In July of 1848 the first Women’s Rights Convention took place in Seneca Falls, New York. Five forward thinking women-Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Mary Ann McClintock, Martha C. Wright developed an agenda of speeches to be made at this gathering. These speeches were focused on the oppression women faced in a patriarchal society and discussions to foster change that would grant the same equality to women which men enjoyed. It was at this convention that the “Declaration of Sentiment” was presented by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who also drafted it. This meeting marked the beginning of the Women’s Rights Movement; the Declaration of Sentiment became the framework for the Woman’s Right Movement as well as the Woman’s Suffrage Movement.

 

The Declaration of Sentiment was based upon the Declaration of Independence, with wording that paralleled it except using language that was inclusive of women. It indicated that men and women alike had the right to life, liberty and happiness.  It contained 18 grievances and 11 resolutions which listed the injustices and oppression suffered by women at the hands of men. These included disproportions in educational, moral, social, vocational, legal and religious rights. It challenged that women had capacities to control their own destinies without subjugation to men. The most radical declaration was the right of women to vote. It was understood that the only way for women to make changes was to have a legal say, hence the need to vote was crucial. At that time, women were civilly dead; the legal rights of a woman were suspended once she was married. She gave up rights to her property and her wages. In essence, she ceased to be autonomous once married. Owning property, civil independence for her husband, the right to vote- these were the means a woman could make changes in a government to which she was then forced to submit without representation.  Of the 300 hundred attendees, 100 of them signed the Declaration of Sentiment- 68 women and 32 men.

 

The traditional expectations imparted upon each gender provided a unique barrier for women. While men were expected to live in the public sphere, it was anticipated that women’s life revolved around domestic chores and child rearing; her “place” was in the home. The Declaration of Sentiment brought women out of the home, where she could be educated, employed, politically involved and not be subjugated to men. As expected, this document received backlash by those who felt women were deserting their domestic domain to tread in territory meant only for men. Yet, this did not dissuade those who believed in equality for both genders to press forward with this goal. When confronted by a patriarchy who sought to repress and contain women, a small group of ladies at a Wesleyan church in Seneca Falls, armed with the Declaration of Sentiment, launched a big movement which changed the course of history for womanhood in America.