July 19, 2005

Seneca Falls Anniversary

In 1848 on July 19th and 20th a women's rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, NY. It was one of the earliest major events for the women's rights movement. Believe it or not, it developed in large part because women were being excluded from the abolitionist movement. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott met in London during the World Anti-Slavery Convention; the women were forced to remain in the balcony and even had a curtain around them. Funnily enough, similar mistreatment of women in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s helped spawn the women's rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

A long-term contributing factor to the 1840s women's rights movement was the spread of industrialization in America and the growth of a middle class that could afford more free time. With less time taken up by agriculture or housework, women were free to join reform associations, temperance leagues and so forth in addition to increased social opportunities. Many of their groups were focused on condemning prostitution (almost omnipresent at the time, in part because of the industrial revolution and smaller family sizes), alcohol and slavery (with the separation of slave families being a large emotional selling point). When women from these women-only reform associations tried to work in men-founded organizations, the great degree of friction showed them that women weren't all that far about slaves in terms of rights.

Of course William Lloyd Garrison, perhaps the most impassioned and extreme of the abolitionists (he didn't participate directly in politics and he burned the Constitution, saying it was tainted by slavery) was supportive of equal rights with women, as well as abolition of slavery.

We should all appreciate the women's rights movement, who asked for legal equality with men - no more, no less.

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