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(1) In the summer of 1848, around two hundred women and men met in Seneca Falls, New York, for the country’s first national women’s rights convention (Levine 277). (2) Many people preferred to watch the waterfall instead of the debates at the Seneca Falls Convention. (3) Women’s suffrage, or the right to vote, was the focus of debate at the convention. (4) However, the participants also drafted demands for other rights, such as property rights and equal education opportunities (Stansell 139). (5) The Seneca Falls Convention was very important.

(6) The planning began with a coincidence and took eight years to complete. (7) Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott met at an anti-slavery meeting in London. (8) Stanton was a young newlywed at the time, but she was already known to speak her mind on issues of human rights. (9) Mott was a middle-aged Quaker preacher. (10) Stanton and Mott were both upset because women attending the anti-slavery meeting had to sit behind curtains and were not allowed to speak. (11) They were very bored behind the curtains. (12) Their shared outrage at not being allowed to participate strengthened their desire to fight for women’s rights, and they agreed to hold a nationwide meeting to discuss women’s rights when they returned home. (13) Eight years later, Stanton, Mott, and others held the convention in Stanton’s hometown of Seneca Falls (Stansell 134–136).

(14) The organizers of the Seneca Falls Convention were inspired by the anti-slavery movement and by the women’s rights movement in Europe (Stansell 133). (15) They probably reasoned that, just as African American men should be given the full rights of United States citizenship, so too should women of all races. (16) Many of the Seneca Falls organizers were already activists in the abolition movement, which fought for the freedom and rights of African Americans. (17) Margaret Fuller noted a similarity in the situations of the two groups, saying, “There exists in the world of men, a tone of feeling towards women as towards slaves.”

(18) A long list of rights was denied to women, stimulating the activists’ resentment of their second-class status. (19) Women of the mid-1800s were not allowed to vote, and married women could not own property apart from their husbands. (20) Married women had no legal rights of their own; they were essentially the property of their husbands. (21) In the event of a divorce, women could not claim their own money or their children. (22) Women also were not allowed to attend most universities and therefore could not work in many professions (Osborn). (23) In response to these unfair policies, the convention’s participants drafted the Declaration of Sentiments. (24) That statement was modeled after the Declaration of Independence. (25) Its text shows a strong resemblance to the document that inspired 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. . . .

Now . . . because women do feel themselves aggrieved, oppressed, and fraudulently deprived of their most sacred rights, we insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of the United States. (Stanton)

(26) The Declaration of Sentiments included a list of complaints and a matching list of demands for reform. (27) The demand for women’s right to vote was the most controversial point in the document and was barely accepted by the convention’s participants. (28) There were fears that such a demand would be pushing too hard and too fast and would cause others to laugh off the entire declaration. (29) Some historians believe that the Seneca Falls Convention’s bold demand for women’s suffrage was the main factor that set off the women’s rights movement in the United States (Stansell 141–142). (30) It gave the emerging movement a specific and meaningful goal and inspired the ambition to achieve it. (31) The Seneca Falls Convention did not bring about significant reforms immediately. (32) Rather, it triggered a movement that would bring about gradual change over a period of more than a hundred years. (33) Those women who attended the Seneca Falls Convention started the process of change. (34) Eventually, women gained the right to vote as well as all the other rights mentioned in the Declaration of Sentiments.
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