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Setting the Stage

In the 1790s, the series of Protestant revivals known as the Second Great Awakening began in Connecticut. Though these revivals varied according to time and place as they appeared over the next 50 years, most featured preachers who encouraged individuals to experience an intensely emotional conversion that would lead to living in a more moral way. They also claimed that men and women could learn not to sin, a position that suggested people could control their own salvation. This belief, which contradicted the earlier teachings that an individual's fate was predestined, also spread in the early 19th century.

Revivals had one of their biggest influences in upstate New York. Rapid changes there in politics and economics had left many men and women struggling to find their place in a new world. The revivals, which offered spiritual guidance and emphasized the importance of the individual, therefore appealed to many people. Revivals fired through upstate New York so often and so strongly that the area became known as the "Burned-Over District."

The Second Great Awakening had a further effect on the region. Many people there, as in other parts of the country, took its lessons about self-determination and applied them to their lives outside of church. The Burned-Over District became a hot-bed of activity for many of the reform movements appearing in antebellum America: abolition of slavery, developing public education, and reducing the consumption of alcohol. In 1848, citizens of Waterloo and Seneca Falls, two towns in the Burned-Over District, came to play a critical role in the early struggle for women's rights by organizing the First Women's Rights Convention.




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