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Women in History: Seneca Falls

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Seneca Falls, NY is the home of the Women’s Rights National Historical Park. Since this month, March, is National Women’s History Month, and March 8th was International Women’s Day, it only seems fitting to do a post on Seneca Falls and the Women’s Rights National Historical Park. After all, I live only 45 minutes away.

The women most noted when the subject of women’s rights comes up are Susan B. Anthony , whose motto was, “Failure is not an option,” and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. But, they are not the only women who were fighting for women’s rights in the 19th century.

Amelia Bloomer, the woman who introduced Susan B. and Elizabeth Cady to each other, deserves mention when one has a discussion of women’s rights. Amelia is reponsible for more than the historical introduction of those two noted women. She is also responsible for helping to change the way women dressed, in the mid-19th century.

Before Amelia, women were forced to endure the most uncomfortable of conditions– in their everyday dress. They wore hoop-skirted dresses with hems that trailed along the floor. These dresses often weighed 40 lbs. and came with corsets designed to give every woman an hourglass figure. Determined females such as Anthony, Stanton, and Bloomer, once introduced to the more comfortable dress of ballooning trousers, with a short overskirt, adopted this ‘fad’ and never turned back.

In 1849, Bloomer advertised her pioneering spirit in print by starting a publication called The Lily, the first newspaper in the U.S. owned and operated by a woman. It advocated the message Stanton, Anthony and Bloomer wished to promote: women’s rights– the right to be educated, the right to own property, and of course, the right to vote, which was not granted until 1920.

One cannot discuss women’s rights without also mentioning Frederick Douglas, an early reformer, a staunch abolitionist and a friend of the women who so desperately sought equal rights in a country that professed to offer freedom to the masses. Rochester, NY, the home of the Susan B. Anthony house, has statues of both Frederick Douglas and Susan B. in a park located in the cultural district, where so much history took place. History that young people today know little or nothing about, it seems.

Young women today seem woefully unaware of the ridicule endured by these women, and men like Frederick Douglas, of the abuse heaped upon them, and the suffering–including imprisonment– for attempting to advance the lives of women and slaves. It’s now, during historical moments such as this month’s focus on women’s rights, when some newspapers and TV shows pay homage to these courageous women and men, that some of the truth gets told. To learn it all, or–as much as we have on record (who can truly believe ALL of the truth is available, that the meager writings and historical biographies can begin to cover the reality of life in a day when women were better ‘seen and not heard’ or when blacks were supposed to be free but were still just indentured servants?), one must visit the Seneca Falls Historical Museum.

To have the opportunity to relive history, to walk through the homes these women lived in, trying to imagine the struggles they endured, stopping to read about them in the historical writings and preservation of their homes, is truly a trip worth making. Why not plan it now? Why not help celebrate Women’s History Month…visit Seneca Falls, and be sure to bring your daughters and sons.

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  • Thanks, Yvonne for the interesting article. I am a little ashamed as a History student for not knowing the name Amelia Bloomer. In my defense I study mostly medieval history.

  • Interesting stuff, Yvonne. Rather than Frederick Douglass you should probably have focused on William Lloyd Garrison. He was much more closely involved in mentoring Stanton and Mott and encouraging them to take ideas he had used in the abolitionist movement and apply them to womens rights.

    The real turning point for Womens Rights was when Standon and Lucretia Mott showed up for the World Abolition Convention in 1847 and were refused admission because they were women, even though they were attending as Garrison’s guests. That’s what really galvanized them to action, and he encouraged them to go back to the US and low and behold they held the Seneca Falls convention the next year.

    Someone a month or so ago posted about Susan B. Anthony as the key force in the womens movement, but her role has really been exaggerated. Despite her ‘failure is not an option’ comment, she failed repeatedly in her attempts to make progress in the legal system. It was Stanton and her cohorts who really got the ball rolling for change – and of course the passage of womens suffrage in Wyoming in 1870 which demonstrated that giving women rights was a good way to make yourself more attractive to them.


  • Dave, you are so right. And, there were other equally intelligent, progressive women who are virtual unknowns but who influenced the women’s movement. I would like to learn more about William Lloyd Garrison. Can you recommend any books?

  • There’s a cool book called All on Fire which is a collection of Garrison’s essays from The Liberator also a good biography fromt he 60s by John Thomas called The Liberator but I belive it is out of print. A good introductory biography is Doris Faber’s I will be Heard.

    Garrison was the dominant figure in abolitionism in the period prior to the civil war, but in the years since the war he has been overshadowed by Frederick Douglass, who was also significant – he was a protege of Garrison originally – but not as significant at the time as Garrison was. But Douglass appeals more to a modern audience and his Narrative is a more readable autobiographical work than anything Garrison published. Garrison’s writing was very inflamatory and very polemic and doesn’t have the personal qualities which make Douglass’ Narrative stand up so well over time.


  • Great post, thanks. And a timely reminder about the need to fight, fight and fight some more.

  • What we need, it seems, is more women to stand up for our rights– in a sensible, collective kind of way: hey there is power in numbers. But, we also need to recognize folks like Amelia Bloomer and Wm. Lloyd Garrision…to get them in the public eye. To show the strength there was at the time– and ask, Where is it now? Thanks for all the comments. I think Garrison deserves some study.