Women be silent

On July 13, 1848, Elizabeth Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and several other women decided to hold their women’s convention in Seneca Falls, NY. Lucretia Mott was the principal organizer of the Convention; Elizabeth Cady Stanton was its driving intellect.

On the morning of July 19, 1848, the bumpy roads around Seneca Falls, NY, were crowded with carts and horses coming to the Wesleyan Church. The Convention that began the journey for American women’s suffrage was opened by a man so as not to offend public sensibility. Stanton’s father travelled to Seneca Falls fearing his daughter had gone insane, while his eldest daughter wept over her sister’s involvement in such a gathering.

Only women were supposed to have been in attendance that first day, but forty men showed up anyway. Stanton, who had experience in front of an audience, spoke courageously: “…we are assembled to protest against a form of government existing without the consent of the governed - to declare our right to be free as man is free…The right is ours. Have it, we must. Use it, we will.…”

The draft of the Declaration of Rights and Sentiments was read aloud. It followed the format of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” but then made the bold assertion “that men and women are created equal.”

The following day, the audience had grown considerably as word spread of the ideas being discussed. Out of the eleven resolutions, only one encountered opposition: “Resolved, that it is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.”

Stanton argued passionately for the right to vote, pointing out that “drunkards, idiots, horseracing rum-selling rowdies, ignorant foreigners, and silly boys.” all could vote—but not women. Other participants, including Lucretia Mott, found this a difficult resolution to adopt.

Frederick Douglass, who had been born into slavery and escaped its horrors, rose up to speak on behalf of the resolution:  

“In this denial of the right to participate in government, not merely the degradation of woman and  the perpetuation of a great injustice happens, but the maiming and repudiation of one-half of the moral and intellectual power of the government of the world.”

Douglass’ words carried the day and the resolution passed. All the resolutions of the Declaration had been passed by the convention. That evening the Declaration was signed by women and men.

But only one of these signatories lived to see the right to vote for women become part of the United States Constitution in 1920.