ineffectiveness of moral suasion, or the act of urging, persuading, or convincing people to do what is right. Others have interpreted the resolution as an extension of the new radical republicanism in the 19th century, which persuaded rights for all, and the abolition of slavery.

In her interpretation of the women s suffrage movement, Lori Ginzberg observes social activism and politics. She raises a question about the Protestant theories of the 1830s and their faith that moral suasion would redeem the world . Were their ideologies rational, or would the central context change to new reform alternatives? Early on, many reformers–both women and men–doubted whether the vote could be used to advance the moral cause. Lucretia Mott was even reluctant to demand the political rights of women because she thought that moral suasion was the only path to social transformation.

The reasoning and views of people like Mott came at a time when the power of government and other institutions were far less influential on society. There was no trust in the political system. They also sought more than social change. They wanted spiritual transformation and a moral regeneration of the world to be incorporated in their cause. However, a changing nature in politics made the commitment to a non-voting position difficult.

Women began to get more involved with legislation. In 1840, women were attending political meetings and pushing moral questions in to legislation. Ginzberg states that activists increasingly framed their conception of social change in terms of electoral means and goals . The disillusionment that moral suasion would work as a tool for reform corresponded with the belief in the promise of legislative change.

Women felt the limitations of their disfranchisement especially when they wanted legislation to be passed in their favor and they would have to call on the assistance of men. As their wants and needs became more evident and confined to legislation, they saw that it was essential to extend their cause to Women s Suffrage. Due to the changing political context of the era, rather than simply a sudden awareness of the injustices of women s status , women found it central to demand for the ballot.

The political equality for women rested on the same principles that the popular republican emphasized–equal rights for all. Ellen Carol DuBois contends that the Declaration of Sentiments and its resolution s central idea stemmed from the ninth resolution. It was a protest against the denial to women of this first right of a citizen, the elective franchise, thereby leaving her without representation in the halls of legislation oppressed on all sides . She also suggested that the Women s Rights Movement was limited in the 1830s and 1840s, not because of moral suasion; but because most of the people who had a voice to advocate for the cause were men. These men had little faith in women s own capacity for reform activism .

The thought of political equality for women was a radical ideal. The movement was plagued by the fact that the political forces in support of the movement were a majority of women made it almost impossible to even imagine woman suffrage. The belief that women could argue in favor of the proposition that they are entitled to the same political rights as men were usually advocates of the abolition of slavery. The abolitionism movements of mid 19th century were radical and provided women with a sense of self-assertion. As demands for women s suffrage became linked with the Republican tradition, some women sought more independence. DuBois notes that at the Women s Rights Convention of 1851, three years after Seneca Falls, a statement was made, the right of suffrage for women is, in our opinion the cornerstone of this enterprise since we do not seek to protect woman, but rather to place her in a position to protect herself . Individual self-development became an important theme at the Women s Rights Conventions.

In DuBois interpretation, the combination of a venerable republican heritage and the ability women had to express the growing desire for independence attracted supports to the fight for women s suffrage. For DuBois, the ninth resolution and the focus on political equality did not have an adverse affect like some fear and narrow the Women s Right Movement but it enlarged it .

In a biography written about Elizabeth Cady Stanton there is a point when Stanton recalls the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848. In letters placed in the book she states the struggle of getting the ninth resolution passed. Even in her position Stanton understood that the movement would have a strong impact on American society. From the press to the pulpit, many people were discussing the Declaration and persecuting the movement. In a letter written to Lucretia Mott, Stanton responds to an editorial that stated, The New York girls desire to mount the rostrum to do all the voting. Stanton replies with confidence that the suffrage movement would lead to success.

During the 1850 s women began to speak out in increasing numbers on their rights and freedoms. During his time America was expanding. Industrial development created new jobs and a growing labor force. 24 percent of this total, of close to one million Americans, were women. Between 1840 and 1860 the textile industry s consumption of cotton quadrupled. By the Civil War industrial output totals reached 2 billion dollars. Women began to realize their influence on the economic growth of the country.

The movement was negatively effected in 1869 when it broke into two rival organizations. Advocates on the issue of woman s right found that they lacked the effectiveness of a united force. The events preceding the split incorporated Conventions, and a unified group of women dedicated to the cause. In 1865 the American Equal Rights Association was formed. By 1869 the organization broke off into two associations, The National Woman Suffrage Association, organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Lucy Stone would assemble the American Woman Suffrage Association in November of 1869.

The split was mostly over the support of the Fifteenth Amendment. Stanton and Anthony had felt betrayed. They had worked as abolitionist as well as feminist. They were apauld at the suffrage of black and they began a anti-Fifteenth Amendment campaign. The campaign brought about a war of words. Susan B. Anthony once said, If the entire people could not have suffrage, then it must go to the most intelligent first .Intelligence, justice, and morality, are to have precedence in the Government, let the question of woman be brought up first and that of the Negro last.

The divide in the movement would last until 1890 when Stanton brought the two groups back together. The new group would be known as the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). The amendment says, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” Women now its main goal was to induce individual states to give the vote to women. The two organizations united in 1890 to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association.

The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and other organizations also made woman suffrage a goal. During the early 1900’s, a new generation of leaders brought a fresh spirit to the woman suffrage movement. Some of them, including Carrie Chapman Catt and Maud Wood Park, were skilled organizers who received much of their support from middle-class women. These leaders stressed organizing in every congressional district and lobbying in the nation’s capital. Other leaders, including Lucy Burns, Alice Paul, and Stanton’s daughter Harriot E. Blatch, appealed to young people, radicals, and working-class women. This group of leaders devoted most of their efforts to marches, picketing, and other active forms of protest. Paul and her followers even chained themselves to the White House fence. The suffragists were often arrested and sent to jail, where many of them went on hunger strikes.

Action had to be taken by individual states. In 1869, the Territory of Wyoming gave women the right to vote. The Utah Territory did so a year later. Wyoming entered the Union in 1890 and became the first state with woman suffrage. Colorado adopted woman suffrage in 1893, and Idaho in 1896. By 1920, 15 states–most of them in the West–had granted full voting privileges to women. Twelve other states allowed women to vote in presidential elections, and two states let them vote in primary elections.

A woman suffrage amendment was first introduced in Congress in 1878. It failed to pass but was reintroduced in every session of Congress for the next 40 years. During World War I (1914-1918), the contributions of women to the war effort increased support for a suffrage amendment. In 1918, the House of Representatives held another vote on the issue. Spectators packed the galleries, and several congressmen came to vote despite illness. One congressman was brought in on a stretcher. Representative Frederick C. Hicks of New York left his wife’s deathbed–at her request–to vote for the amendment. The House approved the amendment, but the Senate defeated it. In 1919, the Senate finally passed the 19 Amendment and sent it to the states for approval. By late August 1920, the required number of states had the right to vote.

Through the reasearch of this paper I have found a new appreciation and a better understanding of the women s suffrage movement. The two interpretations given by DuBois and Ginzber are two different points of views. There is not one real right answer to what sparked the ninth resolution and the demand by women for their right to voter, but rather it is a combination of events and Ideas.

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