Declaration of Sentiments
By: Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Date: July 20, 1848
Source: “Declaration of Sentiments.” Adopted by the first Women's Rights Convention, Seneca Falls, New York, 1848. Published in Histoiy of Woman Suffrage. Vol. 1. Edited by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage. Rochester, NY: Charles Mann, 1881.
About the Author: Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a women's rights advocate. Born in 1815, Stanton was the daughter of a judge. She participated in the abolition and temperance movements, which piqued her interest in securing equal rights for women. She helped organize
a women's rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848, and was the principal author of the Declaration of Sentiments, which outlined the purposes of the convention. Stanton met activist Susan B. Anthony in 1851, and they forged a lifelong friendship. They worked together for the women's suffrage movement. Stanton published numerous articles on women's suffrage. She died in 1902.
The fight for women's rights was born out of the struggle to end slavery, in which women played a vital role. When Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott were denied seats at the 1840 World Anti-Slavery Convention in London, the two women decided that they needed to do something about the injustices women faced. They and a few other women organized a gathering to talk about a woman's right to vote as well as issues related to education, marriage, and work. The Women's Rights Convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. Stanton was the primary author of the Declaration of Sentiments, a document that outlined the purpose of the gathering.
More than three hundred men and women attended the convention. Stanton ran the meeting, going over each of the points in the Declaration of Sentiments. All of the resolutions, except suffrage, were adopted by the group. Those who supported the right for women to vote did not want to take part in politics; supporters agreed, however, that it was difficult to engage in politics without the right to vote. The group held another meeting a few weeks later in Rochester, New York. This meeting was also well attended.
More gatherings followed in different states, including Ohio and Massachusetts. A national convention was organized and held in October 1850 in Worcester, Massachusetts. The convention featured speaker Lucy Stone, the first woman to graduate college in Massachusetts. The conventions became so popular that their message reached abroad to Europe, gaining international support. The second national convention was held in 1852, and it featured the work of activists Susan B. Anthony and Harriot K. Hunt, who were instrumental in organizing a protest in Boston. Stanton and Anthony became close friends and continued to work together for women's rights. While the conventions attracted numerous female and male supporters, they sometimes drew male hecklers, who booed the speakers and spoke out against women's rights. Violence erupted at some of the meetings. Despite these obstacles, the meetings continued to be popular.
After the American Civil War (1861–1865), many abolition societies merged with the women's rights societies, creating the American Equal Rights Association in 1866. The group included black and white men and women, and it was led by Mott. The group, however, was split over the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, which defined citizenship and voting privileges. Stanton and Anthony felt that these amendments did not benefit women. They broke from the group to form the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), which admitted black and white women but did not allow men. The NWSA focused on amending the U.S. Constitution. Stone and others formed the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA), which admitted men and focused solely on a woman's right to vote in the individual states.
Both associations worked for women's rights, but Congress struck down every piece of legislation that would have given women the right to vote. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that if women wanted the right to vote, they would need to win this right in each state or change the U.S. Constitution. Both groups continued to fight. Stanton's daughter, Harriot Stanton Blatch, took over the NWSA, and Stone's daughter, Alice Stone Blackwell, led the AWSA. In 1890 the two groups came together to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), with the elder Stanton serving as president. Anthony served as the organization's second president. At the end of the nineteenth century, women had gained the right to vote in Colorado, Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming. The two women who had been most vocal in the fight, however, would not live to see the right to vote granted to all women in the United States. Stanton died in 1902, and Anthony died in 1906. Others took their places and continued the suffrage movement. Women achieved the right to vote on August 26, 1920, with the addition of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
On July 13, 1848, five women in Waterloo, New York, sent an advertisement to the Seneca County Courier, announcing a meeting for women scheduled for July 19 and 20 in Seneca Falls. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Martha C. Wright, Jane Hunt, and Mary Ann McClintock assembled the following morning to plan the meeting. They read the Declaration of Independence and adopted it as the perfect structure for the document they planned to present. They called this statement the Declaration of Sentiments and adapted key words and phrases from the original document to highlight women's exclusion from it. “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal,” for example, was changed to: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal;…” Stanton initiated the meeting and was the primary writer of the Declaration of Sentiments, although the document was a communal effort by the five women.
The Women's Rights Convention was presented as an opportunity for women and men to examine the position of women in America. The organizers' grievances included that women were not entitled to keep wages they earned or their children should they divorce. Women were also excluded from most jobs and from having a vote in government matters. Three hundred people attended the convention, far more than the organizers had expected. Forty men attended, and after some deliberation it was agreed that they would be allowed to take part in the proceedings.
On the first day, Stanton made an opening speech. Then the assembly discussed the specific points of women's unequal treatment outlined in the declaration. The group voted unanimously to adopt the document as representing the inferior position women held in American society. On the second day, the group discussed the second part of the declaration: eleven resolutions to ameliorate women's suffering, including providing women equal access to education and professions, equality in marriage and access to children after divorce, equal treatment under the law in all respects, and the right to vote. Women's suffrage was the most contentious issue and the one upon which Stanton was the most firm, believing it was the cornerstone upon which rested all of the other rights.
All of the resolutions passed unanimously except for the one calling for a woman's right to vote. Page 343 | Top of ArticleFormer slave and powerful orator Frederick Douglass ultimately convinced the group that this resolution should be adopted. One hundred people signed the Declaration of Sentiments. The first Women's Rights Convention had been a success. This historic meeting was depicted with scorn by the American press and roundly denounced by the clergy. It heralded the birth of the women's movement in the United States, and began the long and hard fight for the equality of women.
DuBois, Ellen Carol. Feminism and Suffrage: The E?>iergence of an Independent Woman's Movement in America 1848–1869. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1978.
Griffith, Elisabeth. In Her Own Right: The Life of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984.
Gurko, Miriam. The Ladies of Seneca Falls: The Birth of the Women's Rights Movement. New York: Macmillan, 1974.
Kraditor, Aileen S. The Ideas of the Woman Stiff'age Movement 1890–1920. New York: Columbia University Press, 1971.
“Obituary: Elizabeth Cady Stanton Dies at Her Home.” New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/bday/1112.html (accessed on January 17, 2014).
“Viewpoint: A Historic Opportunity.” National Organization for Women, http://www.now.org/nnt/05–98/historic.html (accessed on August 26, 2013).