The Crooked Lake Review

Fall 2005

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Saints, Sinners and Reformers

The Burned-Over District Re-Visited


John H. Martin

Table of Contents of Saints, Sinners and Reformers

Chapter 13

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony

Women's Rights

Seneca Falls on the Ontario Plain of western New York State is a delightful, small town, but it is hardly one which would be expected to be the site of the beginning of a social revolution. Such it was to become in 1848, that momentous year when revolutions of a bloodier kind were occurring throughout Europe.

It might not have happened that early if it had not been for one spunky young woman whose education and abilities marked her as a remarkable individual. This was at a time when women, their abilities, and their stance in society were constantly downgraded by men, women, the law, the church, and Christian theology. It might not have happened in Seneca Falls, New York, if in March of 1843, five years earlier, some sixty individuals had not split from the Methodist Episcopal Church to form the first Wesleyan Methodist Society of Seneca Falls. This split from the Methodist Episcopal Church was not peculiar to Seneca Falls, for it was occurring throughout the Methodist churches of the northern United States. These new societies were being created in opposition to the main Methodist Church's refusal to face the issue of slavery squarely or the other new, growing reform movements in secular society. Among these reform movements were those of abolition, temperance, and women's rights.

Thus a small Wesleyan Methodist chapel was built in Seneca Falls at the corner of Fall and Mynderse Streets, and it was dedicated in 1843. Not only was the chapel to be used for religious services, but it was open to all speakers interested in reform, and there was no charge for the use of the building by enlightened groups. Many prominent speakers, among them Frederick Douglas, were to speak here. Moreover, the Free Soil Party of Seneca Falls was organized within its walls.

The spunky young woman who was to spark this social revolution was Elizabeth Cady who was to become Elizabeth Cady Stanton after her marriage. She was born in Johnstown, New York, in the Mohawk Valley to the west of Albany. Her father, Judge Cady, was a lawyer whose office was attached to their home, and young Elizabeth was fascinated by some of the cases she overheard discussed in his office. At a very young age she learned of the legal disabilities under which women existed at the time. Under the old English Common Law and Blackstone's Commentaries, women had no real civil rights. Their husbands controlled all legal aspects of their lives, and all rights lay in their husband's hands. A husband could whip his wife or lock her up with impunity. Not only could women not vote, but they could not even control their own earnings or hold property in their own right. Women had no right to enter into contracts, to sell, or to bequeath anything. They could not go to college or enter the professions. A woman's place was in the home, and, according to Christian theology based on the New Testament, women were inferior to men and were not to be heard in public. If divorce were to occur, the children and all property belonged to the husband. A widow was often faced with destitution upon her husband's death since she was left with no legacy or property under the law—since these devolved upon a son or a male relative.

As a child this seemed unfair to Elizabeth, and the mark it made upon her impressionable young mind was to fashion her later life.

Elizabeth's older brother Eleazar, the only son in the family, was the apple of his father's eye. Eleazar's graduation from Union College was a high point in his father's pride, quickly to be dashed by the young man's unexpected illness and death soon after graduation. Judge Cady was crushed by the death of his only son, and Elizabeth never forgot her father's comment to her, "If only you were a boy!" This lament was caused by the father's realization that no girl could ever achieve the intellectual, political, or social success which a boy could reach. Her father did not know, however, of the steel in the character of this ebullient and buoyant young girl. Her father's comment was a challenge to Elizabeth, and she was determined that she would be the equal of any man.

Studying under a well-educated local minister, Elizabeth soon mastered classical Greek, surpassing all the boys in the local Johnstown Academy with her ability. In 1831, the opportunity for a young girl to achieve a college education was nil since colleges only accepted male candidates. Elmira College in Elmira, New York, the first college for women in New York State, was not founded until 1855. Fortunately, Emma Willard had opened her Female Seminary in Troy, New York, and Elizabeth was able to prevail upon her father to send her to this institution of further learning, albeit it was not a college. One of the areas in which Elizabeth excelled while at the seminary was in writing, an ability which she was to employ with the greatest of skill in her future years on behalf of women's rights.

