The Ladies of Seneca Falls Critical Context - Essay

Miriam Gurko

Critical Context

This book makes a valuable contribution to the historical picture of a period of complex social, religious, and political change in the United States. It places the women’s rights movement in its historical context while vividly documenting the status of women in the twentieth century. In doing so, Gurko traces the protagonists’ struggle to attain legally protected rights for women—to own property, to earn a livelihood, to be guardians of their own children, to have access to divorce, and to vote—that modern readers often take for granted.

Written in the 1970’s, also a period of great social and political change for women, The Ladies of Seneca Falls makes implicit comparisons between the original movement for equal rights and the rebirth of this movement in the 1960’s and 1970’s. As such, it is part of a rich body of literature that explores a full range of issues pertaining to women’s rights and civil rights in general. Gurko’s collective biography offers a revisionist complement to more traditional historic treatments of the subject. In addition, a thoughtful reading of the book invites comparison to the status of women in the twentieth century.

Gurko’s study is of particular value to young readers because, unlike more sophisticated texts, it fully documents the extent of the prejudice that society in general held against the acquisition of women’s rights. No understanding of the magnitude of the task undertaken by the “ladies of Seneca Falls” is possible without this perception.