On July 11, 1848, a local newspaper ran an advertisement announcing a meeting that would happen a week later at the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, New York — the first American Women’s Rights Convention. Today on America’s National Parks – The Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, New York.
Despite the minimal publicity, an estimated 300 attendees filled co-organizer Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s event. Stanton made her first public speech on the initial day of the convention, and read aloud the Declaration of Sentiments, which was then discussed at length. Stanton quickly became a leader in the crusade for women’s rights, as well as for the abolition of slavery.
She gave hundreds of speeches over the course of her life, but it was her final speech, before Congress, entitled The Solitude of Self, that left her with the most pride. Delivered in 1892, the speech declared that as no other person could face death for another, none could decide for them how to educate themselves.
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Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode.
Women’s Rights National Historical Park — National Park Service Website
The Declaration of Sentiments — Wikipedia
The Solitude of Self — The full text of Stanton’s speech to the Judiciary Committee from the Library of Congress
On July 11, 1848, a local newspaper ran an advertisement announcing a meeting that would happen a week later at the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, New York. A meeting that would forever change the course of American History — the first American women’s rights convention. Today on America’s National Parks – The Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, New York.
Despite the minimal publicity, an estimated 300 attendees filled co-organizer Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s event. Stanton made her first public speech on the initial day of the convention, and read aloud the Declaration of Sentiments, which was then discussed at length. The Declaration of Sentiments was modeled after the Declaration of Independence, but with the goal of granting women the rights and freedoms that Thomas Jefferson’s words granted to men.
On the second day, the resolutions would again be debated over and put to a vote. While only women were allowed to attend the first day of the Seneca Falls Convention, the general public, including men, were invited to participate in the second day.
Stanton quickly became a leader in the crusade for women’s rights, as well as for the abolition of slavery.
Stanton met Susan B. Anthony, wrote articles on divorce, property rights, and temperence. By 1852, she and Anthony were refining techniques for her to write speeches and Anthony to deliver them. Eventually, Stanton herself began making eloquent and passionate public speeches.
Nothing seemed to stop her. In the 1870s she traveled across the United States giving speeches. In “Our Girls” her most frequent speech, she urged girls to get an education that would develop them as persons and provide an income if needed. In 1876 she helped organize a protest at the nation’s 100th birthday celebration in Philadelphia. In the 1880s, she, Susan B. Anthony and Matilda Joslyn Gage produced three volumes of the History of Woman Suffrage. In 1890, she agreed to serve as president of the combined National American Woman Suffrage Society. In 1895, she published The Woman’s Bible, earning the censure of members of the that same body. Her autobiography, Eighty Years and More, appeared in 1898.
But it was Stanton’s final speech, before Congress, entitled The Solitude of Self, that left her with the most pride. Delivered in 1892, the speech declared that as no other person could face death for another, none could decide for them how to educate themselves.
The following is our dramatization of the speech. It was fairly long, so we’ve edited it slightly for time.
Mr. Chairman and gentlemen of the committee: We have been speaking before Committees of the Judiciary for the last twenty years, and we have gone over all the arguments in favor of a sixteenth amendment which are familiar to all you gentlemen; therefore, it will not be necessary that I should repeat them again.
The point I wish plainly to bring before you on this occasion is the individuality of each human soul; our individual citizenship. In discussing the rights of woman, we are to consider, first, what belongs to her as an individual, in a world of her own, the arbiter of her own destiny, an imaginary Robinson Crusoe with her woman Friday on a solitary island. Her rights under such circumstances are to use all her faculties for her own safety and happiness.
Secondly, if we consider her as a citizen, as a member of a great nation, she must have the same rights as all other members, according to the fundamental principles of our Government.
Thirdly, viewed as a woman, an equal factor in civilization, her rights and duties are still the same–individual happiness and development.
Fourthly, it is only the incidental relations of life, such as mother, wife, sister, daughter, that may involve some special duties and training. In the usual discussion in regard to woman’s sphere, such men as Herbert Spencer, Frederic Harrison, and Grant Allen uniformly subordinate her rights and duties as an individual, as a citizen, as a woman, to the necessities of these incidental relations, some of which a large class of woman may never assume. In discussing the sphere of man we do not decide his rights as an individual, as a citizen, as a man by his duties as a father, a husband, a brother, or a son, relations some of which he may never fill. Moreover he would be better fitted for these very relations and whatever special work he might choose to do to earn his bread by the complete development of all his faculties as an individual.
Just so with woman.