The Gerrit Smith family was related to the Cadys, and Elizabeth was fond of her cousins in the Smith family, often visiting them in Peterboro to the south of Utica and Syracuse. Whereas Judge Cady was politically conservative, Gerrit Smith was one of the more radical New Yorkers of the day. He was active in the revivalist movement of mid-century as well as the temperance and the abolitionist movements. His home was a frequent stop on the underground railroad which smuggled slaves from the South to Canada and to freedom. It was at the Smith home that Elizabeth had her first encounter with a fugitive slave whom the Smiths were hiding on her way to Canada. This encounter, which was to add to Elizabeth's growing social consciousness, in time would lead her to help Harriet Tubman by hiding runaway slaves in her own home in Seneca Falls.

It was by chance that through the Gerrit Smith's Elizabeth was to meet young Henry Stanton who was active in the anti-slavery movement and the new political Liberty Party in New York State. Henry did not meet with Elizabeth's father's approval since Judge Cady was opposed to those working in the anti-slavery cause and the breaking of United States laws concerning property rights. Slaves were property under U.S. laws and thus were not human beings, and Judge Cady would uphold U.S. laws. Be that as it may, on May 1, 1840, Elizabeth and Henry Stanton eloped, and eleven days later they were on their way to England on their honeymoon. Elizabeth had married without her father's consent, a breach of all custom at the time. Moreover, she had seen to it that the word "obey" was omitted from the wedding vows since she and her husband were to be equals in contra-distinction to standard Christian usage. The choice of England for their honeymoon came about since Henry was a delegate in the 1840 World Anti-Slavery convention in London.

Anti-slavery as a cause may have been a radical movement in 1840, but in London the men in charge of and attending the convention were conservative in many of their other attitudes. No woman was permitted to be seated with the delegates, nor would a woman be permitted to speak at the sessions. Women were relegated to a balcony where they could see but not be seen nor heard by the delegates. Elizabeth was incensed at this slight, as was William Lloyd Garrison, who, in protest, moved to sit with the women in their segregated area. This leading proponent of the anti-slavery cause was to be a great disappointment to Elizabeth in time, for he refused in the years after the Civil War to back a woman's right to vote.

One of the women seated near Elizabeth in the balcony at the convention was the noted liberal (radical in those days) Quaker, Lucretia Mott, twenty years the senior of Elizabeth. Lucretia Coffin Mott (1796-1880) was one of the foremost active and successful reformers and lecturers of the nineteenth century, a time when women did not speak publicly. A devout Quaker, Lucretia attributed to divine intervention her courage in the face of constant rebuffs she suffered due to her advanced social stands and her eloquence in speaking. Lucretia, as a Quaker, believed that the Divine was in every human being, and that everyone was therefore equal, regardless of race, sex, or class. This was not a position acceptable to the society of her day, to Christian churches—or even to many conservative Quakers.

Lucretia Coffin was born on Nantucket Island, and she began school at four years of age. She was later to study as a prize student in the Quaker "Nine Partners" boarding school in Dutchess County in New York, and she was so capable a student that she was invited to join the faculty upon her graduation. Lucretia met another young teacher at the school, James Mott, and they were married in 1811 in Philadelphia in an unusual marriage for the time. It was to be a marriage of equals in which the wife was not subordinate to her husband. James and Lucretia Mott both took leadership in their Quaker meeting, and by 1821 Lucretia was chosen as a major figure within the meeting, despite her youth. She soon became noted throughout the northeast for her lectures on religious and social issues, and this was to lead to a break with the main Quaker movement.

The Quaker meetings at this time were often split over the issue of slavery, some members feeling that it was not a topic to be of concern to religious organizations. In 1827 the more liberal Quakers, under the leadership of Elias Hicks of Long Island, had broken with the orthodox Quakers over the issue of slavery. The Motts joined the Hicksite group, and as a result both were thereby expelled from the major Quaker denomination. Unabashed, in 1833 Lucretia met with the local abolitionist women, black and white, to form the Philadelphia Anti-Slavery Society. The white community was mortified not only by a woman's group dedicated to social problems, but by its inter-racial nature. This in no way stopped Lucretia in her work.

