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The Birth of Women’s Rights

Nestled in the quaint Upstate New York town of Seneca Falls is one of America’s most important landmarks—The Women’s Rights National Historical Park.  Created by an Act of Congress in 1980, the Park celebrates the First Woman’s Rights Convention held in July of 1848 and honors the early leaders of this struggle for equal rights for women in the United States.

Held at Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, the Convention generated the Declaration of Sentiments, a document, modeled after the Declaration of Independence, that identified women’s issues.  Viable solutions were also outlined within this document, and seventy-two years later they would become a part of history when the 19th Amendment of the Constitution was passed, giving women the right to vote. 

The First Step in Progress

In the words of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, “The First Step in progress is taken.”  The Declaration of Sentiments created a sensation because it called for women’s right to vote.  This led to the Women’s Suffrage movement and provided the focus for women’s rights for the next 70 years.  The Declaration was written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 

The First Convention

The original drafts of Declaration of Sentiments, which catalyzed the Women’s Rights Movement, have disappeared.  It was fortuitous that Frederick Douglass, the abolitionist and former slave, attended the convention in Seneca Falls and produced a pamphlet to report its proceedings.  Only a few copies of the Report of the Women’s Rights Convention of 1848 remain—one is reproduced here.

The history of the movement is reflected in the progress of the Weslyan Chapel building. When the movement was young it was just a small part of the Seneca Falls landscape, but through many people’s efforts, it true importance has been realized.

A New Declaration

The 150th anniversary of the first Woman’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls was celebrated by Forum ’98. Forum ’98 was a gathering of the nation’s most prominent women—academics, policy-makers, politicians, feminist activists and writers—to consider the following questions—What has advocacy for women accomplished since 1848. How might full equality and equal opportunity for women be achieved in the 21st century? The highlight of Forum ’98 was the development of a new Declaration of Sentiments.

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The original is located in the “Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress.” The identifying number for this work is: Broadside Portfolio 160, no. 3, Printed Ephemera Collection. The Library cataloged this item under the corporate heading of “National Woman Suffrage Association.”