Women's Suffrage Centennial: Seneca Falls

The long history of the Women's Suffrage movement in America.

Seneca Falls

The Seneca Falls Convention, held in Seneca Falls, New York, on July 19–20, 1848, was organized by activists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott as the first public political meeting in the United States that advocated for women's rights. Women's lack of access to the vote was a key issue discussed during the groundbreaking two-day gathering, and the event is traditionally considered the beginning of the modern women's suffrage movement.

Learn more about the historic Seneca Falls Convention at the Seneca Falls Convention Visitor Center, which is the centerpiece of the Women's Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, N.Y.


image: CC BY-SA 4.0

Why a Convention?

In 1840, Lucretia Mott traveled with her husband to London to attend the World Anti-Slavery Convention, where she met Elizabeth Cady Stanton. As Quakers and staunch abolitionists, the two women were outraged after male attendees banned women from the event. They joined forces to organize and advocate, and together, they planned and executed the seminal Seneca Falls Convention of 1848. 

The conference, which was held in Seneca Falls, N.Y. on July 19-20, 1848, was the first public political meeting in the United States dealing specifically with women's rights. Stanton and Mott put out the call to friends and colleagues, and 240 people - 40 of them men - attended, including Frederick Douglass. The two-day event was fractious at times, as more progressive attendees -- including organizer Stanton -- argued the issues with more moderate members on the direction of the burgeoning movement.

Lucretia Mott & Elizabeth Cady Stanton

 Photo: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

The primary result of the conference was the foundational Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions, a statement of purpose modeled after the Declaration of Independence that listed the ways in which American women were oppressed and relegated to inferior status by the existing male power structure. The resolutions, which were approved unanimously, similarly blamed men for the injustices visited on women, declaring that it was on women to ensure their own equality. There was significant conflict regarding Stanton's insistence on a resolution plank demanding voting rights for women; this plank was eventually approved, but Stanton's push for the vote for women was seen by many as too extreme at that early stage of the movement -- one of numerous times she would be labeled as such.

The Seneca Falls Convention, traditionally considered the beginning of the Women's Suffrage Movement, was followed by a larger meeting two weeks later in Rochester, N.Y. There were annual national women's conventions thereafter, significantly raising the profile of the movement across America.

Sources: American Women's Almanac: 500 Years of Making History; Encyclopedia of Women & American Politics; The Reader's Companion to American History