Lucretia and seven other women representing female anti-slavery societies attended the London Anti-Slavery Convention of 1840—and they were excluded from participation in the meeting simply because they were female. Upset with the proceedings of this convention which were so discriminatory, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott left the convention and took long walks in London. They therefore come to know and sympathize with each other in their advanced views. Elizabeth had immediately felt a kinship with Lucretia upon their meeting, and the Quaker attitudes of Lucretia and other members of the Society of Friends no doubt affected Elizabeth's religious outlook. It was an outlook which was to grow more liberal with the years and to move her away from the standard Christianity of her day. Now, during their London walks, Elizabeth's conscience was challenged by this affront to women. "We shall hold a convention," Elizabeth told Lucretia Mott, "in the United States to organize for women's rights."

Back in the United States, Judge Cady relented and was reconciled to Elizabeth and her new husband, and Henry proceeded to study law under Judge Cady. The couple thereafter moved to Boston where the Stantons became active in the reform movements of the time. Henry's health, however, was to force them to leave the metropolis for the far more tranquil, small town of Seneca Falls in New York. By 1847 the couple were settled in Seneca Falls in a house bought for them by Judge Cady, and here they began to raise the three children they already had. Elizabeth eventually gave birth to five boys and two girls.

Elizabeth scandalized her Seneca Falls neighbors by some of her activities—including the raising of the flag in front of their house each time a new baby was born. Life was not always easy for Elizabeth since Henry had to travel a great deal on behalf of the Liberty Party and the Anti-Slavery Movement. The Stantons had come to a tiny town far from the more cosmopolitan Boston with its intellectual liveliness which Elizabeth had greatly enjoyed. Here in Seneca Falls she was confined with her growing family to a house outside of a village which was just beginning to see the development of mills and an industrial working-class society.

Elizabeth had her own ideas as to how children should be raised, and she would have none of the traditional nonsense of swaddling newborns. Her children were not to be bound but were to be free to kick and move as free individuals, for they were individuals, even if only babies. They were a handful as they grew. One time Elizabeth found the youngest child, eighteen-months-old Theodore, floating in the river, his older brothers having tied corks to him on the theory that he would be able to float in the water. Another time she found the baby astride the crest of the roof where his brothers had placed him.

The Stantons had only been in Seneca Falls a year when Elizabeth received an invitation to tea at the home of Jane Hunt, a member of a Quaker family in the nearby town of Waterloo. Also present were Jane Hunt's cousin Mary Ann M'Clintock, Martha Coffin Wright, and Martha's sister Lucretia Coffin Mott. The latter was here for an annual session of the local Quaker meeting. A discussion of the problems women faced due to the unequal laws and discriminatory policies by church, society, and government followed. Before the tea party had ended, Elizabeth was quick to remind Lucretia Mott of the sentiment they had arrived at eight years previously in London — to have a women's convention in America. Out of the discussion which ensued at that tea party came the decision to hold just such a women's convention and to issue a "Women's Declaration of Independence." It would be similar to the one agreed upon in Philadelphia three-quarters of a century previously by the founders of the new United States. Elizabeth, of course, would write that declaration.

A week later the group of five women met at Mary Ann M'Clintock's house in Waterloo, New York. The Hunts and M'Clintocks were active in the more radical Hicksite Quaker meetings in the Waterloo area, and it was that branch of Quakerism which was adamant in its stance that women were equal to men in all spiritual and mental qualities. In time, even the Hicksite branch of Quakerism seemed too tame to these two families, and they soon formed the ultra-liberal Congregational or Progressive Friends. Their emphasis was on practical reformation rather than the unity of doctrine or belief. For them, the improving and elevating of the human condition was much more important than quibbling over theological or liturgical details which were usually no more than nonsensical.

