Episode 12

Speeches from The Seneca Falls Women's Convention, by Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Published on: 9th February, 2021

Intro - Amy:  Welcome to Breaking Down Patriarchy, I’m Amy McPhie Allebest.

Today we are going to discuss some iconic texts in Women’s History. The 1848 Seneca Falls Convention was the first Women’s Rights convention in American history, and the speeches delivered there have been touchstones for Women’s Rights movements all over the world, ever since. The convention is considered the kick-off of the women’s suffrage movement in the United States, even though it would be 72 years before the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920, which guaranteed women the right to vote, and it would be 117 more years before the Voting Rights Act was passed, in 1965, which protected Black men and women’s right to vote. This was a slow and painful process, and amidst some of the inspiring language of the Seneca Falls convention speeches you can already see some big problems that would keep thwarting the effort toward voting justice for all Americans. But we’ll get to that later.


Frst, I’m going to introduce my reading partner, Courtney McPhie. Hi, Courtney!


Courtney: Hi, Amy!


Amy:


If you follow Courtney McPhie’s lineage, you will find yourself in Scotland, where a fierce and stubborn streak planted early roots for a family tree. Growing up in Colorado, Courtney experienced a typical awakening to social justice in high school, but took until college to call herself a feminist. A voracious reader and podcast-listener, Courtney lives in Northern Virginia, in the DC Metro area. She completed her graduate studies at George Mason University and holds a masters degree in education, which she uses as a high school English teacher in Fairfax County, one of the largest districts in the country. She works largely with English Language Learners, mostly asylum-seekers who have come from Central America in the last three years. Courtney lives with her husband and three cute kids in a Colonial house on a hill. 


What interests Courtney in the project

The chance to briefly own a microphone (haha)


Amy:

Ok, let’s dive in! First, let’s talk about the organizers and speakers at the convention - Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Courtney, can you start by telling us about Lucretia Mott?


Courtney:


Born January 3, 1793, Lucretia Coffin was raised in a Quaker family in Boston. She was sent to a Quaker school, where she became even more adamant in her belief that all are born equal. When she finished school she stayed on as a teacher, then became a Quaker preacher where she became a staunch abolitionist and women’s rights activist. By 1811, Mott was living in Philadelphia where she married her father’s business partner, James Mott. 

Mott was passionate about her work as an abolitionist, something that was supported by her husband. She started the Philadelphia Femail Anti-Slavery Society in 1833 after working with William Lloyd Garrison, an abolitionist and women’s rights activist who encouraged women to be involved in the movements. He encouraged Mott and all women to write and speak out about these issues, which caused Mott to be ridiculed for her acting in ways that were unbecoming of women. However, she did not let this stop her. 

Mott soon became frustrated that, as a woman, she was not allowed to participate in many of the abolitionist groups and conventions. It was at this time she met Elizabeth Cady Stanton, with their respective husbands, at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London, England. 

 

The two women became allies when the male delegates attending the convention voted that women should be denied participation in the proceedings, even if they, like Mott, had been nominated to serve as official delegates of their respective abolitionist societies. After considerable debate, the women were required to sit in a roped-off section hidden from the view of the men in attendance. They were soon joined by the prominent abolitionist, William Lloyd Garrison, who arrived after the vote had been taken and, in protest of the outcome, refused his seat, electing instead to sit with the women. The humiliation of this event, forced to be seated separately, not even seen by the men, sparked fury in the women. This event became a catalyst for their own movement and convention.


In 1848, while at a tea with some close friends, Mott and Stanton came up with the idea of the Seneca Falls Convention. Planned for only ten days later, the women published an invitation to the Convention in several papers, including Frederick Douglass’s publication The North Star. Douglass was eager to attend and show his support for Mott, Stanton, and women’s rights. 

Though Mott considered women’s rights “the most important question of [her] life,” she remained committed to abolition, protesting the passing of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. 

After living a life full of activism and advocacy, Mott died on November 11, 1880 of pneumonia, and was buried near her home, north of Philadelphia. 


[Sources: Seneca Falls and the Origins of the Women’s Rights Movement, Sally G. McMillen, Oxford University Press, 2008 

https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/lucretia-mott

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucretia_Mott]



Amy - Great. So I researched a bit about Elizabeth Cady Stanton.


Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Elizabeth Cady, the eighth of eleven children, was born in Johnstown, New York, on November 12, 1815. That makes her 22 years younger than Lucretia Mott.

Elizabeth’s father was a lawyer and a judge, and he introduced his daughter to the law. Even as a young girl, she enjoyed reading her father's law books and debating legal issues with his law clerks. It was this early exposure to law that, in part, caused Stanton to realize how disproportionately the law favored men over women, particularly married women. Her realization that married women had virtually no property, income, employment, or even custody rights over their own children, helped set her course toward changing these inequities.

 

Two anecdotes from the New York Times last month:

 

Stanton’s father was a judge in Johnstown, N.Y., with an office in the family home on Main Street. Asking about the anguished faces of women who sought his counsel, Stanton learned that marriage erased a woman’s identity, rendering her “civilly dead.” In a fury, Stanton, 10 at the time, tried to slice the relevant statutes from her father’s law books.

One of her father’s clerks, noticing a coral necklace Stanton had gotten as a Christmas gift, once baited her, saying, “‘When you get married, your husband will own it. He can swap your necklace for cigars, and it will go up in smoke,’” Ms. Jenkins said. As an adult, Stanton lobbied the New York legislature, and the state became one of the first to overhaul marital property rights.

 

Unlike many women of her era, Stanton was formally educated. She attended Johnstown Academy in her home town until the age of 16. 

