Elizabeth Stanton

The Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions

 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 circulation.

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 of 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.


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 foreigners. 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 sides. 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 his hands. 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 in women. 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 of faith, 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. 2. RESOLUTIONS

WHEREAS. The great precept of nature is conceded to be that "man shall pursue his own true and substantial happiness."

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 people. 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. The 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 of Tennessee.