At the M'Clintock house, the five women went over Elizabeth's "Declaration of Sentiments" to reach agreement as to its final form. It was radical in its intent since it demanded equal rights for women in education, property holding, voting, and access to better job opportunities and the ministry. On July 14, 1848, the women published an announcement in the Seneca Falls Courier announcing a women's convention to be held at the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Seneca Falls on July 19-20, 1848, less than one week away. The Wesleyan Methodists, as previously noted, were liberal enough in their outlook to open their hall to dissenting voices without charge. This was a stand the more generally conservative churches eschewed; freedom of thought, particularly for women, was not a tenet of Christian churches, and their negation of such women's actions was a doctrine they could base on the writings of Paul in the New Testament.

Lucretia Mott's husband agreed to chair the meeting since the idea of a woman chairing a meeting simply was not acceptable to the public at the time. Thirty-two year old Elizabeth Cady Stanton was the prime speaker who presented a "Declaration of Rights and Sentiments." Her "Declaration" began in a familiar manner, but with an addition: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal…" What no doubt shocked her listeners the most was Elizabeth's demand that women have the right to vote.

Two other speakers at the convention were Lucretia Mott and Frederick Douglas, and they backed Elizabeth in her sentiments as expressed in this Declaration. That Frederick Douglas, who is best known as one of the more important abolitionist lecturers, was involved with women's rights may come as a surprise. Elizabeth and Frederick had first met in Boston in 1843, and they continued to meet and exchange ideas over the next half a century. In preparation for the Seneca Falls Convention, Frederic and Elizabeth met to discuss the issues to be addressed, and his advice helped her to shape her demand in the "Declaration of Sentiments" for the right of women to be able to vote. The highly controversial suffrage proposal passed by a slim majority, due to Elizabeth's efforts and Frederick's support. It was he who not only attended the convention from his Rochester home, but it was he who seconded her motion. Then he gave an impassioned speech to back Elizabeth's assertion that the power to choose the rulers and to make laws was the right by which all other rights could be secured. Of the three hundred present at the Convention, primarily Quakers, only sixty-eight women and thirty men signed the "Declaration of Sentiments." A number of women signers later recanted once their husbands found out that they had signed the "Declaration."

Douglas was later to disappoint Elizabeth when he refused to include both men and women, white and black, in the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution which permitted black men to vote. This forced the women's rights supporters to turn to the Democratic Party for support for their cause since there was no hope for their cause within the Republican Party which was courting the male black vote. Once the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution was passed, Douglas returned to the cause of women's rights, always referring to the start of the cause at the Seneca Falls Convention and giving full credit to Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott for their pioneering and daring work.

One of those present at the convention was twenty-eight year old Susan B. Anthony who was most impressed by the provocative and forthright young woman who had read the "Declaration." It would be three more years before they would formally meet, and a friendship develop in which they complemented each other in the future battle for women's rights. The goal they desired would not be achieved until a number of years after their deaths, but they began the battle which had to be fought, despite the disdain of the political forces of the nation. It is interesting to note that after 1865 the new Republican Party, which had helped to abolish slavery, continued to turn a deaf ear to all attempts to abolish women's serfdom before the law, particularly the demand of women for the right to vote.

Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton complemented each other in their different ways, Elizabeth was the verbal, literary force behind the new demands by women for their rights before the law. In fact, she wrote many of the public speeches which Susan B. Anthony was to give in the years ahead. Susan B. Anthony, on the other hand, had the physical drive and determination which led her to appear in lecture halls across the breadth and depth of the nation to speak on behalf of women's rights. She had a single-mindedness of purpose which a single woman, unencumbered by children and a family, could give to the cause. In many ways, Susan B. Anthony was ultimately a far more conservative individual than Elizabeth, which Elizabeth was later to recognize. Elizabeth later remarked that Susan seemed to grow more conservative with the years, whereas Elizabeth recognized her own growing radicalness. The two always remained close friends, although they departed on such elements as Elizabeth's condemnation of the church and Christianity for its almost two millennia of seeing women as a lower order of being than men.

