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This Day in Resistance History: Declaration of Sentiments at Women’s Rights Convention, Seneca Falls 1848

July 19, 2012

On July 19, 1848, hundreds of women gathered in Seneca Falls, New York to kickoff the Women’s Rights Convention, which gave birth to the Suffrage Movement.

The convention began with Elizabeth Cady Stanton reading what was called the Declaration of Sentiments. After reading the Declaration the first time, Stanton read it again, section by section, so those in attendance could deliberate on each part. The Declaration was revised and then voted on for approval by the women.

This Declaration was a set of resolutions and list of sentiments that clearly set the tone for greater women’s equality. The Declaration of Sentiments begins with a re-writing of the Declaration of Independence to include the rights and freedoms of women, which was then followed by this list of facts about how men have treated women:

  • He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise.
  • He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice.
  • He has withheld from her rights which are given to the most ignorant and degraded men—both natives and foreigners.
  • Having deprived her of this first right of a citizen, the elective franchise, thereby leaving her without representation in the halls of legislation, he has oppressed her on all sides.
  • He has made her, if married, in the eye of the law, civilly dead.4
  • He has taken from her all right in property, even to the wages she earns.5
  • He has made her, morally, an irresponsible being, as she can commit many crimes with impunity, provided they be done in the presence of her husband. In the covenant of marriage, she is compelled to promise obedience to her husband, he becoming, to all intents and purposes, her master—the law giving him power to deprive her of her liberty, and to administer chastisement.
  • He has so framed the laws of divorce, as to what shall be the proper causes of divorce; in case of separation, to whom the guardianship of the children shall be given; as to be wholly regardless of the happiness of women—the law, in all cases, going upon the false supposition of the supremacy of man, and giving all power into his hands.
  • After depriving her of all rights as a married woman, if single and the owner of property, he has taxed her to support a government, which recognizes her only when her property can be made profitable to it.
  • He has monopolized nearly all the profitable employments, and from those she is permitted to follow, she receives but a scanty remuneration.
  • He closes against her all the avenues to wealth and distinction, which he considers most honorable to himself. As a teacher of theology, medicine, or law, she is not known.
  • He has denied her the facilities for obtaining a thorough education—all colleges being closed against her.6
  • He allows her in Church as well as State, but a subordinate position, claiming Apostolic authority for her exclusion from the ministry, and, with some exceptions, from any public participation in the affairs of the Church.
  • He has created a false public sentiment, by giving to the world a different code of morals for men and women, by which moral delinquencies which exclude women from society, are not only tolerated but deemed of little account in man.
  • He has usurped the prerogative of Jehovah himself, claiming it as his right to assign for her a sphere of action, when that belongs to her conscience and her God.
  • He has endeavored, in every way that he could to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life.

This list of facts is a powerful indictment against Patriarchy and those who have benefited from it.

Considering the ongoing war against women, it would serve us well to not only become familiar with the ground-breaking work of the women at Seneca Falls in 1848, but to take a cue from them on the need to be clear about what is being done to women today and what direction the current women’s movement must take.

For those of us who identify as men, this date in resistance history should be a clarion call to not only be in solidarity with women, but to fight against male privilege and patriarchy in all its manifestations.

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