This post was written by Maureen Maryanski, Reference Librarian for Printed Collections.
As Women’s History Month draws to a close, let’s focus on one of the founding documents of American feminism: the Declaration of Sentiments. Drafted, debated, and signed during the first women’s rights convention at Seneca Falls, New York in July 1848, the Declaration enumerates the legal, economic, and social inequalities existing between women and men – and the signers’ commitment to fight for equality. The Declaration was reprinted several times in newspapers and pamphlets, and the copy reproduced here from the N-YHS Library collection comes at the end of a woman’s rights tract entitled “Speech of Mrs. E.L. Rose at the Woman’s Rights Convention, Held at Syracuse, Sept. 1852.”
The authors of the Declaration of Sentiments, of which Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902) was one, consciously chose to echo, and in some places directly replicate, the language of the Declaration of Independence. In the same spirit as the 1776 document, the women of Seneca Falls made their points in a series of grievances, not against a tyrannical king, but against tyrannical men denying women their rights and liberty. Among the grievances were the legal status of married women, the unequal laws of divorce, inadequate women’s education, the double moral standard, and women’s exclusion from various professions. However, first and foremost was “he has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise.” The right to vote. The inclusion of this point in the Declaration was controversial during the convention, as some attendees believed “the demand for the right to vote would defeat others…deemed more rational, and make the whole movement ridiculous.”
By framing the Declaration of Sentiments in the same manner as the Declaration of Independence, the women at Seneca Falls connected their arguments for equal rights to founding American principles. As historian Linda K. Kerber asserted in her 1977 article, “by tying the complaints of women to the most distinguished political statement the nation had made she [Stanton] implied that the women’s demands were no more or less radical than the American Revolution had been; that they were in fact an implicit fulfillment of the commitments already made.”
Not only did the women of Seneca Falls identify the ways – legally, economically, and socially – that men historically oppressed women, but they also articulated their commitment to agitating for equal rights and privileges as citizens of the United States, maintaining they would “use every instrumentality within our power to effect our object…employ agents, circulate tracts, petition the State and National legislatures, and endeavor to enlist the pulpit and the press in our behalf.” And so they did. Their fight was long, their methods varied, and many did not see the results of a movement they set in motion. Stanton died 18 years before the passage of the 19th amendment in 1920 guaranteeing women the right to vote.
 Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage, ed. History of Woman Suffrage (New York: Fowler & Wells, 1881), 73.
 Linda K. Kerber. “From the Declaration of Independence to the Declaration of Sentiments: the Legal Status of Women in the Early Republic 1776-1848,” Human Rights Vol. 6, No. 2 (Winter 1977), 115.