Elizabeth's skepticism as to the claims of Christian theology can best be seen in "The Woman's Bible" which she edited, refuting the invalid claims of the Bible as to women's status in the world. This was an area in which Susan could not follow Elizabeth. Perhaps the difference between the two women can best be seen in their last meeting in their old age. It was obvious that the widowed Elizabeth did not have much more time to live, and Susan grew quite tearful at their parting. "Shall I see you again?" asked Susan in tears. In her ever realistic, and often slyly, dry manner, Elizabeth answered, ""Oh, yes. If not here, then in the hereafter, if there is one. And if there isn't, we shall never know it."

In 1851 Elizabeth's cousin Libby Smith Miller (Gerrit Smith's daughter) visited the Stantons in Seneca Falls, and Elizabeth was much taken with the clothing her cousin had designed and wore. It consisted of a pair of trousers with a short skirt over it. Instead of reaching to the floor, the skirt stopped midway between the ankles and the knees. The ease with which Libby could carry one of the children upstairs in one arm with an oil lamp in her free hand, without having to fuss with the holding up of her skirt on the steps at the same time, was a revelation of how comfortable and practical a woman's garb could be. Elizabeth immediately adopted this new dress approach, despite the jeers by men and boys and the disapproval of her neighbors in town. In time she stopped dressing in the new style on the lecture platform when she found that her garb drew more attention than what she said for women's rights. The new mode was taken up by another progressive woman in Seneca Falls, Amelia Bloomer, and the garb became known by Amelia's last name thereafter, whereas it was Libby Smith Miller who should rightly be given the credit for what became known as the "Bloomer style" of dress. This was not the end to Elizabeth Stanton's experimentation with modern living. She even had her hair "bobbed," cut short, so as not to have to fuss with long hair, despite the Biblical injunction against women's short hair by St. Paul. This new hair style would not become common among women for another seventy years.

Now that Elizabeth and Susan Anthony had met, they began to collaborate on ideas as to how to forward the demand for women's rights. Susan made frequent trips from her home in Rochester to Seneca Falls, and she almost became a part of the Stanton family in helping with the Stanton children. Susan constantly pushed Elizabeth to take a more active part in the work for women's rights, not an easy task for a woman raising a family of seven children. At first Elizabeth confined most of her efforts into writing the speeches for Susan, and this enabled Susan to become the outgoing and determined heckler of the men's world in the cause of women's rights. In 1854 Susan finally convinced Elizabeth of the need for her to speak on behalf of the cause before a joint judiciary committee of the New York State legislature.

This was an unheard of event, for a woman never appeared before the legislature to address these elected officials—men elected solely by men. Elizabeth appeared bearing a petition signed by 6,000 individuals, petitioning the State legislature for the right of women to control their own earnings, the guardianship of their children in the event of a divorce, and the right to vote. All these rights were being denied them under State law and religious teachings, Elizabeth also pointed out that the laws taxed an unmarried woman's earnings while denying her representation in government, a case of "no taxation without representation"—a statement which had been the rallying cry heard in years past when Americans had risen in revolt against British legislation over the colonies. She also indicated that the income of slaves could not be taxed, while the income of a woman was taxed. Susan B. Anthony had 50,000 copies of Elizabeth's speech printed. The Legislature, however, still refused to act. Obviously Susan and Elizabeth were still far in advance of public opinion and public realities.

