The first convention on women’s rights in world history was held in Seneca Falls, New York in July of 1848. It was attended by both men and women and helped draft the Declaration of Sentiments, the founding document of the women’s rights movement.
Prior to the establishment of the movement women in the U.S. were relegated to second or arguably third class status. They could not vote, sue for divorce, maintain control of property or maintain custody of their children. Saying that the status of women was very close to that of slaves is not a stretch.
The convention may never have happened without the chance of meeting of two women; Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. Both women were heavily involved in the abolition movement, but during a world conference on slavery in Britain they were forced to sit behind a curtain so they didn’t offend any of the men. Tried of being treated like inferiors, they vowed to meet on the issue of women’s rights sometime in the future.
About eight years later, they made good on their promise by holding a three-day conference in Seneca Falls, New York. Stanton lived there and its accessibility by both rail and water made it a natural transit hub. Stanton also introduced a document she had prepared called The Declaration of Sentiments where she proposed goals for the movement. It was modeled after the Declaration of Independence, but instead of mentioning the tyranny of the king against the colonist it mentioned the tyranny of men against women.
There was also a huge discussion about granting women the right to vote, which any of the women at the convention thought was asking for too much. It wasn’t until Frederick Douglass stood and expressed his support for the measure did it finally pass.
The convention accomplished three things. It organized the movement at the state and local level. It also passed the Declaration of Sentiments, which contained the movements stated goals. It was also the first time a serious effort for universal suffrage was made, a goal which wouldn’t be fulfilled until 1920.