Her mother, having lost six children, struggled with depression and was emotionally absent. When yet another of Stanton’s siblings, her 20-year-old brother Eleazar died, Stanton remembers trying to comfort her father, saying that she would try to be all her brother had been. At the time, her father's response devastated Stanton: "Oh, my daughter, I wish you were a boy!" This devastated Elizabeth, but motivated her to work harder.

Elizabeth was a model student, and she wanted to attend college where her brother Eleazar had studied, but females were not admitted. She was furious, but went to a female seminary instead.

As a young woman, Elizabeth Cady met the abolitionist Henry Brewster Stanton. The couple was married in 1840, with Elizabeth Cady requesting of the minister that the phrase "promise to obey" be removed from the wedding vows. She later wrote, "I obstinately refused to obey one with whom I supposed I was entering into an equal relation." The couple had seven children. At the beginning of their marriage the couple worked tirelessly in the cause of abolition, meeting with and being influenced by such luminaries as Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Louisa May Alcott, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

 

As Courtney mentioned, Stanton met the much-older Lucretia Mott at the Anti-Slavery Convention in London, and the two women developed a close friendship and a common mission to fight for women’s rights. She said:

The general discontent I felt with woman's portion as wife, housekeeper, physician, and spiritual guide, the chaotic conditions into which everything fell without her constant supervision, and the wearied, anxious look of the majority of women, impressed me with a strong feeling that some active measures should be taken to remedy the wrongs of society in general, and of women in particular. My experience at the World Anti-slavery Convention, all I had read of the legal status of women, and the oppression I saw everywhere, together swept across my soul, intensified now by many personal experiences. It seemed as if all the elements had conspired to impel me to some onward step. I could not see what to do or where to begin—my only thought was a public meeting for protest and discussion.

In 1848, acting on these feelings and perceptions, Stanton joined Mott, Mott's sister Martha Coffin Wright, Jane Hunt and a handful of other women in Seneca Falls. Together they organized the Seneca Falls Convention, and as Courtney said, planned it within 10 days. The conference took place over the course of two days, on July 19 and 20, 1848, and over 300 people attended. 

 

Sources: 

Seneca Falls and the Origins of the Women’s Rights Movement, Sally G. McMillen, Oxford University Press, 2008

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Cady_Stanton

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/08/07/us/suffragists-descendants.html]

 

So now let’s look at the texts. We chose to read the transcripts of some of the most important speeches given at the convention. Courtney, can you give us an outline of the three speeches we’ll be discussing today? 

 

Outline of the documents - Courtney:

There were two days to the convention, and these documents are from the first day, when only women were present. 

FIrst we have the declaration of sentiments, a powerful document which was modeled after the Constitution stating the rights of women. 

The next document we are going to cover is the Resolutions. These were a set of actions the women wanted to fight for. The most well known is Resolution nine, which boldly stated that women should have the right to vote. These resolutions were put to a vote among the women, and all but the ninth passed. The women were a bit scandalized by this resolution for suffrage that Stanton and Mott had snuck in. 

Now, after the ninth resolution failed to pass, the organizers of the convention had Frederick Douglass speak, followed by the Keynote speech by Stanton. Both appealed to their audience to pass the ninth resolution. These speeches held sway, and when the resolutions came up to a vote after, all eleven resolutions, including the ninth passed. 


Declaration- Amy: 

 Like Olympe de Gouges responding to the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen in France, Stanton takes the American Declaration of Independence as a starting point, and applies it to women. 


She begins “When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary” to make a big change… and follows it with “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal…” etc. etc.


After the introductory paragraph which uses the US Declaration as a template, she takes on the project of “breaking down patriarchy” as clearly and succinctly as any text we’re going to read during this series. 


She points out that men have always placed themselves in the position to make rules for women, and have from that position of power, they have restricted their rights.


The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.


He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise. 


He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice. 


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.


He has made her, if married, in the eye of the law, civilly dead.


Story of EC Stanton in her father’s law office. Couverture erased women. 


He has taken from her all right in property, even to the wages she earns.


Story of EC Stanton and the coral necklace.


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. (physical beatings)


He has so framed the laws of divorce, as to what shall be the proper causes of divorce; 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 the false supposition of the supremacy of man, and giving all power into his hands.


Thank goodness this has changed. Children, like everything else, were 100% the property of the man during this time. 

It’s interesting how this has swung, with children more likely to stay with their mothers because of the role of women being the nurturer of the family, when truly parenthood should be a joint partnership, even after divorce. 


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.


He has denied her the facilities for obtaining a thorough education - all colleges being closed against her.


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.


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.


He has usurped the prerogative of Jehovah himself, claiming it as his right to assign for her a sphere of action, when that belongs to her conscience and her God.


He has endeavored in every way that he could to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life.


Discussion on the usefulness of attributing purposeful motive to men


I have mixed feelings about this one. On one hand, it’s true that there is a collective “he” that has oppressed woman and crushed her soul and destroyed her confidence and self-respect. And there are individual men who do this to women. There are men who do it almost purposefully because they truly do not respect their wives and their daughters or their female students or female employees. I have encountered men like this, and it is deplorable.


But more commonly, there are men who don’t know they are doing that to their wives and daughters and female students and employees, but nevertheless they ARE destroying their confidence in their own powers, lessening their self-respect, and making them lead a dependent life. And men who think “I would never do that!” (even though sometimes they do) would read that sentence and feel defensive, because it says “he has endeavored in every way” to do those things. This makes him sound like a monster, and no one wants to feel like a monster.