Unrepentant at the rebuffs being suffered for her ideas, later in 1886 Elizabeth decided to run for Congress since the United States Constitution did not specify that only men could run. She knew she had no chance of winning, but the point was to keep the issue of women's rights to the fore. Elizabeth did speak at the Women's Rights Convention in the 1880s, and she shocked even this then considered radical group since she demanded the right for a woman to divorce her husband when a marriage was no longer tenable. She re-defined marriage as a civil contract, subject to the restraints and privileges of all other contracts. She thus demoted marriage from a sacred, religious act of the church to a civil function by raising both marriage and divorce to a civil, contractual right. "The right of marriage is at the foundation of all reforms," she announced. This view was to become law eventually, but it was still too radical for its own day. Elizabeth, by her declaration, made plain that she had transcended the personalized, pietistic morality of women's married life. She thus separated marriage and the family from the legal and spiritual control of the church and religion—and from man's inalienable control of wives as chattel beyond the protection of the law. Her stance shocked not only the women present at the Convention but also those men who had been thought to be in the forefront of the liberal movements of their day. William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Philips, both of Boston, that hub of advanced ideas at that time, turned against Elizabeth on this score. They were to help in turning the newly established Republican Party against women's rights, a plank which many women feel has remained in its polity.

In 1867 Elizabeth and Susan traveled to Kansas to speak in favor of giving the ballot to Negroes and to women in that state. They were a curious sight since women were not supposed to speak in public, but they spoke often and forcibly, and this was considered a major act of defiance by women. In Kansas the Republican Party fought their views and saw to the defeat of the widening of enfranchisement of women and Negroes.

In Britain, where the same battle was being fought, there was more hope for women's rights than in the United States. In 1870 British women obtained the legal right to keep their own earnings instead of having them legally appropriated by their husbands. The United States was not yet this forward looking. Later Elizabeth was to journey to England where one of her grown daughters lived for a time, and she could see the trials being endured by the women of the British women's rights movement. She also spent some time in France where a grown son was at work. Here she saw the hopelessness of the situation for French women who were faced with the total opposition to women's rights by the Catholic Church, the former aristocracy of the right, and even by the more democratic forces in the nation.

Despite the failure in Kansas and then one in California in 1871 for the right of women to vote in State elections, the two women worked together for women's rights for fifty years. There were growing differences in their approach to life and to the questions of polity, and this can be seen in the way they addressed each other. Elizabeth always addressed Susan as "Susan," whereas Susan always addressed Elizabeth as "Mrs. Stanton." It was obvious that the two women were getting nowhere with the major political party of the day, the Republican Party, or the men who controlled it. Thus in 1869 the two women formed an organization in New York City to which women alone could belong, "The National Women's Association." They also started a new publication dedicated to women's rights, and, true to their intent, they called the new publication "The Revolution." Its slogan was "Men, their rights, and nothing more: women, their rights, and nothing less." This was too strong for Lucy Stone, a staunch advocate of women's rights, or for Henry Ward Beecher, one of the leading ministers of the day. They in turn, in Boston on July 4, 1876, formed the "American Women's Suffrage Association." Men and women could belong to their organization, and its approach would be more moderate so as not to alienate the men in political power in the Republican Party. In time, common sense prevailed, and the two organizations joined in 1890. Yet within the next twenty years, by 1910, only Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and Idaho had granted women the right to vote in State elections. Susan B. Anthony went right to the top for the cause, meeting with President Theodore Roosevelt to push for women's right to vote. Roosevelt and his party turned a deaf ear to her pleas.

Despite the opposition of Lucy Stone and even Horace Greeley to many of her ideas, Elizabeth brought them together in her parlor in New Jersey where the Stantons had moved due to Henry's business ties in New York City. Elizabeth had a new idea which she wished to push—a plan for a co-educational college. Even Harvard and Columbia University had trouble with that concept in the late twentieth century, one hundred years later. In the 1880s, in the Stanton home in Tenafly, New Jersey, Elizabeth, with the help of Susan, began what was to become a three-volume work entitled The History of Women's Suffrage. A touchstone of the times can be seen in the fact that in 1885, at the Women's Suffrage Convention, some of her listeners were still shocked by Elizabeth's assertion that women should be able to vote not only in State elections but in Federal elections.

