One hundred seventy-one years ago, hundreds of people convened in Seneca Falls, New York on July 19, 1848 for the first American women’s rights convention that would eventually spark the suffrage movement in the United States. Approaching the 171st anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention, let’s assess how far we’ve come.
First, a little background on the Seneca Falls Convention. This two-day event brought together 300 people to discuss the civil, political, and social rights of women. It was organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Mary M’Clintock, Martha Coffin Wright, and Jane Hunt. These women were also active in the abolitionist movement at the time.
Stanton and Mott met in London in 1840. Both were accompanying their husbands to the World Anti-Slavery Convention, but learned upon arriving that the convention excluded women delegates, giving the two women the idea to hold their own women’s rights convention.
For the convention, Stanton drafted “The Declaration of Sentiments,” a document that called for women to be treated as equal citizens in the United States and encouraged women to fight for their constitutional rights. The convention passed 12 resolutions about women’s rights, all but one unanimously. The one resolution that was narrowly passed was regarding women’s right to vote. Abolitionist Frederick Douglass gave a speech in favor of the resolution. At the time, the resolution was ridiculed by many, and some advocates of women’s rights withdrew their support.
What was a radical idea at the time — a woman’s right to vote — is now protected under the 19th Amendment of the Constitution. From the convention, it took 72 years for this change to happen. How long will it take for the not-so-radical idea that women should be equally represented in government to be realized?
It’s been 171 years since American women first started talking about the right to vote. It’s been 99 years since women first got the right to vote written into the Constitution. How long will we have to wait for women to be equally represented in government? We can’t wait any longer because we don’t even know if waiting will work.
Instead, we need to be proactive by making reforms to our voting rules and systems that will allow women to overcome the unfair boundaries they face because of their gender. Political parties should be setting recruitment targets that are gender-informed so more women run. State and local governments should be using multi-member districts and proportional representation to make sure that women who make it onto the ballot can win. Legislative bodies should be providing affordable childcare and paid family leave so that women can serve effectively once in office.
The resolution for a woman’s right to vote almost didn’t pass in 1848, but Douglass and Stanton fought for it. Douglass said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.” Women may be able to vote, but men still hold most of the power. Only 24% of Congress is women, only nine governors are women, and we have still never had a woman president. In honor of the women at the Seneca Falls Convention who waited 72 years for their right to vote, don’t wait any longer. Make demands.