I think this is like the #notallmen movement, which isn’t helpful. No, most men don’t mean to do this, but a lot of them do it anyway without knowing because they don’t take the time to investigate themselves. And the misogyny is systemic, created by men in power, and everyday men benefit from this power without even realizing, and that’s their privilege. So it’s true many men don’t act that way, but I don’t find it to be a valid excuse to excuse the “good” men from responsibility. Even if no one wants to feel like a monster, he is still participating in and profiting from a monstrous power structure. 


I think it’s a better move strategically - and it’s more aligned with my values of assuming the best in others - to acknowledge the following:

  • No person currently living designed this system. 
  • There is no committee that meets to discuss the ways they can destroy women on purpose
  • There are some men who are terrible to women on purpose, but most are doing the best they know how, doing what they were taught by their parents and their cultures. We are all doing the best we know how with the information we have. But it’s our responsibility to learn more. No excuse to just make do with the information we have.
  • People respond best to feedback if they hear “I” statements and not broad, sweeping statements that ascribe malicious motives to their behaviors.


These women needed - and we still need - to recruit men’s involvement and make them want to help.


Resolutions - Amy:


This is a list of action items, and there are many important ones, but I’m only going to highlight one:


“That the women of this country ought to be enlightened in regard to the laws under which they live, that they may no longer publish their degradation, by declaring themselves satisfied with their present position, nor their ignorance, by asserting that they have all the rights they want.”


This reminds me of Olympe de Gouge’s “Women, AWAKE!!!” 


Do women have the obligation to wake other women up to the systemic oppression? What is the most effective way to do that? Why do it at all, if women don’t want to be woken up?

This is an interesting question. I tend to think YES, any woman who is awake has the duty to awaken others. The same stands for race. Anyone who is awake to systemic racism has the obligation to help awaken others. Women (people) who do not want to wake up won't, but it's their own choice. There can be no ignorance. However, this also brings up proselytizing churches, which is something I personally do not agree with. But I think ultimately we have to allow people to feel so strongly about their own righteous cause that they want to spread the word. 


Keynote address - Courtney:


  • Keynote: Women’s moral mission - Courtney, 
  • Let’s get right to the text and start with a quote. There seems now to be a kind of moral stagnation in our midst. Verily, the world waits the coming of some new element, some purifying power, some spirit of mercy and love.  The voice of woman has been silenced in the state, the church, and the home, but man cannot fulfill his destiny alone, he cannot redeem his race unaided. There are deep and tender chords of sympathy and love in the hearts of the downfallen and oppressed that woman can touch more skillfully than man. The world has never yet seen a truly great and virtuous nation, because in the degradation of woman the very fountains of life are poisoned at their source. It is vain to look for silver and gold from mines of copper and lead. 

Stanton is singing the praises of women! We’ll discuss equality in a minute, but this quote shows Stanton touting women as the saviors of America. She previously mentions the drunken, lying, licentious men whom women will save, her key phrase saying “he cannot redeem his race unaided.” Stanton reasons that this, the moral stagnation, is become women’s voices have been silenced and the “degradation of woman, the fountains of life are poisoned at their source. Perhaps activism benefits in stereotypes as Stanton credits all morality to women. This is tied to these women’s fight also for temperance. 

I find this problematic to degrade men back as they have degraded women by denying them rights. I do find this similar to a common trope of feminism today: smart, sharp (but naggy) wife with the bumbling oaf of a husband. Perhaps women felt their message would only be heard by this rabble rousing, by pumping up the convention attendees to see the “greatness” as a reason to pass the 9th resolution of suffrage. What would have happened if women were to stick just to the argument that they are citizens, and that was the sole reason they deserved the vote? 

This leads easily into the conversation of equality. Do women deserve the vote because they are equal to men? 


  • Keynote: Equality - Courtney (Are men and women equal? What does that mean?)

A preamble to this keynote address discusses superiority and whether men have physical, intellectual, or moral superiority. After arguing that, for the most part, women have not been afforded the ability to assert their competence physically or intellectually. Of moral superiority, Stanton says In my opinion, he is infinitely woman’s inferior in every moral quality, not by nature, but made so by a false education.  Though in the Resolutions earlier in the conference, Mott stated men decide the superiority: That inasmuch as man, while claiming for himself intellectual superiority, does accord to woman moral superiority, it is pre-eminently his duty to encourage her to speak, and teach, as she has an opportunity, in all religious assemblies. And Stanton does later in her assert that women are universally morally superior. Ending this introduction to the Keynote, Stanton concludes, But there is a class of objectors who say they do not claim superiority, they merely assert a difference. But you will find by following them up closely, that they soon run this difference into the old groove of superiority.… This makes us wonder, what does Stanton consider equality to be? Does she consider intellectual, physical, or moral superiority to sway equality? By asserting potential moral, physical, and intellectual neutrality, Stanton seems to have built up a perfect argument that men and women are equal, so therefore, a woman deserves the vote. However, as she moves into the body of her Keynote, she asserts that men and women are not equal, they just deserve equal rights. This makes us wonder, what does Stanton consider equality to be? Does she consider intellectual, physical, or moral superiority to sway equality? She could also be playing to the fear that women want to become man-like. Throughout the convention there are references to not wanting women to wear men’s clothes or acting in other ways as a man. Stanton could be referring to the society’s religious tenet of men and women being divinely different. This leads to what I find the most compelling argument for suffrage.

Stanton says, “We have no objection to discuss the question of equality, for we feel that the weight of argument lies wholly with us, but we wish the question of equality kept distinct from the question of rights, for the proof of the one does not determine the truth of the other. All white men in this country have the same rights, however they may differ in mind, body, or estate. So men and women deserve the right to vote purely by being citizens of the country. She takes this opportunity to denigrate the Irish, by pointing out that even the Irishman drunk in the gutter, or even the weak and flimsy Irishman have the right to vote. Clearly that is not about superiority, in fact women are clearly above that, so women deserve the right to vote as does any-- and she means any-- white man. 