Elizabeth was correct in her own earlier estimation that she was becoming more radical with the years. What she saw as the great opponents to the rights of women were the Christian churches and Christianity itself. When one perused the Bible, it constantly made women inferior to men, and the tradition of male dominated Christian religion through the centuries only confirmed this ingrown prejudice in the Christian and Jewish religions. Thus in 1896 in her eightieth year, Elisabeth published The Woman's Bible in which she annotated those passages in the Bible which she found objectionable and irreligious in the broadest sense. This was a bold stance in Victorian America, but the book quickly became a best seller.

In her later years Elizabeth became blind, and Susan often came to visit her in New Jersey. It was at their last meeting when Elizabeth was eighty-six that Susan had asked in tears if they would meet again. Susan announced as they parted that she would return for Elizabeth's eighty-seventh birthday that November. Elizabeth, however, died on October 26, 1902. Their friendship was symbolized at Elizabeth's funeral, for the flower-bedecked casket had atop it a picture of Susan B. Anthony, her beloved friend.

The story does not end here. In 1902, on her mother's death, Elizabeth's daughter Harriot Stanton Blatch returned from England where she had been living. Four years later she began an even more radical movement, "The Equality League of Self-Supporting Women," an organization meant to appeal to working-class women. That same year the organization opened its office in New York City, and one of the speakers at the first meeting was Theodore Stanton, returned from Paris where he had been working. He was the one-time, eighteen-month-old who had been set afloat in the Seneca River years before by his brothers with corks on his arms to support their theory that one could float in such a condition.

Then on the sixtieth anniversary of the first women's convention in Seneca Falls, Harriot Stanton Blatch and a group of women placed a plaque on the southeast corner of the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel building, no longer a chapel. This commemorated the beginning of the revolt by Lucretia Coffin Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton against the political, legal, and religious degradation of women as equal individuals and citizens. They were able to recall the morning of July 19, 1848, when the streets of the small village of Seneca Falls were crowded with people making their way to the Wesleyan Chapel to attend the Women's Rights Convention. They recalled as well that so many appeared, before the doors of the chapel were unlocked, that Elizabeth Cady Stanton's nephew was lifted through an open window to unlock the doors to permit access to the building so the convention could begin.

Then in 1915 the "Women's Political League," a militant group to which Harriot Stanton Blatch belonged, held a "Grandmother's Day." Its highlight was to be the appearance of Elizabeth Cady Stanton's family: daughter Harriot, grand-daughter Nora Blatch DeForest, and great-grand-daughter Harriot Stanton Blatch DeForest. Their appearance, unfortunately, had to be cancelled at the last moment since the youngest member had come down with chicken pox.

Harriot's daughter carried on the tradition, becoming one of the first women to become a civil engineer, her daughter in turn became an architect. Harriot's grand-daughter, one of those responsible for having the monument to the pioneers of women's rights moved to its proper place in the Congress in 1966 (see below), is an elected official in Greenwich, Connecticut. Her grand-daughter's thirteen-year-old daughter and her mother and grandmother participated in the 150th anniversary of the Women's Convention in Seneca Falls when Hilary Rodham Clinton spoke at the re-dedication of the Historic Park in 1998.

On November 7, 1917, New York State finally granted women suffrage within the State. It was not until August 18, 1920, that Tennessee became the thirty-sixth State to pass the nineteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution which granted women the right to vote in national elections. Even then, the measure passed by one vote, a vote cast by twenty-five year old Harry Burn, an opponent of women's suffrage. In his pocket was a letter from his mother which read, "Hurray, and vote for suffrage. Don't forget to be a good boy." He later defended his vote with the statement, "A mother's advice is safest for her boy to follow."

