July 19 is the 175th Anniversary of the Dawn of the Women’s Rights Movement

Mott and Stanton. Photo from Gender Avenger Website.

In 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic raging, most plans to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote were scrapped. But coming this July 19th is the 175th anniversary of the number one event that made the 19th Amendment possible – the Women’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls, New York.

On July 19, 1848, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott brought together 300 women and 40 men who were interested in working to provide women with equal civil, social, political and religious rights under the laws of the United States of America. The meeting grew out of the anti-slavery movement, in which the two women became involved in 1840. During the Women’s Rights Convention, a Declaration of Sentiments and 12 resolutions were drafted. Of those 12 resolutions that were created, the most controversial was a call for women’s right to vote. 

According to unwomen.com, Stanton, Mott and several others were indignant over women being barred from speaking at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London, England in 1840 due to their sex, although they were sent as delegates to the convention. The Women’s Rights Convention was their response. 

While the anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote is the more celebrated event, without this initial meeting there would have been no amendment to ratify almost 75 years later. 

In 1848, women had little to no status in and of themselves under the law. They were the property of their husband or closest male relative. History.com explains, “Women were denied an education and issued an inferior role in the church. Moreover, women were required to be obedient to their husbands and prevented from owning property, including the wages they earned (which technically belonged to their husbands). And they received unequal rights upon divorce [including losing custody of their children]… In light of these abuses, the declaration called on women to “throw off such government.” 

Overall, history.com explained, “these resolutions called on Americans to regard any laws that placed women in an inferior position to men as having “no force or authority.” They resolved for women to have equal rights within the church and equal access to jobs. 

The Declaration of Sentiments became a working document for those fighting for women’s equality. While neither Mott nor Stanton lived long enough to vote, they did see a number of changes take place for the better. 

By the time these women died, more women were being educated, and even going to college. Mott was one of the founders of Swarthmore College, which was created as a co-educational institution, and Female Medical College of Pennsylvania.  

Women were given the ability to own property and control their personal finances with the passing of the Married Women’s Property Act. The passing of this law moved women away from their former position as chattel, and into place as a separate human being from their husbands or male relatives by giving them control of their finances. 

Mott and Stanton had been given what many other women had not been given, an education. Mott grew up in a forward-thinking family, being a cousin of Benjamin Franklin. Her father was the captain of a whaling ship and her mother ran the family mercantile business. She was sent to Quaker School at the age of 13 and began teaching there at the age of 15. At the age of 18, she married James Mott, who was like-minded about the issue of female equality and they raised six children together while working hard for equality for women. She took Stanton, as well as Susan B. Anthony and Alice Paul under her wing. They continued her work after her death. 

Stanton came from a wealthy family with a conservative father and a liberal mother. She, too, was sent to school, and excelled in mathematics and languages, winning a prize in Greek and becoming skilled in debate. In school, her quick mind allowed her to not feel any barriers because of her gender. She was also given opportunities to study philosophy and law with male members of her own family. She too found a husband who accepted her as an equal partner. They raised seven children, one daughter following in her mother’s path to fight for women’s rights. She was good friends all her life with Susan B. Anthony, and together they started the National Woman’s Suffrage Association. 

It was not, however, until the 1970s that an Equal Rights Amendment was written giving women full rights as equal to men under the law. Liveyourdream.com states, “Alice Paul first introduced the idea for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in 1923 saying, ‘We shall not be safe until the principle of equal rights is written into the framework of government.’ Nearly 100 years later, we still haven’t seen that dream become a reality.”


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