The strongest reason for giving woman all the opportunities for higher education, for the full development of her faculties, forces of mind and body; for giving her the most enlarged freedom of thought and action; a complete emancipation from all forms of bondage, of custom, dependence, superstition; from all the crippling influences of fear, is the solitude and personal responsibility of her own individual life. The strongest reason why we ask for a woman’s voice in the government under which she lives; in the religion she is asked to believe; equality in social life, where she is the chief factor; a place in the trades and professions, where she may earn her bread, is because of her birthright to self-sovereignty; because, as an individual, she must rely on herself.
We ask for the complete development of every individual, first, for his own benefit and happiness. In fitting out an army we give each soldier his own knapsack, arms, powder, his blanket, cup, knife, fork and spoon. We provide alike for all their individual necessities, then each man bears his own burden.
The great lesson that nature seems to teach us at all ages is self-dependence, self-protection, self-support. What a touching instance of a child’s solitude; of that hunger of heart for love and recognition, in the case of the little girl who helped to dress a christmas tree for the children of the family in which she served. On finding there was no present for herself she slipped away in the darkness and spent the night in an open field sitting on a stone, and when found in the morning was weeping as if her heart would break. No mortal will ever know the thoughts that passed through the mind of that friendless child in the long hours of that cold night, with only the silent stars to keep her company. The mention of her case in the daily papers moved many generous hearts to send her presents, but in the hours of her keenest sufferings she was thrown wholly on herself for consolation.
In youth our most bitter disappointments, our brightest hopes and ambitions are known only to otherwise, even our friendship and love we never fully share with another; there is something of every passion in every situation we conceal. Even so in our triumphs and our defeats.
To throw obstacle in the way of a complete education is like putting out the eyes; to deny the rights of property, like cutting off the hands. To deny political equality is to rob the ostracised of all self-respect; of credit in the market place; of recompense in the world of work; of a voice among those who make and administer the law; a choice in the jury before whom they are tried, and in the judge who decides their punishment. Shakespeare’s play of Titus Andronicus contains a terrible satire on woman’s position in the nineteenth century–“Rude men” (the play tells us) “seized the king’s daughter, cut out her tongue, cut off her hands, and then bade her go call for water and wash her hands.” What a picture of woman’s position. Robbed of her natural rights, handicapped by law and custom at every turn, yet compelled to fight her own battles, and in the emergencies of life to fall back on herself for protection.
The girl of sixteen, thrown on the world to support herself, to make her own place in society, to resist the temptations that surrounds her, must do all this by native force or superior education. She does not acquire this power by being trained to trust others and distrust herself. If she wearies of the struggle, finding it hard work to swim upstream, and allow herself to drift with the current, she will find plenty of company, but not one to share her misery in the hour of her deepest humiliation.
The young wife and mother, at the head of some establishment with a kind husband to shield her from the adverse winds of life, with wealth, fortune and position, has a certain harbor of safety, occurs against the ordinary ills of life. But to manage a household, have a deatrable influence in society, keep her friends and the affections of her husband, and train her children well, she must have rare common sense, wisdom, diplomacy, and a knowledge of human nature. To do all this she needs the cardinal virtues and the strong points of character that the most successful statesman possesses.
An uneducated woman, trained to dependence, with no resources in herself must make a failure of any position in life. But society says women do not need a knowledge of the world, the liberal training that experience in public life must give, or all the advantages of collegiate education.
Should they not have all the consolation that the most liberal education can give? When suddenly roused at midnight, with the startling cry of “fire! fire!” to find the house over their heads in flames, do women wait for men to point the way to safety? And are the men, equally bewildered and half suffocated with smoke, in a position to more than try to save themselves?
At such times the most timid women have shown a courage and heroism in saving their husbands and children that has surprised everybody. Inasmuch, then, as woman shares equally the joys and sorrows of time and eternity, is it not the height of presumption in man to propose to represent her at the ballot box, do her voting in the state, her praying in the church, and to assume the position of priest at the family alter.
Nothing strengthens the judgment and quickens the conscience like individual responsibility. Nothing adds such dignity to character as the recognition of one’s self-sovereignty; the right to an equal place, every where conceded; a place earned by personal merit, not an artificial attainment, by inheritance, wealth, family, and position. Seeing, then that the responsibilities of life rests equally on man and woman, that their destiny is the same, they need the same preparation for time and eternity. The talk of sheltering woman from the fierce sterns of life is the sheerest mockery, for they beat on her from every point of the compass, just as they do on man, and with more fatal results, for he has been trained to protect himself, to resist, to conquer.
Whatever the theories may be of woman’s dependence on man, in the supreme moments of her life he can not bear her burdens. Alone she goes to the gates of death to give life to every man that is born into the world. No one can share her fears, no one mitigate her pangs; and if her sorrow is greater than she can bear, alone she passes beyond the gates into the vast unknown.
