This article originally appeared in the July 17, 1948, issue.
In July, 1848, the same year in which Karl Marx issued his Communist Manifesto, a group of determined American women gathered at Seneca Falls, New York, to issue what Mary R. Beard has called “a startling manifesto of woman’s rights.” Elizabeth Cady Stanton instigated the Seneca meeting; and her Declaration of Sentiments has had in some ways as profound an influence on human thought and behavior as Jefferson’s demand for political freedom in the Declaration of Independence or Marx’s insistence on economic liberty in the Communist Manifesto. Elizabeth Cady Stanton maintained that both ideas were fine but that their application should not be limited to the male half of the human race.
The first woman’s-rights convention was conceived at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840. There the veteran crusader, Lucretia Mott, met Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who was twenty-two years her junior. Mrs. Stanton had already proved herself a rebel by forsaking orthodox religion, by attending woman’s-rights lectures, and by flouting the wishes of her father by marrying the fiery young Abolitionist, Henry Stanton. Elizabeth, a gay young bride on her honeymoon, was highly receptive to the ideas of Lucretia Mott. The friendship of the two women was sealed when, after a heated debate, British officialdom excluded them and the other American women as official delegates from the convention–because they were women. Even William Lloyd Garrison, the giant of the convention, could not alter the decision; he could only protest by taking his place in the balcony with the women. Then Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth put their heads together and decided to stage a convention of their own when they returned to America–not to free the black man but all women.
It was eight years before they carried out their resolution. Lucretia was meanwhile absorbed in anti-slavery work and Elizabeth all but immersed in the problems of domesticity and a growing family. In 1848 the dynamic pair met again and this time set a definite time and place for the convention. Mrs. Stanton drafted an unsigned invitation to the public. It announced a conference “to discuss…the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of women,” and was published in the Seneca County Courier.
During the next few weeks Elizabeth worked evenings on the details of the meeting. Her lawyer husband helped and supported her until she submitted for his approval Resolution No. 9: “Resolved: that it is the duty of the women of this country to secure for themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.”
This was too much for Henry, and after a heated debate he issued an ultimatum of his own. Unless Elizabeth took out Resolution No. 9, he would leave town and attend none of the meetings. Even Lucretia Mott lost patience with her youthful partner, exclaiming in despair, “Oh, Lizzie, if thou demands that, thou will make us ridiculous. We must go slowly.” But “Lizzie” refused to compromise and kept Resolution No. 9 on the agenda.