On a warm July day in 1848, in a small town of Waterloo in upstate New York, a group of five women gathered around the tea table in Jane Hunt’s parlor to discuss their dissatisfaction with women’s life in general. While all five shared common frustrations of lack of personal, financial, and political freedom, none was as discontented as the young Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who lived in nearby Seneca Falls. She proposed holding a convention where women would be free to voice their discontent, and men would finally be forced to listen.
Today, July 20 marks the 167th anniversary of the closing day of that historic convention, the groundbreaking meeting that exposed the inequities and frustrations faced by women in 1848, and demanded change. Never had such a meeting been proposed, much less held. But in defiance of all odds, when it convened in just a few weeks, over three hundred people attended, driving their horses and buggies over rough country roads in the middle of a hot, steamy summer.
The winds of change were blowing across other places in 1848. In France slavery was abolished, and the vote was extended to many French citizens. Dorothea Dix exposed the terrible conditions in insane asylums, which began a movement for support for these institutions from the Federal Government. And in New York, the Married Woman’s Property Act was passed, finally allowing married women to own and manage their own wages and property.
Still, if the daring women and men who gathered in Seneca Falls, New York those hot summer days in July, 1848 knew that their battle for equality for women would take seventy-two long years one wonders if they might not have climbed back into their wagons and given up right there. We are so very glad they stayed; sixty-eight women and thirty-two men signed the Declaration of Sentiments, thus beginning a long, hard struggle that ended in the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920.
More information on this historic meeting, and can be found at the website of the National Park Service, www.nps.gov, and in many other websites and books, including The Ladies of Seneca Falls, by Miriam Gurko, and my own book, Long Island and the Women Suffrage Movement.