The Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments and
Elizabeth Cady Stantan (1815-1902) was one of the
authors of this declaration. The introductory material pointed out that
the origin of the women's movement in America was the international anti-slavery
movement. The women made the difficult voyage to London in 1840, twenty
years before the Civil War. The women arrived at this international meeting
concerning issues of slavery, and the first thing that the men at the meeting
did was to exclude them. They were walking around the city of London saying
to themselves, "Well, here we are fighting for the freedom of others when
we don't have it ourselves." So, the two become linked -- the women's suffrage
movement (women's early feminist movement) and the abolitionist movement.
There were similar principles behind each. They gather together at the
Seneca Falls July 19, 1848. The women bring forth this document. In order
to be taken somewhat seriously, ironically, they have a man chair the meeting.
They got some fellow who was willing to do it, and it made quite a wide
Now, what is this based on, this Seneca Falls Declaration?
Very clearly, it is based on the Declaration of Independence. Where does
it depart? What is its most significant addition to the famous line? All
men and women are created equal. What's the old doctrine that women were
less competent than men? In the nineteenth century, it would typically
be portrayed as the men would take of the dirty things like politics and
business, and women will take of the morals of the nation – "the hand that
rocks the cradle rules the world." If you wanted to have an influence as
a woman, you had the influence through the men in your life (your husband,
fathers, brothers, sons), not directly.
The women were in a difficult position. They had very
few rights. People say, "I'm not a feminist," and often don't realize
exactly what that means. I think we have assumed feminism into our core
political beliefs. Should women have the right to work along-side men?
Should we have women English teachers? Most people say, "Yes." Should they
get paid the same as me if they have the same seniority? In the old days
the reasoning was that the man had to support a family; therefore, the
woman did not need as much money. This is why school teachers, traditionally,
don't make much money. It was seen as egg and butter money. This money
was just spent around the house and not used to support a whole family.
The reasoning was quite different.
Also, there was the idea that women were somehow less
able to think. Men are rational; women are emotional, therefore, cannot
handle things like finance, business, and politics. When Sandra Day O'Connor
was sitting before an all-male panel in the Senate and they were deciding
whether to put her into the Supreme Court, one of the good ole’ boys asked
her, "Mrs. Connor, if you were put on the Court, would the fact that you
are a woman affect your decisions?" She replied, "Well, does the fact that
all the others are men affect their decisions?" They moved on to another
question rather quickly. This question would not even come up today. You
couldn't get away with asking that anymore.
The status of women was most comparable to the status
children in today’s society. Are my children inferior to me in terms of
absolute human value? No, they are just as human as I am, but am I able
to control their lives to some degree? I can make them go to school even
if they don't want to go. I can make them take baths, drag them to church,
and do chores around the house. This seems all right because they have
a diminished capacity. They are not ready to be out on their own yet. This
is somewhat like the way they viewed women, also. They were like children.
In fact, the same thing was argued about the reason that blacks should
be slaves. It was a patriarchal society. This means the men were the ones
that knew what to do and would tell everyone else what they needed to do.
The men were the bosses. Here is a document saying that women are just
as competent as men are. By the way, this included spare the rod and spoil
the wife, as well as the child. In common law if a man wanted to beat his
wife he could only use a stick that was no bigger around than his thumb,
thus the phrase, "Rule of Thumb." This is not legal anymore.
1. DECLARATION OF SENTIMENTS
When, in the course of human
events, it becomes necessary for one portion of the family of man to assume
among the people of the earth a position different from that which they
have hitherto occupied, but one to which the laws of nature and of nature's
God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires
that they should declare the causes that impel them to such a course.
Well, the language here is modeled very closely on the Declaration
of Independence. Normally, when we come across "all men are created equal"
it is just dropped into the discourse, but this whole declaration is modeled
on the Declaration of Independence. They are saying that there is a different
way that we should relate as humans: the principle of equality; a seed
that was sowed seventy-two years ago. It had been seventy-two years ago
since these words were penned, but the ripple effects are continuing to
move out from the center. What does it mean, "all men are created equal"?
Does it mean that men and women are created equal? Is this a universal
use of the term "man" to mean any human is created equal? Or does it just
mean white men with property are created equal?
There is a quote from George Orwell on the printout for
the test. The animals had on their barn the "Declaration of Animals." One
of them was "all animals are created equal." One day they came out and
the barn had been repainted to say, "All animals are created equal, but
some are more equal than others."
At the beginning we declared all men are created equal,
but some were always more equal than others. Now the equality is beginning
to spread and the women are saying, "Hey, we want ours, too. This is a
great idea; now let's apply it."
We hold these truths to be
self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed
by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are
life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights
governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent
of the governed. Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of
these ends, it is the right of those who suffer from it to refuse allegiance
to it, and to insist upon the institution of a new government, laying its
foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form,
as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should
not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience
hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer while evils are sufferable,
than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.
But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the
same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism,
it is their duty to throw off such government, and to provide new guards
for their future security.
When we talked about absolute despotism in the Declaration
of Independence we were talking about King George III. Here the tyrant
is man, as backed up by the government that the men institute. The laws
always reflect the interest of those passing the laws. This is why when
men were the only ones making laws, and when women did not get to vote
to even decide which men were making the laws, the laws are going to reflect
the self-interest of the guys.
He has never permitted her
to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise.