From the mountain tops of Judea, long ago, a heavenly voice bade His disciples, “Bear ye one another’s burdens,” but humanity has not yet risen to that point of self-sacrifice, and if ever so willing, how few the burdens are that one soul can bear for another. In the highways of Palestine; in prayer and fasting on the solitary mountain top; in the Garden of Gethsemane; before the judgment seat of Pilate; betrayed by one of His trusted disciples at His last supper; in His agonies on the cross, even Jesus of Nazareth, in these last sad days on earth, felt the awful solitude of self. Deserted by man, in agony he cries, “My God! My God! why hast Thou forsaken me?” And so it ever must be in the conflicting scenes of life, on the long weary march, each one walks alone. We may have many friends, love, kindness, sympathy and charity to smooth our pathway in everyday life, but in the tragedies and triumphs of human experience each mortal stands alone.
But when all artificial trammels are removed, and women are recognized as individuals, responsible for their own environments, thoroughly educated for all the positions in life they may be called to fill; with all the resources in themselves that liberal thought and broad culture can give; guided by their own conscience an judgment, and stimulated to self-support by the knowledge of the business world and the pleasure that pecuniary independence must ever give; when women are trained in this way they will, in a measure, be fitted for those hours of solitude that come alike to all, whether prepared or otherwise. As in our extremity we must depend on ourselves, the dictates of wisdom point of complete individual development.
In talking of education how shallow the argument that each class must be educated for the special work it proposed to do, and all those faculties not needed in this special walk must lie dormant and utterly wither for want of use, when, perhaps, these will be the very faculties needed in life’s greatest energies. Some say, Where is the use of drilling series in the languages, the Sciences, in law, medicine, theology? As wives, mothers, housekeepers, cooks, they need a different curriculum from boys who are to fill all positions. The chief cooks in our great hotels and ocean steamers are men. In large cities men run the bakries; they make our bread, cake and pies. They manage the laundries; they are now considered our best milliners and dressmakers. Because some men fill these departments of usefulness, shall we regulate the curriculum in Harvard and Yale to their present necessities? If not why this talk in our best colleges of a curriculum for girls who are crowding into the trades and professions; teachers in all our public schools rapidly hiring many lucrative and honorable positions in life? They are showing too, their calmness and courage in the most trying hours of human experience.
Is it, then, consistent to hold the developed woman of this day within the same narrow political limits as the dame with the spinning wheel and knitting needle occupied in the past? No! no! Machinery has taken the labors of woman as well as man on its tireless shoulders; the loom and the spinning wheel are but dreams of the past; the pen, the brush, the easel, the chisel, have taken their places, while the hopes and ambitions of women are essentially changed.
We see reason sufficient in the outer conditions of human being for individual liberty and development, but when we consider the self dependence of every human soul we see the need for courage, judgment, and the exercise of every faculty of mind and body, strengthened and developed for use, in woman as well as man.
And yet, there is a solitude, which each and every one of us has always carried with him, more inaccessible than the ice-cold mountains, more profound than the midnight sea; the solitude of self. Our inner being, which we call ourself, no eye nor touch of man or angel has ever pierced. It is more hidden than the caves of the gnome; for to it only omniscience is permitted to enter.
Such is individual life. Who, I ask you, can take, dare take, on himself the rights, the duties, the responsibilities of another human soul?
10,000 copies of the speech were printed by Congress and sent to constituants nationwide. We’ll link to the full text, as well as the Declaration of Sentiments in the show notes.
The Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, New York, tells the story of the first Women’s Rights Convention. It’s the story of struggles for civil rights, human rights, and equality – global struggles that continue today.
The park maintains the Wesleyan Church where the convention was held, as well as the Stanton House, and the M’Clintock house, where the Declaration of Sentiments was drafted. There’s a 100 foot long bluestone water feature located in Declaration Park (between the Visitor Center and Wesleyan Chapel) that is inscribed with the words of the Declaration of Sentiments, providing visitors with a space to gather and reflect.
The park is open year-round, but tours of the historic houses operate on a seasonal schedule.
This episode of America’s National Parks was hosted by me, Jason Epperson, and narrated by Abigail Trabue. If you enjoyed the show, we’d love a 5-star review wherever you listen to podcasts. Don’t forget to subscribe, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Just search “National Park Podcast.” You can also join our America’s National Parks Facebook group. We’ll link to all of our social media, as well as National Park Service resources, music credits, and more in the show notes at National Park Podcast dot com.
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