in New York State
How New York’s Pioneer Feminists Fought for Women’s Rights
The meetings that started the women’s rights movement
The fight for women’s rights began in New York State. In Waterloo, on July 13, 1848,
a tea party at the home of activist Jane Hunt became the catalyst for the women’s
rights movement. Jane Hunt’s guests were Lucretia Mott, Martha Wright, Mary Ann
McClintock and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. As the women drank their tea, they
discussed the misfortunes imposed upon females – not having voting rights, not
being able to own property, few social and intellectual outlets – and decided that
they wanted change. By the end of the gathering, the five women organized the first
women’s rights convention set for Seneca Falls, NY, and wrote a notice for the Seneca
County Courier that invited all women to attend the influential event.
Six days later, on July 19, 1848, people crowded into the Wesleyan Chapel in
Seneca Falls, NY. These participants partook in the two-day historic event that
catapulted the women’s rights movement into a national battle for equality.
Although the convention was supposed to only have women, men were not turned
away. As a result, 42 men were part of the 300-member assembly. James Mott, an
advocate for women’s rights and the husband of one of the day’s speakers, Lucretia Mott,
even chaired the event.
Susan B. Anthony
On that first day, in addition to Lucretia Mott’s speech, Elizabeth Cady Stanton read her
Declaration of Sentiments, symbolically modeled after the Declaration of Independence:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that
they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights...”
Declaration of Sentiments
Seneca Falls, NY Convention
On the second day, July 20, abolitionist Frederick Douglass made a powerful speech that
unified the two causes of abolishing slavery and women’s rights. It was also the day that the
convention voted on the Declaration of Sentiments. After 68 women and 32 men signed the
document making it legitimate, the women’s rights movement officially began.
The word “suffrage” means “voting as a right rather than a privilege.” Suffrage has been in
the English language since the Middle Ages. Suffrages originally were prayers. Then the
meaning was extended to requests for assistance, then the assistance provided by a
supporting vote, and finally the vote itself. Therefore, in 1787 the Constitution used suffrage
to mean “an inalienable right to vote.”
And the right to vote was what advocates of women’s equality sought. They used suffrage in
the phrase “female suffrage” or simply by itself, with the understanding that suffrage referred
to voting rights for half of the adult population that had been excluded.
Even beyond its legal meaning, suffrage has connotations that helped the cause. Its sound
evokes a sense of suffering and its spelling, with it ending in “rage,” evokes anger.
The goal of the suffrage movement was accomplished in 1920 with the 19th Amendment to
the Constitution: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or
abridged ... on account of sex.” With that, the word suffrage was also retired. Since then,
campaigns to extend the vote have simply called for “voting rights.”
Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Mother, wife, activist – 1815-1902
New Yorker Elizabeth Cady Stanton was instrumental in calling for the Women’s Rights
Convention in Seneca Falls in July of 1848, setting in motion a series of events that gave
all women the right to vote.
Among her initial efforts, in 1854 Stanton lobbied the New York State Legislature to amend
the existing Married Women’s Property Law, which would grant women the right to conduct
business, manage their own finances, sue and be sued, and be joint guardians of their
children. After six failed attempts she finally prevailed in 1860, bringing New York’s women
a giant leap closer in equal rights to men.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton was born in Johnstown, NY, on Nov. 12, 1815. She graduated from
the Troy Female Seminary (now the Emma Willard School) in 1833. As an adult, Stanton
was the epitome of a working mom. She balanced fighting for women’s suffrage and raising
her seven children with her husband, Henry Brewster Stanton, who was also a women’s rights
advocate. Stanton died in New York City on Oct. 26, 1902.
Susan Brownell Anthony
Teacher, abolitionist, suffragist – 1820-1906
Many women were part of Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s efforts, including transplanted New
Yorker Susan B. Anthony, who while not at the seminal Seneca Falls meeting, worked her
entire life for women’s suffrage.
Susan B. Anthony was born in Adams, Mass. in 1820. However, she lived most of her life
in New York; her family moved to Battenville, NY, in 1826 and later to Rochester, NY, in 1848.
Anthony devoted her life to achieving equality for women. Before she died in Rochester, NY,
on March 13, 1906, Anthony made many significant strides for women, such as leading the
battle for women’s suffrage, promoting equal pay for equal work and passing more liberal
divorce laws. Together, Anthony and her friend Stanton established and worked with many
groups that aided in gaining voting rights for all American citizens.
19th Amendment Ratified
On Aug. 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote was ratified,
72 years after the struggle for women’s suffrage began. Of the 260 women that attended the
first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, only one – Charlotte Woodward – was still
alive to cast her first official vote.
First National Female Anti-Slavery Society Convention meets in New York City. Eighty-one
delegates from 12 states attend.
Lowell Female Labor Reform in Massachusetts demands a 10-hour work day, a decrease
from the usual 12-hour day. In 1853, the Lowell Female Labor Reform won a small battle
when the Massachusetts corporations reduced the workday to 11 hours.
First Women’s Rights Convention is held in Seneca Falls, NY.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony form the American Equal Rights Association,
which people of all races and both genders join to support universal suffrage.
The Women’s Rights Movement splits into two factions over a fundamental disagreement:
the New York-based National Woman Suffrage Association created by Susan B. Anthony
and Elizabeth Cady Stanton opposed the 15th Amendment unless it also gave women the
right to vote, and the Boston-based American Woman Suffrage Association created by
Lucy Stone, Henry Blackwell and Julia Ward Howe believed that all men should get the right
to vote first and then women.
Fifteenth Amendment is ratified, granting voting rights to all men without regard to race and
color, including former slaves.
Susan B. Anthony is arrested and brought to trial in Rochester, NY, for attempting to vote for
Ulysses S. Grant in the presidential election. Anthony’s penalty was to pay a $100
fine – which she never paid and never served jail time.
Women’s Suffrage Amendment is introduced in the United States Congress.
The National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association
are reunited as the National American Woman Suffrage Association under the leadership of
Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr founded Hull House, the first of many settlement houses
that encouraged all college-educated women to have careers in social work.
Mary Church Terrell, Ida B. Wells-Barnett and former slave Harriet Tubman form the National
Association of Colored Women.
Mary Dreier, Rheta Childe Dorr, Leonora O’Reilly, and others form the Women’s Trade Union
League of New York, an organization of middle- and working-class women dedicated to unionizing
women and giving women the right to vote.
Theodore Roosevelt’s Progressive (Bull Moose/Republican) Party becomes the first national political
party to adopt a women’s suffrage plank.
Alice Paul and Lucy Burns organize the Congressional Union (later known as the National Woman’s
Party). These members use hunger strikes and picket the White House, among other forms of civil
disobedience, to publicize the suffrage cause.
Jeanette Rankin of Montana becomes the first American woman elected to the U.S. House of
New York State grants women the right to vote, one of the first to do so.
The 19th Amendment is ratified. Its victory accomplished, the National American Woman
Suffrage Association ceases to exist, but its organization becomes the nucleus of the League
of Women Voters.