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How women fought for the right to vote

by KYLE GILBERTSON | August 31, 2001 | Page 11

THE FINGER Lakes region of upstate New York is a great place to visit in the summer--especially if you like camping and hiking. If you're ever in the area, you should also stop by the National Women's Suffrage Museum in Seneca Falls, where the first Women's Rights Convention was held in 1848.

In the early and mid-19th century, upstate New York was a hotbed of opposition to slavery in the U.S. South. But women who became involved in the abolitionist movement soon began to question their own situations.

Laws restricting the rights of women "matched too nearly to the laws enacted by slaveholders for the government of their slaves," wrote the abolitionist Sarah Grimke in 1838.

In July 1848, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott and others organized the first Women's Rights Convention. About 300 people--among them the famous Black leader Frederick Douglass--attended.

A Declaration of Sentiments was drawn up before the convention. Modeled after the Declaration of Independence, it declared that "all men and women are created equal."

Some at the convention, including Lucretia Mott, felt that demanding the right to vote for women was too radical and couldn't be achieved. But a suffrage proposal passed the convention by a slim majority, thanks mainly to the efforts of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and with strong support of Frederick Douglass.

The press attacked the document viciously. Many signers were pressured to publicly recant. But all the noise in the papers helped to establish the idea of women's rights, and the idea never went away after that.

Only two brick walls and the frame of a roof survive from the Wesleyan Chapel where the meeting was held. But the museum has lots of excellent exhibits, including a timeline of the women's movement and sections that deal with aspects of life today.

For example, a section on "women's work" explains: "Household labor is part of the hidden national economy. It is not included in the measure of national production, the GNP, but it must be done to keep workers on the job."

When driving through Seneca Falls, don't confuse the National Women's Suffrage Museum with the National Women's Hall of Fame, which isn't nearly as interesting.

And in Auburn, N.Y., just a 20- to 30-minute drive from Seneca Falls, is the home of Harriet Tubman, the abolitionist hero and also a supporter of women's rights.

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