On July 9th, 1848, five reform-minded women met at a social gathering in Waterloo, New York and decided to hold a convention, a very common way to promote change in 1848. They published a "call" in the local newspaper inviting people to "...a Convention to discuss the social, civil and religious rights and condition of woman."
The convention was held on July 19th and 20th in the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, three miles east of Waterloo. Relying heavily on pre-existing networks of reformers, relatives and friends, the convention drew over 300 people. One hundred women and men added their signatures to the Declaration of Sentiments, which called for equal rights for women and men.
This event was not the first time the rights of women had been discussed in American society. Nor was it the only way that women fought for their rights throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. But it was a crucial, formal beginning of a movement in the United States that grew rapidly in the years leading up to the American Civil War of the 1860s.
Though the campaign for women's right to vote is the most famous of the demands of the Declaration of Sentiments, it was only one of many including equal educational opportunities, the right to property and earnings, the right to the custody of children in the event of divorce or death of a spouse and many other important social, political, and economic rights that continue to be contested in the United States and around to the world.
The text of the document reads:
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.
He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice.
He has withheld from her rights which are given to the most ignorant and degraded men - both natives and foreigners.
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.
He has taken from her all right in property, even to the wages she earns.
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.
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.
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.
Now, in view of this entire disfranchisement of one-half 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 effect our object. We shall employ agents, circulate tracts, petition the State and national Legislatures, and endeavor to enlist the pulpit and the press in our behalf. We hope this Convention will be followed by a series of Conventions, embracing every part of the country.
Firmly relying upon the final triumph of the Right and the True, we do this day affix our signatures to this declaration.
Harriet Cady Eaton
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Eunice Newton Foote
Mary Ann M'Clintock
Martha C. Wright
Jane C. Hunt
Catharine F. Stebbins
Mary Ann Frink
Catharine C. Paine
Elizabeth W. M'Clintock
Mary H. Hallowell
Mary S. Mirror
Julia Ann Drake
Sarah R. Woods
Rachel D. Bonnel
P. A. Culvert
Susan R. Doty
Sarah A. Mosher
Mary E. Vail
Maria E. Wilbur
Elizabeth D. Smith
Antoinette E. Segur
Hannah J. Latham
The following are the names of the gentlemen present in favor of the movement:
Richard P. Hunt
Samuel D. Tillman
Henry W. Seymour
William G. Barker
Elias J. Doty
William S. Dell
Charles L. Hoskins
Jacob P. Chamberlain
Nathan J. Milliken
Edward F. Underhill
George W. Pryor
Joel D. Bunker
Isaac Van Tassel
E. W. Capron