Furthering stereotypes and verbal abuse of the Irish population is obviously problematic, but she uses this to support what the Declaration of Sentiments states: the right to vote should be afforded to men and to women because they are the governed. This is the golden seed of franchise.


Race -Amy:


I think what we have here is a case of a lot of people drowning. At first these Women’s Rights activists like Stanton and Mott, and later Susan B Anthony - remember, these were all women who worked in the Abolition movement - had the attitude of “we’re all in this together - let’s help each other get out of the water.” But as it became clear that only one of them was going to get out of the water first, the white women started pushing themselves up by pushing down the heads of Black Americans. :( We can see glimpses of those tendencies already present at Seneca Falls.


You can tell that Stanton is very frustrated that she sees men whom she regards as “beneath” her (like uneducated Irish) who have the right to vote, and later, when it becomes obvious that African American men are going to be granted suffrage before white women, she gets ugly.


The women, especially Stanton, say all kinds of horrible, racist things, which you can look up, and they say that “women’s” oppression is just as bad as African American’s oppression, using words like “women are slaves to their masters,” etc.

 

[Douglass] fiercely resisted the equivalence of women’s plight with that of the freedpeople. ‘When women, because they are women, are hunted down in the cities of New York and New Orleans; when they are dragged from their houses and are hung from lamp-posts; when their children are torn from their arms, and their brains bashed out upon the pavement… when they are in danger of having their homes burnt down over their heads… then they will have an urgency to obtain the ballot equal to our own.” (Blight 491)

 


Summary: Courtney and Amy


Courtney:

This convention was so important because of the resolutions. This was one of the most public declarations for women’s suffrage. The discussions of equality and morality are also seeds that were nurtured in second wave feminism, as the mold for women’s role in the home cracked. Stanton and Mott paved the way with this large women’s convention. 


Amy:


Many women that we’ve read on past episodes wrote manifestos, but they were never read in front of an audience of 300. They didn’t contain action items. They didn’t enlist both men and women in actually changing laws. This was a HUGE moment for women, and it literally got a ball rolling that would pick up momentum and change the world, in ways we are still feeling today.


Conclusion; Amy


Thanks for joining us today. Our next episode is a continuation of today’s discussion… as we’ve been talking about Women’s Rights activists saying that “women” needed the right to vote first, and African American’s Rights activists claiming that “Black people”  needed the right to vote first, it’s apparent that by “women” meant “white women,” and that “Black people” meant “Black men.” So of course the ones who were left behind and left out of both movements were Black women. Next week we will hear the powerful voice of Sojourner Truth, who reminds us that she is a woman too. We’ll be reading and discussing Truth, and her famous “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech. It’s a short speech, easy to find online, and worth listening to on YouTube or 

there’s even a TED talk with a performance. Join us next time on Breaking Down Patriarchy.

More notes


Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions - Seneca Falls (1848)



Declaration:


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. 


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. Such has been the patient sufferance of the women under this government, and such is now the necessity which constrains them to demand the equal station to which they are entitled. 


The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.


He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise. 


Just yesterday, Lucy told me that in her Civics class they were asked “if society has to choose between them, should society choose liberty or security?” Lucy said she chose liberty, because if you have liberty, you have control and can try to enact laws that make you secure. But if someone else is making the rules for you and you have no voice, they may not choose your real security anyway, and you’re left with neither. Yeah Lucy!


I mention this because the primary reason that men (and women!) gave for not needing women’s suffrage was that it was men’s job to keep women safe from the contention and animosity of the public forum. Men would represent their needs at the ballot box, and women could stay safely away from the fray at home.


He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice. 


Abigail Adams: “We will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”


He has witheld from her rights which are given to the most ignorant and degraded men - both natives and foreigners.


Ok. First I”m going to try to get inside her head on this. If I took great care to educate myself on the issues confronting my country, if I read broadly and widely and talked to lots of people and felt like I had important insights into how things should be run, which I gained by a lot of effort, and then I showed up at the poll, and saw a man who had taken no time to educate himself, had no interest in the political process, had done no work, and he showed up to the poll drunk, and HE was allowed to vote, and I wasn’t, I would be PISSED. So that I can relate to. And to give them the benefit of the doubt, they may have been trying to be nondiscriminatory by saying that that kind of ignorance was present in American men as well as immigrant men. 


However, we know that those kinds of class distinctions are undemocratic and that they’re often racially tinged (or outright racist, which is where these women make huge, consequential missteps of increasing severity. We’ll discuss that in a minute).


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.


They don’t say the word “vote” or “suffrage” here,  but they’re laying the foundation.


He has made her, if married, in the eye of the law, civilly dead.


Story of EC Stanton in her father’s law office. Couverture erased women. 


He has taken from her all right in property, even to the wages she earns.


Story of EC Stanton and the coral necklace.


He has made her, morally, an irresponsible being, as she can commit many crimes with impunity, provided they be 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.


He has so framed the laws of divorce, as to what shall be the proper causes of divorce; 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 the false supposition of the supremacy of man, and giving all power into his hands.


Thank goodness this has changed. Children, like everything else, were 100% the property of the man during this time.


After depriving her of all rights as a married woman, if single and the owner of property, he has taxed her to support a government which recognizes her only when her property can be made profitable to 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.


He has denied her the facilities for obtaining a thorough education - all colleges being closed against her.


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.


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.