So ended a seventy-two year struggle, long after its initial participants had passed from the scene. The battle for women's rights still continues in legislative halls, in many churches (the Southern Baptists still insist that women should be subordinate to men, as the Bible states), and among politicians striving for votes, then as now. One symbol of the continuing struggle can be remarked upon: At the end of September 1966, a controversy finally came to an end, a controversy which began in 1921, when the all-male Congress welcomed a nine-ton statue of Lucretia Mott, Susan B., Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton to the Rotunda of the U.S. Congress. The 1966 Congress was finally approving the permanent move of the statue of the three women to the Rotunda of the capitol Building, moving it from the dark crypt to which it had been relegated two days after it had been welcomed to the halls of Congress in 1921. Votes in 1928, 1932, and 1950 had kept the statue in the basement. The only statue of a female in the Rotunda had been that of the "Baptism of Pocahontas," hardly a major event in the annals of American history. A survey of statues commemorating Americans of note indicates that only forty outdoor statues of American women exist, and five of these portray the female Indian guide of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Today Seneca Falls is honored with the Women's Rights National Historical Park. The original Wesleyan Chapel has gone through many vicissitudes through the years. It has been an opera house, a movie theater, an automobile garage, an apartment building, a self-service laundromat. In 1985 the National Park Service purchased the derelict building and stripped it of its accretions through the years. Today it is a shell of its original being, but it still commemorates the actions of a brave and rather small group of women and men who gathered here in July of 1848. An adjacent park has a one-hundred-and-forty-foot waterfall which has inscribed on its walls "The Declaration of Sentiments" which Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote and first read here more than 150 years ago. Adjacent is the former Town Hall, a multi-story building which has been transformed into a museum of the struggle for women's rights through the years.

Elizabeth and Henry Stanton's house at 32 Washington Street has been restored to its 1848 status and is now a portion of the National Historic Park. In addition, in neighboring Waterloo, the home of Jane and Richard Hunt at 401 East Main Street still stands and now, too, has been made a portion of the Historic Park. It was here that Elizabeth had tea with four Quaker ladies, Jane Hunt, Lucretia Coffin Mott, Mary Ann M'Clintock, and Martha Coffin Wright, a tea which led to the Women's Rights Movement. The M'Clintock house at 16 East William Street in Waterloo where the "Declaration of Sentiments" was agreed upon is now a portion, as well, of the National Historic Women's Rights Park. It continues to illustrate the intimate connection between Quaker reform and Women's Rights activism. Also of interest in Seneca Falls is the former home of Amelia Bloomer, the woman who is credited with the invention of the revolutionary and one-time shocking "Bloomer" costume. It is at 53 Bayard Street, but it remains in private hands.

Perhaps one last statement should be made about Lucretia Mott as a Quaker and a pacifist who believed in a non-violent solution to problems and who was naturally opposed to the Civil War. Both before and after the war she preached continuously about poverty and the plight of poor working people. She was concerned about the rights of the American Indians, and she continually opposed white aggression against Indian tribes and their lands, a continuing problem in American history. In 1866 she became the first president of the "American Equal Rights Association," an inter-racial group organized to work for the right to vote by both women and black men. Despite attacks on her beliefs, she never stopped working against injustice, of which for her, the Women's Rights Movement was but one aspect of the need to challenge prejudice and intolerance wherever it occurred.

Table of Contents of Saints, Sinners and Reformers
© 2005, John H. Martin

Further Readings

Barry, Kathleen. Susan B. Anthony, A Biography. New York University Press. New York. 1988.

Bacon, Margaret. Valiant Friend: The Life of Lucretia Mott. Walker. New York. 1980.

Banner, Lois. Elizabeth Cady Stanton: A Radical for Women's Rights. Little, Brown. Boston. 1980.

Fuller, Margaret. Women in the Ninetenth Century. A reprint of the 1845 edition. W.W. Norton. New York 1971.

Lutz, Alma. Created Equal: A Biography of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 1815-1902. John Day. New York. 1940.

Melder, Keith. Beginnings of Sisterhood: the American Women's Rights Movement, 1800-1850. Shocker. New York. 1977.

Scott, Anne and Andrew Scott. One-Half the People: The Fight For Women's Suffrage. University of Illinois Press. Chicago. 1975

Stanton, Elizabeth Cady. Eighty Years and More: Reminiscences 1851-1897. Reprint by Shocker. New York. 1971.

Stanton, Elizabeth Cady. The Woman's Bible. 1898. Reprint by the Coalition Task Force on Women and Religion. Seattle. 1974.

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