“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal…”
On July 20, 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York, the first Woman’s Rights Convention approved a Declaration of Sentiments, which had been drafted by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and modeled after the Declaration of Independence in its commitment to secure women’s rights. The Declaration emphasized the need to extend voting rights to women and also covered their property rights, protection in marriage and divorce, and the broadening of employment and educational opportunities.
Initial press coverage was often straightforward: some newspapers printed brief announcements of the convention and some even reprinted most of the Declaration. Newspapers also relied on extensive coverage from The Seneca County Courier and some published an identical favorable article that contained the Declaration’s prediction: ”The members of the Convention ‘anticipate no small amount of misconception, misrepresentation and ridicule’ as they ‘enter upon the great work’ before them.”
As anticipated at the convention, “misconception, misrepresentation and ridicule” widely occurred, including extensively in newspapers. Stanton stated in her memoir, Eighty Years and More (1815-1897): Reminiscences of Elizabeth Cady Stanton: “All the journals from Maine to Texas seemed to strive with each other to see which could make our movement appear the most ridiculous.”
Not all, but certainly a large number.
Stanton continued in Eighty Years and More: “The anti-slavery papers stood by us manfully and so did Frederick Douglass, both in the convention and in his paper, The North Star…”
The Declaration, as modified and adopted at the convention, was signed by 68 women and 32 men. Lucretia Mott headed up the women’s list, while Frederick Douglass was one of the 32 men. Douglass was also instrumental in the publication of the Report of the Woman’s Rights Convention, Held at Seneca Falls, New York, July 19 and 20, 1848, which included the Declaration, having it printed at his North Star office.
Stanton created a scrapbook in 1848 that included both favorable and highly critical press coverage about the first Woman’s Rights Convention, the additional conventions that followed that year, and the Declaration of Sentiments. She included her own response to criticism of the conventions as published in the National Reformer, September 14, 1848:
“For those who do not yet understand the real objects of the recent conventions at Rochester and Seneca Falls, I would state that we did not meet to discuss fashions, customs or dress, the rights or duties of man, nor the propriety of the sexes changing positions, but simply our own inalienable rights, our duties, our true spheres.” (Image 16 of the scrapbook, upper left).
It would take another 72 years for American women to secure the right to vote on a national level with the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. The press and popular opinion in 1920 were more supportive of women’s rights, but not uniformly so. This hundredth anniversary of the 19th Amendment provides an ideal time to look at the American women’s rights movement, including its early strides forward in 1848.
- Shall Not Be Denied: Women Fight for the Vote: a major Library of Congress exhibition
- 19th Amendment: Topics in Chronicling America
- Elizabeth Cady Stanton: Topics in Chronicling America