Seneca Falls, New York, has become the national home of the Women’s Rights Movement. This began in 1980 when Congress decided to honor the First Women’s Rights Convention, which was held in Seneca Falls in 1848. A complex of buildings including the home of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Wesleyan Chapel, where the convention was held, were included and restored. Ruth and I made this a destination on our spring, 2019 trip to upper New York State. We had time to visit the Women’s Rights National Historical Park Visitor Center, the National Women’s Hall of Fame, and the chapel.
Our visit began with a viewing of a 23 minute film in the VC’s Guntzel Theater that shows how far women have come since 1848. Called “Dreams of Equality”, it tells the story of the 1st Women’s Rights Convention. Ruth was especially interested in it. The film began with a not-boring discussion of women’s rights in the mid-19th century when a convention in London attended by some American women debated women’s participation in the anti-slavery movement. These women brought the subject home with them to an audience of men who already thought women had rights. Couples are shown at a picnic. While the husbands play ball, their wives put out food.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, mother of 7 children, helped organize the convention and launched a reform movement for women’s rights that consumed her time and attention for the rest of her life. The convention that she, Quaker reformer Lucretia Mott, and 2 other women organized discussed injustices to women. At that time a woman whose husband died, for example, often became destitute. The film ultimately has a “how far we’ve come” message and is very worthwhile.
The rest of the Visitors Center was worth seeing because it was so participatory. Upstairs I watched a girl take part in a “What do you want to be?” activity, and I found a display that told this story. A man running for president asked a girl if she would like to be First Lady some day. “No way,” She told him, “I want to be president.” Downstairs, the staff was speculating about how many of the female Democratic candidates for President would include the Women’s Rights National Historical Park in their campaigns by making an appearance. To my knowledge, none have shown up yet. However, I did find and read a notice that in 2013 then President Barak Obama visited here to deliver a copy of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act that he had signed into law in 2009. This law assures women that unequal pay found decades after the injustice has been done can legally sue for compensation. Progress has been made. There are bronze figures of the 5 woman who organized the 1848 convention near the VC’s information desk and a 19th century dress on display decorated with signatures of 20the century women like Shu Chang, who helped to develop 3-D printing.
I’ll write about the chapel and the National Women’s Hall of Fame another day and will include this years inductees.