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The Road to Seneca Falls

The Road to Seneca Falls: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the First Woman's Rights Convention

Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    The Road to Seneca Falls
    Book Description:

    Feminists from 1848 to the present have rightly viewed the Seneca Falls convention as the birth of the women's rights movement in the United States and beyond. In The Road To Seneca Falls, Judith Wellman offers the first well documented, full-length account of this historic meeting in its contemporary context. _x000B__x000B_The convention succeeded by uniting powerful elements of the antislavery movement, radical Quakers, and the campaign for legal reform under a common cause. Wellman shows that these three strands converged not only in Seneca Falls, but also in the life of women's rights pioneer Elizabeth Cady Stanton. It is this convergence, she argues, that foments one of the greatest rebellions of modern times. _x000B__x000B_Rather than working heavy-handedly downward from their official "Declaration of Sentiments," Wellman works upward from richly detailed documentary evidence to construct a complex tapestry of causes that lay behind the convention, bringing the struggle to life. Her approach results in a satisfying combination of social, community, and reform history with individual and collective biographical elements. _x000B__x000B_The Road to Seneca Falls challenges all of us to reflect on what it means to be an American trying to implement the belief that "all men and women are created equal," both then and now. A fascinating story in its own right, it is also a seminal piece of scholarship for anyone interested in history, politics, or gender.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09282-4
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    (pp. 1-14)

    The following is an imaginative re-creation of what Elizabeth Cady Stanton might have seen if she had taken the shortest route from her house to the convention at the Wesleyan Chapel. This description is based primarily on maps, newspaper advertisements, village minutes, memoirs of local residents, and photographs.¹

    Elizabeth Cady Stanton, hair in curls, arms laden with law books and carefully guarded manuscripts, stepped off the front porch of her frame house on the outskirts of the village of Seneca Falls, New York. It was July 19, 1848, a warm, bright morning. Alongside walked her sister Harriet Cady Eaton and...


    • CHAPTER 1 Elizabeth Cady Stanton: Growing Up, 1815–35
      (pp. 17-35)

      In July 1848, at the Seneca Falls convention, Elizabeth Cady Stanton began her life’s work as a public agitator for the rights of women. What Stanton was and would become had its roots in her childhood. She grew up in a world where wealth was based on land; where people recognized their places in an orderly, communal world; and where her neighbors continued to value citizens who placed the good of the whole group above their own personal gain. Such a community was predominantly hierarchical, but people balanced their strong sense of hierarchy with a corresponding sense of mutual responsibility....

    • CHAPTER 2 Entering the World of Reform: Antislavery and Woman’s Rights, 1835–40
      (pp. 36-64)

      Stanton’s parental home was a congenial place in the 1830s. “There is always a freedom at home which it is impossible for us to feel elsewhere,” Stanton wrote about 1835. During this decade, however, she used her home as a launching pad to propel herself into the larger world. As she did so, she found new role models and friends. Most important were her cousin Gerrit Smith; her husband, Henry B. Stanton; and her friend Lucretia Mott. Intertwined with her identities as daughter, sister, wife, and friend, she also began to define her own life’s work as a reformer.¹


    • CHAPTER 3 Communities in Transition: Seneca Falls and Waterloo, 1795–1840
      (pp. 65-88)

      The Seneca Falls woman’s rights convention was rooted in economic and social instability affecting much of the Western world in the nineteenth century. Revolutions in transportation, industrialization, urbanization, and technology amounted to an economic earthquake, and out of them came a new market economy based on large-scale manufacturing and trade, competition, and consumerism.

      These changes hit with particular force in the northeastern United States. Transportation routes and waterpower acted like magnets for new people and new capital. In New York, such changes transformed both the landscape and the people. Upstate New York straddled the main route between New England, New...


    • CHAPTER 4 Minding the Light: Quaker Traditions in a Changing World
      (pp. 91-120)

      It was Fourth Day, the twenty-sixth day of Third Month, 1845. Twenty-four-year-old Elizabeth M’Clintock sat quietly in the wooden, lowbacked pew, hands folded in her lap, eyes closed. Outside, the day was chilly. Snow still covered the grass, but the sun shining brightly through the clear windows, combined with the heat of the wood stove, made M’Clintock warm, and she struggled against sleep. (“We believe sleeping and all other unbecoming behavior avoided,” the meeting recorded that day.)¹

      A few other women sat around M’Clintock. They were dressed in a symphony of somber colors—grays, browns, and blues—reflecting their concern...

    • CHAPTER 5 Seneca Falls: Abolitionist Ferment
      (pp. 121-134)

      Looking back on her girlhood in Seneca Falls, Mary Bascom Bull remembered vividly the village’s “spirit of reform,” its “reaching out for perfection.” Her own family was at the center of the storm. Her mother, Eliza Bascom, was by nature a retiring woman, but she did her part. For a whole year, she put her family on the vegetarian Grahamite diet, preparing graham crackers, graham gems (a muffin), and graham bread to serve with fruit, nuts, and cold water. She sewed flags for temperance parades and made fancy goods for antislavery fairs, but when it came to public speeches, she...

    • CHAPTER 6 Women and Legal Reform in New York State
      (pp. 135-154)

      Martha Wright, ever the chronicler, entertained her sister Lucretia Mott with vignettes from Auburn’s social life. In 1843, the topic of the hour was a proposed act to grant married women the right to own property. Parlor conversations echoed legislative debates. Frances Seward and her husband, Governor William Henry Seward, owned a home in Auburn, where Mrs. Seward (raised a Quaker herself) often invited David and Martha Wright to tea.

      In some ways, Seward was more reform minded than her husband. She used their home as a haven for fugitives from slavery. She also supported the married woman’s property act....


    • CHAPTER 7 Adversity and Transcendence, June 1847–June 1848
      (pp. 157-182)

      June 1847 to June 1848 was a year of transition for Elizabeth Cady Stanton. After 1840, it was the most significant year of her adult life. Personal turmoil forced Stanton to turn outward, to forge for herself a public persona that balanced her private stress and affirmed her sense of control over her life. She emerged with a renewed zest for living and with a sense of purpose that would sustain her for the rest of her life.

      Just before she moved from Boston to Seneca Falls, Stanton wrote to her cousin, Elizabeth Smith Miller, that Henry “dreads the change...

    • CHAPTER 8 Declaring Woman’s Rights, July 1848
      (pp. 183-208)

      In July 1848, revolution was in the air. As Americans confronted dramatic economic and social change, they had to redefine old values to meet the demands of a new world. Talk of revolution was not new in 1848. People had debated the idea for years. But in the spring of 1848,revolutionbecame a household word. Through detailed newspaper reports, Americans followed the latest revolution in France. American reformers responded sympathetically. In Boston, a meeting of working men congratulated “our brothers” of France on their “glorious Revolution.” In Rochester, Frederick Douglass asserted that the French revolution reverberated around the globe....

    • CHAPTER 9 The Road from Seneca Falls, 1848–1982
      (pp. 209-240)

      When the convention was over, participants congratulated themselves on how smoothly, how earnestly, and with what self-assurance they had debated such controversial issues. Imagine their surprise, then, when newspapers around the country made fun of their efforts. “No words could express our astonishment,” recalled Elizabeth Cady Stanton, “on finding, a few days afterward, that what seemed to us so timely, so rational, and so sacred, should be a subject for sarcasm and ridicule.”¹

      Certainly, she had evidence enough of contemptuous responses. While theRochester Advertisersimply dismissed the convention as “extremely dull and uninteresting,” other newspapers were downright vituperative, calling...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 241-286)
  9. Index
    (pp. 287-298)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 299-302)