Deep Dives

The unknown history of Seneca Falls, a seminal moment in the women’s suffrage movement

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A drawing of Elizabeth Cady Stanton at the Seneca Falls Convention, standing on a platform giving a speech to a crowd in front of a white man and a white woman,
Elizabeth Cady Stanton is shown speaking during the first Woman's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls
Photo courtesy of Bettmann | Getty Images

T his year marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which extended the right of suffrage to women, but practically speaking, millions of women of color were still barred from the polls.

To reflect on this anniversary, we’re exploring stories from the women’s suffrage movement that aren’t widely known, and that can shed light on the continued fight for gender equality today. A key moment in this movement was the Seneca Falls Convention.

In 1848, about 300 men and women met in Seneca Falls, New York to call for women’s rights. Reformers like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Frederick Douglass led the gathering, and their activism drew other leaders like Sojourner Truth and Susan B. Anthony to the cause. Even for those who did not attend, the meeting was an important moment in the fight for women’s rights.

Here is the story of this seminal gathering, told from eight perspectives.

July 19, 1848

Elizabeth Cady Stanton

One of the convention’s organizers, and the author of its famous Declaration of Sentiments (modeled on the Declaration of Independence), Stanton's racism ultimately undermined her feminist leadership.
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July 19, 1848

Frederick Douglass

The only Black person to attend the convention, Douglass encouraged other anti-slavery activists to join the fight for women’s rights.
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July 19, 1848

Lucretia Mott

This convention organizer also founded the Female Anti-Slavery Society—but advocated for a cautious approach to women’s rights, advising her fellow organizers not to push for suffrage.
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July 19, 1848

Sojourner Truth

There is no record of any Black women attending Seneca Falls. A few years after the meeting, Truth would deliver her famous “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech at another women’s rights convention.
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July 19, 1848

David Claypoole Johnston

The artist sold cartoons mocking female reformers to profit from Americans’ general opposition to women’s rights.
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July 19, 1848

Catharine Beecher

This popular writer did not attend the convention and opposed women’s suffrage, believing that a woman’s sphere of influence should remain in the home.
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July 19, 1848

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

Harper wasn't involved with women’s rights at the time of the convention, but would later become a leader for the movement and an advocate for Black women.
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July 19, 1848

Susan B. Anthony

This famous suffragist didn’t actually attend Seneca Falls, but later helped characterize the convention as the beginning of the suffrage movement. Like her friend Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Anthony’s racism marred her leadership.
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Published: April 15, 2020
Edition: Women's History Month