What is the elective franchise? The right to vote, so this
is the beginning of the suffrage movement where they will argue that they
should be suffered to vote.
He has compelled her to submit
to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice.
Do women have to obey the laws? One of the fundamental principles
going back to the beginning, "No taxation without representation." Every
law that is passed gets passed without her being represented.
He has withheld from her rights,
which are given to the most ignorant and degraded men -- both natives and
The guy fresh off the boat, not even speaking English, penniless,
illiterate, and who cannot communicate, has more rights in some respects
than one of these daughters of the American Revolution, who on the other
hand are very blue-blood, very active in the community, and have an established
status. Is this right? The women's movement sometimes played on anti-immigrant
prejudices to further the women's cause.
Having deprived her of this
first right of a citizen, the elective franchise, thereby leaving her without
representation in the halls of legislation, he has oppressed her on all
It makes a difference when women are in the legislature.
The laws that are passed are passed differently.
He has made her, if married,
in the eye of the law, civilly dead.
This means you lose your rights once you have married. Your
husband has the rights for both of you.
He has taken from her all right
in property, even to the wages she earns.
If a woman did go out and earn money, although less than
the man sitting next to her, who had the right to spend it? The man did.
The women did people's laundry; her husband spent the money, at least he
had the right to if he wanted. If he wanted you to have money then you
could, if not, tough luck.
He has made her, morally, an
irresponsible being, as she can commit many crimes with impunity, provided
they are done in the presence of her husband. In the covenant of marriage,
she is compelled to promise obedience to her husband, he becoming, to all
intents and purposes, her master -- the law giving him power to deprive
her of her liberty, and to administer chastisement.
This is the rule of thumb. Spare the rod; spoil the wife.
So he can lock her up, beat her; it is his choice. By the way, this feminist
movement was also tied into the temperance movement. The temperance movement
was anti-alcohol. The reasoning was that these husbands go out and spend
all the family money getting liquored up, and then they come home and beat
the wife. Some men might like this system, but it wasn't so good for the
women. The temperance movement opposed liquor as having a terrible impact
on women and children in the families that were suffering the consequences
of male irresponsibility. Many of the same people who participated in the
abolitionist movement, lead the feminist movement, and also lead the temperance
movement. If not the exact same people, there were a lot of people that
crossed over in all three groups.
He has so framed the laws of
divorce, as to what shall be the proper causes, and in case of separation,
to whom the guardianship of the children shall be given, as to be wholly
regardless of the happiness of women -- the law, in all cases, going upon
a false supposition of the supremacy of man, and giving all power into
If you got divorced, you're out. He gets the house, he gets
the kids, he gets all of it.
He has monopolized nearly all
the profitable employments, and from those she is permitted to follow,
she receives but a scanty remuneration. He closes against her all the avenues
to wealth and distinction, which he considers most honorable to himself.
As a teacher of theology, medicine, or law, she is not known.
The women are taught to maybe teach grade school or be nurses.
The men are professors and doctors. Even when you go into something of
the same field the men are given preference. Women have women's work, and
men have men's work. We sort of have these ideas about what women are supposed
to do and what men are supposed to do.
He has denied her the facilities
for obtaining a thorough education, all colleges being closed against her.
Wesley College was founded because Harvard would not let
He allows her in Church, as
well as State, but a subordinate position, claiming apostolic authority
for her exclusion from the ministry, and, with some exceptions, from any
public participation in the affairs of the Church.
In church she is pushed to the back bench also. By
the way, the Baptists made a big splash last year amending their statement
The Baptist Faith and Message, by putting in this idea
about the subordinance of women. So the idea is still among us.
He has created a false public
sentiment by giving to the world a different code of morals for men and
women, by which moral delinquencies, which exclude women from society,
are not only tolerated, but deemed of little account in man.
There is a double standard. If the woman is sleeping around,
is this all right? What about the guy? It is changing somewhat now.
He has usurped the prerogative
of Jehovah himself, claiming it is his right to assign for her a sphere
of action, when that belongs to her conscience and to her God.
This is the old idea of following the natural law. He is
legislating law for us instead of letting us go where we can.
WHEREAS. The great precept of
nature is conceded to be that "man shall pursue his own true and substantial
Remember life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Resolved, to follow her conscience,
to be man's equal, to be enlightened in regards to the law under which
they live, which we now call consciousness raising so that you aren't satisfied
with your state, the same amount of virtue, delicacy, and refinement that
is required of woman in the social state, should also be required of man
so to eliminate the double standard, the women want to be able to elect
We go over the same stuff again pretty much that we have
been going over. The resolutions sort of mirror the things they are complaining
about and saying should end.
It is a long time, 1920's, when women got the right to
vote across the country in a national amendment. It came down to Tennessee.
Tennessee legislature was going to vote. The vote was very close, but the
nays had it, they thought. A young man, down in from the mountains, got
a letter from his mom the night before which just said, "Son, do the right
thing." In this case, the hand that rocked the cradle did have its impact,
because he got up and cast a yes vote instead of a no vote. They didn't
even realize what had happened until the vote was almost over. It won,
and it was supposed to lose. This was the last state they needed to ratify
the amendment. Well, Tennessee kept working at it until they got enough
votes to appeal it, but it was too late. It had already been added to the
constitution. It came down to being that close. The fact that you women
are able to vote is owed to that little old lady living in the mountains