A Declaration for the Rights of Women

Today’s post comes from Ashley Dorf, an intern in the Office of Public and Media Communication.

You just spent July 4 celebrating the Declaration of Independence, but have you heard of the Declaration of Sentiments? 

The Declaration of Sentiments was written at the first women’s rights convention in American history at Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. Organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and other women’s rights and anti-slavery activists, the meeting attracted more than 300 participants including abolitionist Frederick Douglass.

The original Declaration of Independence, 1776. National Archives, Records of the Continental and Confederation Congresses and the Constitutional Convention.

The language in the Declaration of Sentiments was inspired by the Declaration of Independence. In proclaiming that, “we hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal,” the Declaration of Sentiments replaced colonists’ grievances against a tyrannical king with the injustices women endured. These included women’s inability to control property, stating “he has taken from her all right in property, even to the wages she earns,” as well as severely limited educational and professional opportunities and—most controversially—the right to vote.

The Declaration of Sentiments ends with a final plea “in view of this entire disfranchisement of one-half the people of this country . . . women do feel themselves aggrieved, oppressed, and fraudulently deprived of their most sacred rights, we insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of these United States.” 

Report of the Woman’s Rights Convention, held at Seneca Falls, New York, July 19th and 20th, 1848. Proceedings and Declaration of Sentiments, Library of Congress

Sixty-eight women and 32 men signed the Declaration of Sentiments in 1848. Over seven decades later suffragist, Carrie Chapman Catt declared, “It took George Washington six years to rectify men’s grievances by war, but it took 72 years to establish women’s rights by law.” Only one woman present at Seneca Falls—Charlotte Woodward—lived to see the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920.

The location of the original Declaration of Sentiments is unknown and the original document might not even have survived today, but you can read a full transcription online. A copy, seen here, was created as a pamphlet by Douglass’s North Star abolitionist newspaper. 

To learn more about the fight for woman suffrage, visit our exhibit, “Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote,” which highlights the complex journey toward woman suffrage and the challenges still faced by women today.

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