He has usurped the prerogative of Jehovah himself, claiming it as his right to assign for her a sphere of action, when that belongs to her conscience and her God.


If SHE, with no indoctrination, with full encouragement to choose any path she wants, says “I am capable of doing anything, and every door is open to me, and  I don’t want to go to college, and I don’t want to develop a career of any kind, and I don’t want to have a leadership role in church life or civic life,” then that’s one thing. But that wasn’t the situation, and it’s not the situation even now in many sectors of society. Women’s roles are still determined by a room full of MEN, and that fact makes the whole situation philosophically immoral. It’s unsound at its foundation. 


He has endeavored in every way that he could to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life.


I have mixed feelings about this one. On one hand, it’s true that there is a collective “he” that has oppressed woman and crushed her soul and destroyed her confidence and self-respect. And there are individual men who do this to women. There are men who do it almost purposefully because they truly do not respect their wives and their daughters or their female students or female employees. I have encountered men like this, and it is deplorable.


But more commonly, there are men who don’t know they are doing that to their wives and daughters and female students and employees, but nevertheless they ARE destroying their confidence in their own powers, lessening their self-respect, and making them lead a dependent life. And men who think “I would never do that!” (even though sometimes they do) would read that sentence and feel defensive, because it says “he has endeavored in every way” to do those things. This makes him sound like a monster, and no one wants to feel like a monster.


I think this is like the #notallmen movement, which isn’t helpful. No, most men don’t mean to do this, but a lot of them do it anyway without knowing because they don’t take the time to investigate themselves. And the misogyny is systemic, created by men in power, and everyday men benefit from this power without even realizing, and that’s their privilege. So it’s true many men don’t act that way, but I don’t find it to be a valid excuse to excuse the “good” men from responsibility. Even if no one wants to feel like a monster, he is still participating in and profiting from a monstrous power structure. 


I think it’s a better move strategically - and it’s more aligned with my values of assuming the best in others - to acknowledge that 

  • No person currently living designed this system. 
  • There is no committee that meets to discuss the ways they can destroy women on purpose
  • There are some men who are terrible to women on purpose, but most are doing the best they know how, doing what they were taught by their parents and their cultures. We are all doing the best we know how with the information we have. But it’s our responsibility to learn more. No excuse to just make do with the information we have.
  • People respond best to feedback if they hear “I” statements and not broad, sweeping statements that ascribe malicious motives to their behaviors.


These women needed - and we still need - to recruit men’s involvement and make them want to help.


Now, in view of this entire disfranchisement of one-half of the people of this country, their social and religious degradation, - in view of the unjust laws above mentioned, and 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 these United States. 


In entering upon the great work before us, we anticipate no small amount of misconception, misrepresentation, and ridicule; but we shall use every instrumentality within our power to affect our object. We shall employ agents, circulate tracts, petition the State and national Legislatures, and endeavor to enlist the pulpit and the press on our behalf. We hope this Convention will be followed by a series of Conventions, embracing every part of the country.


They’re starting a revolution!!! They know they’ll be misunderstood, and that’s ok. They inspire me to be more thick skinned!


Firmly relying upon the final triumph of the Right and the True, we do this day affix our signatures to this declaration.


Lucretia Mott offered and spoke to the following resolution: That the speedy success of our cause depends upon the zealous and untiring efforts of both men and women, for the overthrow of the monopoly of the pulpit, and for the securing to woman an equal participation with men in the various trades, professions, and commerce.



Resolutions:


The great precept of nature is conceded to be, “that man shall pursue his own true and substantial happiness.” Blackstone, in his Commentaries, remarks that this law of Nature being coeval with mankind, and dictated by God himself, is of course superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe, in all countries, and at all times; no human laws are of any validity if contrary to this, and such of them as are valid, derive all their force, and all their validity, and all their authority, mediately and immediately, from this original; Therefore,


This refers to William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, written in 1765. Common Law marriage was based on the law of couverture, so it’s weird that they quote Blackstone here. Would Blackstone have meant that women should also pursue their own true and substantial happiness, even if it meant leaving their proper sphere and considering themselves separate from their husbands?


That such laws as conflict, in any way, with the true and substantial happiness of woman, are contrary to the great precept of nature, and no validity; for this is “superior in obligation to any other.”


That all laws which prevent woman from occupying such a station in society as her conscience shall dictate, or which place her in a position inferior to that of man, are contrary to the great precept of nature, and therefore of no force or authority.


Again, we encountering a controversial assertion: Aristotle and Darwin would assert that the precept of nature confirms women’s inferiority. Even some people I  know now argue that women by nature are in some ways inferior to men. Who gets to define the “great precept of nature?” I do love their audacity to assert their own opinion on it though!!


That woman is man’s equal - was intended to be so by the Creator, and the highest good of the race demands that she should be recognized as such.


Some with this - some would say this is wishful thinking, and would cite Genesis where Eve is created from Adam’s rib and is made specifically as a helpmeet, and Adam is to rule over Eve. 


But some might cite the other Creation account in Genesis and say, “you’re right, the Creator did make women and men in His image - men and women are equal. But that doesn’t mean we’re the same, and men have the role of leadership, and women have the role of caring for the children. See? Equals!. This reminds me of white leaders during South African Apartheid said that “of course Black people were equal in value in the eyes of God,” but they insisted that white people and black people were fundamentally different. The white leaders called their plan for the Black Africans the “Plan of Separate Development.” They marketed this plan as “separate but equal,” and the propaganda was full of claims of equality. But all the decisions, all the definitions of terms of what equality meant and how it would play out in society were all made by white people. So at its foundations the power dynamic was not equal. If a person says “we’re equal, and I’m deciding that my role is to make the rules for you, and your role is to follow my rules,” then that’s not equal, and it’s not just, no matter how much they say it is.


