Declaration of Sentiments
The Declarations of sentiments was arguably the most significant document in
history for the advancement of women in the nineteenth century America. It was made
famous at the first Woman’s Rights Convention, held in Seneca Falls, New York, in July
of 1848. Drafted by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the declaration outlined a series of
grievances resulting from the unfair treatment of women and proposed eleven resolutions
arguing that women had the right to equality in all aspects of their lives, including the
right to vote. Despite the declarations significance, however, it would be seventy-two
years later that women finally won the right to vote.
In early societies, women bore children, cared for the home, and helped maintain
the family. Males dominated in early society from the time of the earliest written
historical records. It was believed that women were naturally weaker and inferior to men.
Therefore, in most traditional societies, women generally were at a disadvantage.
Women were not allowed to vote, work, get an education, or be involved in the church.
Married women were legally dead in the eyes of the law and had no property rights.
Women had to submit to laws when they had no voice in their formation. In early
society, women were robbed of their self-confidence and self respect.
The events leading up to the 1848 convention date back to 1840, when Stanton
attended the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London and was denied a seat at the
convention because she was a woman. She then attended a small social gathering near
her home in Seneca Falls, where she laid out her list of grievances about the treatment of
women in society. From this small gathering the convention was then planned and the
Declaration of Sentiments was formed. The Declaration proposed reforms in all areas of
women’s lives. Included in the declaration was a list of eighteen injustices endured by
women, ranging from the lack of equal educational opportunities and the denial of the
right to vote, to the exclusion of public participation in the affairs of the church. It also
protested unequal employment opportunities. Stanton read the declaration paragraph by
paragraph, and over the two-days of discussion, the Declaration of Sentiments and 12
resolutions received agreement endorsement, one by one, with a few amendments.
The only resolution that did not pass unanimously was the call for women’s
The Seneca Falls convention generated widespread ridicule and even hostility,
primarily from religious leaders and the press. An article in the Philadelphia Public
Ledger and Daily Transcript (September 1848) opined that, unlike the Seneca Falls
women, the women of Philadelphia were “celebrated for discretion, modesty, and
unfeigned diffidence” rather than “standing out for woman’s rights.” After all, the writer
reasoned, “A woman is nobody. A wife is everything. A pretty girl is equal to ten
thousand men, and a mother is, next to God, all powerful……The ladies of Philadelphia,
therefore…..are resolved to maintain their rights as wives, belles, virgins, and mothers,
and not as women” (Stanton, Anthony, and Gage, p. 804).
Women’s rights conventions were held on a regular basis until the start of the
Civil War. Elizabeth Cady Stanton traveled the country lecturing and organizing for the
next forty years. Winning the right to vote was the key issue, since the vote would
provide the means to accomplish the other reforms. The campaign for woman’s right to
vote ran across continuous opposition and took 72 years for the women to win. During
the Women’s Rights Movement, women faced incredible obstacles to win the American
civil right to vote, which was later won...
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