That the women of this country ought to be enlightened in regard to the laws under which they live, that they may no longer publish their degradation, by declaring themselves satisfied with their present position, nor their ignorance, by asserting that they have all the rights they want.


This reminds me of Olympe de Gouge’s “Women, AWAKE!!!” 


Do women have the obligation to wake other women up to the systemic oppression? What is the most effective way to do that? Why do it at all, if women don’t want to be woken up?


That inasmuch as man, while claiming for himself intellectual superiority, does accord to woman moral superiority, it is pre-eminently his duty to encourage her to speak, and teach, as she has an opportunity, in all religious assemblies.


Men according women moral superiority was a feature of the 19th Century. Women certainly weren’t seen as morally superior by the Greeks, the Hebrews, or the early church fathers! And yes, if she really is morally superior, then why would she not be encouraged to speak? And lead in the moral/philosophical realm??


That the same amount of virtue, delicacy, and refinement of behavior, that is required of woman in the social state, should also be required of man, and the same transgressions should be visited with equal severity on both man and woman.


No double-standard and no hypocrisy! For example, women are disdained for swearing (I remember once mom swore and Dad was appalled. Dad swore all the time! If it’s unrefined for women, then it’s unrefined for men.)


That the objection of indelicacy and impropriety, which is so often brought against woman when she addresses a public audience, comes with a very ill grace from those who encourage, by their attendance, her appearance on the stage, in the concert, or in the feats of the circus.


Women could perform for men’s entertainment, but it was inappropriate for them to consider themselves leaders in any way


That woman has too long rested satisfied in the circumscribed limits which corrupt customs and a perverted application of the Scriptures have marked out for her, and that it is time she should move in the enlarged sphere which her great Creator has assigned her.


Again, this is bold because Stanton is claiming to interpret scripture authoritatively, in contradiction to the current interpretation. At the end of her life, she would write The Woman’s Bible, which goes through the Bible and corrects every passage that Stanton felt was wrong. She lost a lot of friends and allies over the book - it was way too radical, and Stanton lost influence over the suffrage movement when it came out because women knew they needed to appeal to more traditional religious adherents.


That it is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.


Can’t wait for men to do it on their own. “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” -Frederick Douglass


That the equality of human rights results necessarily from the fact of the identity of the race in capabilities and responsibilities.


Therefore, that, being invested by the Creator with the same capabilities, and the same consciousness of responsibility for their exercise, it is demonstrably the right and duty of woman, equally with man, to promote every righteous cause, by every righteous means; and especially in regard to the great subjects of morals and religion, it is self-evidently her right to participate with her brother in teaching them, both in private and in public, by writing and by speaking, by any instrumentalities proper to be used, and in any assemblies proper to be held; and this being a self-evident truth, growing out of the divinely implanted principles of human nature, any custom or authority adverse to it, whether modern or wearing the hoary sanction of antiquity, is to be regarded as self-evident falsehood, and at war with the interests of mankind. 



---


Keynote Address by Stanton

Originally all resolutions save suffrage passed. This was to discuss the resolutions and push suffrage forward, as has Frederick Douglass done in his earlier speech. The resolution then passed. 

We have met here today to discuss our rights and wrongs, civil and political, and not, as some have supposed, to go into the detail of social life alone. We do not propose to petition the legislature to make our husbands just, generous, and courteous, to seat every man at the head of a cradle, and to clothe every woman in male attire. 

Fear that women won’t be women. They must remain home! But gender equality has to start somewhere

None of these points, however important they may be considered by leading men, will be touched in this convention. As to their costume, the gentlemen need feel no fear of our imitating that, for we think it in violation of every principle of taste, beauty, and dignity; notwithstanding all the contempt cast upon our loose, flowing garments, we still admire the graceful folds, and consider our costume far more artistic than theirs. Many of the nobler sex seem to agree with us in this opinion, for the bishops, priests, judges, barristers, and lord mayors of the first nation on the globe, and the Pope of Rome, with his cardinals, too, all wear the loose flowing robes, thus tacity acknowledging that the male attire is neither dignified nor imposing. No, we shall not molest you in your philosophical experiments with stocks, pants, high-heeled boots, and Russian belts. Yours be the glory to discover, by personal experience, how long the kneepan can resist the terrible strapping down which you impose, in how short time the well-developed muscles of the throat can be reduced to mere threads by the constant pressure of the stock, how high the heel of a boot must be to make a short man tall, and how tight the Russian belt may be drawn and yet have wind enough left to sustain life. 

Satire-- is she hoping to appeal to the women in the room by using this humor. This was given day one, when only women were present

But we are assembled to protest against a form of government existing without the consent of the governed - to declare our right to be free as man is free, to be represented in the government which we are taxed to support, to have such disgraceful laws as give man the power to chastise and imprison his wife, to take the wages which she earns, the property which she inherits, and, in case of separation, the children of her love; laws which make her the mere dependent on his bounty. It is to protest against such unjust laws as these that we are assembled today, and to have them, if possible, forever erased from our statute books, deeming them a shame and a disgrace to a Christian republic in the nineteenth century. 

Their man point of the convention was not to insist on suffrage yet, it was more of a tiny sliver they slipped in. This is focused on laws of coverture

We have met to uplift woman's fallen divinity upon an even pedestal with man's. And, strange as it may seem to many, we now demand our right to vote according to the declaration of the government under which we live. 

Truly revolutionary to demand this, and not all women were on board.

This right no one pretends to deny. We need not prove ourselves equal to Daniel Webster to enjoy this privilege, for the ignorant Irishman in the ditch has all the civil rights he has. We need not prove our muscular power equal to this same Irishman to enjoy this privilege, for the most tiny, weak, ill-shaped stripling of twenty-one has all the civil rights of the Irishman. We have no objection to discuss the question of equality, for we feel that the weight of argument lies wholly with us, but we wish the question of equality kept distinct from the question of rights, for the proof of the one does not determine the truth of the other. All white men in this country have the same rights, however they may differ in mind, body, or estate. *Pull a quote about equality, superiority. What do they mean by equal? Different realms? Or superiority?

Equality doesn’t necessarily mean having the same rights. This applies to these women being “better” than the Irishman. They are clearly above him, and women and men will always be different, but white women still should be able to vote. The argument isn’t that women are equal to men but that they deserve the vote in their own right. This could feed their argument for why black women are not deserving of suffrage- Amy 

The right is ours. The question now is: how shall we get possession of what rightfully belongs to us? We should not feel so sorely grieved if no man who had not attained the full stature of a Webster, Clay, Van Buren, or Gerrit Smith could claim the right of the elective franchise. But to have drunkards, idiots, horse-racing, rum-selling rowdies, ignorant foreigners, and silly boys fully recognized, while we ourselves are thrust out from all the rights that belong to citizens, it is too grossly insulting to the dignity of woman to be longer quietly submitted to. The right is ours. Have it, we must. Use it, we will. The pens, the tongues, the fortunes, the indomitable wills of many women are already pledged to secure this right. The great truth that no just government can be formed without the consent of the governed we shall echo and re-echo in the ears of the unjust judge, until by continual coming we shall weary him There seems now to be a kind of moral stagnation in our midst.Philanthropists have done their utmost to rouse the nation to a sense of its sins. War, slavery, drunkenness, licentiousness, gluttony, have been dragged naked before the people, and all their abominations and deformities fully brought to light, yet with idiotic laugh we hug those monsters to our breasts and rush on to destruction. Our churches are multiplying on all sides, our missionary societies, Sunday schools, and prayer meetings and innumerable charitable and reform organizations are all inoperation, but still the tide of vice is swelling, and threatens the destruction of everything, and the battlements of righteousness are weak against the raging elements of sin and death. Verily, the world waits the coming of some new element, some purifying power, some spirit of mercy and love.  WOMAN The voice of woman has been silenced in the state, the church, and the home, but man cannot fulfill his destiny alone, he cannot redeem his race unaided. There are deep and tender chords of sympathy and love in the hearts of the downfallen and oppressed that woman can touch more skillfully than man. The world has never yet seen a truly great and virtuous nation, because in the degradation of woman the very fountains of life are poisoned at their source. It is vain to look for silver and gold from mines of copper and lead. To denigrate men in this way, yet the idea is that they inherently deserve to rule and rule over women and minorities… this doesn’t make sense to me - Courtney


It is the wise mother that has the wise son. So long as your women are slaves you may throw your colleges and churches to the winds. PROBLEMATIC-- this kind of language is what drove Frederick Douglass away You can't have scholars and saints so long as your mothers are ground to powder between the upper and nether millstone of tyranny and lust. How seldom, now, is a father's pride gratified, his fond hopes realized, in the budding genius of his son! The wife is degraded, made the mere creature of caprice, and the foolish son is heaviness to his heart. Truly are the sins of the fathers visited upon the children to the third and fourth generation. God, in His wisdom, has so linked the whole human family together that any violence done at one end of the chain is felt throughout its length, and here, too, is the law of restoration, as in woman all have fallen, so in her elevation shall the race be recreated. "Voices" were the visitors and advisers of Joan of Arc. Do not "voices" come to us daily from the haunts of poverty, sorrow, degradation, and despair, already too long unheeded. Now is the time for the women of this country, if they would save our free institutions, to defend the right, to buckle on the armor that can best resist the keenest weapons of the enemy—contempt and ridicule. The same religious enthusiasm that nerved Joan of Arc to her work nerves us to ours. In every generation God calls some men and women for the utterance of truth, a heroic action, and our work today is the fulfilling of what has long since been foretold by the Prophet—Joel 2:28: "And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy." We do not expect our path will be strewn with the flowers of popular applause, hearkens to the sentiments that they know they will need thick skin but over the thorns of bigotry and prejudice will be our way, and on our banners will beat the dark storm clouds of opposition from those who have entrenched themselves behind the stormy bulwarks of custom and authority, and who have fortified their position by every means, holy and unholy. But we will steadfastly abide the result. Unmoved we will bear it aloft. Undauntedly we will unfurl it to the gale, for we know that the storm cannot rend from it a shred, that the electric flash will but more clearly show to us the glorious words inscribed upon it, "Equality of Rights."




-------


Breach between Black Rights (prioritizing Black men) and Women’s Rights (prioritizing white women)

“By every fact to which man can appeal as a justification of his own right to the ballot, [Douglass] declared, “a woman can appeal with equal force.” But then he drew historical distinctions. Women should realize the dire ‘urgency’ faced by blacks, he argued, and wait. “With them it is a desirable matter; with us it is important; a question of life and death. With us disenfranchisement means New Orleans, it means Memphis.” If woman achieved the vote, Douglass maintained, she could only do so by ‘lifting the negro with her.” (Blight 488)

 

Douglass did not show up at the January 23, 1867 hearing in Albany where the state Senate voted down the women’s suffrage resolutions. Soon, an ugly and prolonged breach developed over whether women’s suffrage and black male suffrage coexisted on the same agenda. (Blight 489)

 

By denying American women the vote, politicians, Stanton contended degraded their own ‘mothers, wives and daughters… below unwashed and unlettered ditch diggers, boot-blacks, hostlers, butchers, and barbers.” But she did not stop there with her invidious class and racial-ethnic slurs. She asked her readers to imagine “Patrick and Sambo and Hans and young Tung who do not know the difference between a monarchy and a republic, who never read the Declaration of Independence… making laws” for refined, educated Anglo Saxon women reformers. …Many in the women’s rights movement were also disgusted when Stanton and Anthony denounced the Republicans and allied with white supremacist Democrats in 1868. (Blight 490)

 

Women had to stop stepping aside for the black vote, Anthony insisted. ‘Men cannot understand us women,’ she shouted. ‘They think of us as some of the slaveholders used to think of their slaves, all love and compassion, with no malice in their hearts.’ But watch out, she warned. Women were fed up with being ‘dependent’ and demanded to earn their own ‘bread.’ She chastised Douglass for arguing that black men needed the vote because their situation was more ‘perilous ‘ than that of women. (Blight 490)

 

[Douglass] fiercely resisted the equivalence of women’s plight with that of the freedpeople. ‘When women, because they are women, are hunted down in the cities of New York and New Orleans; when they are dragged from their houses and are hung from lamp-posts; when their children are torn from their arms, and their brains bashed out upon the pavement… when they are in danger of having their homes burnt down over their heads… then they will have an urgency to obtain the ballot equal to our own.” (Blight 491)

 

Stanton predicted that equipping black men in the South with the franchise would ‘culminate in fearful outrages on womanhood.’ The imagined demon of the black rapist crawled into the suffrage debate, courtesy of the leader of the women’s rights crusade. …She even came out against black men’s votes if women were denied, which is what the Fifteenth Amendment did. She proclaimed black women better off in slavery than in freedom: ‘Their emancipation is but another form of slavery. It is better to be the slave of an educated white man, than a degraded, ignorant black one. …The Fifteenth Amendment would create a government where ‘clowns make laws for queens.” (Blight 491)

 

[The following is a summary, not a quote]: Douglass attended most of the women’s rights meetings, countless times gave his full support to women’s equal rights to suffrage. He wished the Fifteenth Amendment had gone further in extending the vote to women. But Anthony and Stanton were too mad.

“Douglass attended many women’s rights conventions in the years to come, and in 1870-71 he wholly endorsed the effort for a Sixteenth Amendment for women’s suffrage as a robust ‘natural’ right to govern themselves in every way a man could. At the same time he counseled women to have ‘the patience of truth while they advocate the truth.’ (Blight 493)




Sources

Blight, David. Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom. Simon and Schuster, 2018.


Brownmiller, Susan. In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution. Dell Publishing, 1999.



Involvement in Abolition led to Women’s movement

 “Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were part of the American delegation that traveled to London in 1840 for a  World Anti-Slavery Convention. As the high-minded congress got under way, the male abolitionists voted not to accredit and seat the women. For ten days Mott and Stanton watched the proceedings from the visitors’ gallery, where in mortification and anger they hatched the idea for a women’s rights congress that became the historic Seneca Falls Convention of 1848. (Brownmiller 12)

 

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony increasingly demanded that the crusade for black male suffrage would now sweep women into the franchise as well. Douglass remained their old ally, dating back to Seneca Falls, throughout 1866. He wrote to Stanton in February thanking her for “the launching of the good ship ‘Equal Rights Association,’ a new organization, of which Douglass became a vice president, devoted to achievement of universal suffrage. The two pledged mutual support of each other’s cause in voting rights. (Blight 488)



Background on Seneca Falls Convention, from the book Seneca Falls and the Origins of the Women’s Rights Movement


No women’s rights movement existed before 1848, nor had there ever been much appetite to question women’s status. While a handful of Americans such as Abigail Adams and Margaret Fuller expressed open dismay about women’s submission and their lack of basic rights, such comments were rare and inchoate. ...their biggest challenge was to convince women themselves that they deserved better, that they needed to fight oppression and demand their rights. (2)


Seneca Falls, the setting for this convention, a small town in what today is called the Finger Lakes District of New York state, was undergoing significant changes. It was situated in the heart of an area that was on fire with various reform movements: revivalism, spiritualism, communitarianism, temperance, Millerism [which is what Sojourner Truth joined for a time], Mormonism and abolition. 


[Joseph Smith’s home town of Palmyra, New York was 27 miles away; Frederick Douglass moved to Rochester, 50 miles away; Harriet Tubman would make her home in Auburn, 15 miles away, just a few years later.] (82)







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Breaking Down Patriarchy
An Essential Texts Book Club
Breaking Down Patriarchy is a podcast for everyone! Learn about the creation of patriarchy and those who have challenged it as you listen to bookclub-style discussions of essential historical texts. Gain life-changing epiphanies and practical takeaways through these smart, relatable conversations.

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Amy Allebest

I grew up in Colorado as the oldest of 5 children, reading, writing, drawing, singing, and practicing the piano and violin. I attended Brigham Young University, where I met Erik Allebest during my first week of freshman year, studied abroad in Israel, lived in Chile for a year and a half as a missionary, and married Erik all before graduating with a degree in English. Erik and I moved around - to Colorado, Southern California, Utah, Spain, and Northern California - while Erik started and ran chess businesses for a living (primarily chess.com) and I stayed home to raise our four children. Those four kids have become brilliant, hilarious people and are our very best friends. I am a long-time trail runner, a recent CrossFitter, a lifelong reader and writer, and an almost-graduate of Stanford University's Master's of Liberal Arts program.