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Women’s Rights Movement Celebrates 160 Years

July 18, 2008

This weekend marks the 160th anniversary of the first women’s rights convention in history.

The Seneca Falls Convention in New York, convened by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and four feminist friends, met during the hot days of July 19-20, 1848, “to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of woman.” It was at this convention that Stanton proposed her shocking resolution for “woman suffrage” _ demanding women’s right to vote.

A short, unsigned notice, composed around a tea table, appeared in the July 14, 1848, issue of the Seneca County Courier. The women had only three days to draw up their Declaration of Women’s Rights, and they hit upon the genius of rewording the Declaration of Independence.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal,” they began, with the obvious addition of “and women.” Instead of King George, they referred to the male sex, which “has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice” and which “allows her in Church, as well as State, but a subordinate position.” The resolutions at the conference rang out: “It is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise,” one said.

The final resolution, offered by Lucretia Mott, is still radical, still not yet realized: “That the speedy success of our cause depends upon the zealous and untiring efforts of both men and women, for the overthrow of the monopoly of the pulpit and for the securing to woman an equal participation with men in the various trades, professions and commerce.” The ruins of the Wesleyan Chapel where the gathering met are now the Women’s Rights National Historic Park. The Declaration of Women’s Rights is inscribed in marble.

It is proper that our government commemorates the Seneca Falls convention. Yet Stanton was leery of monuments. She wanted a legacy of action, change and equality now.

The anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention is an appropriate time to take stock.

While women have had the vote since 1920, we still are woefully underrepresented in the halls of power.

And when one of our own, Hillary Rodham Clinton, ran for president, she faced all sorts of sexism.

A Washington Post woman columnist publicly admonished her for showing “cleavage.” Carl Bernstein derided her “thick ankles.” FOX News’ Marc Rudov said: “When Hillary Clinton speaks, men hear, ‘take out the garbage.’” MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson said: “When she comes on television, I involuntarily cross my legs.” New York Times news coverage referred to Clinton’s “cackle,” as did other media.

“Like her or not,” as CBS anchor Katie Couric put it, “one of the great lessons of the campaign is the continued and accepted sexism in American life, particularly in the media.” The media flayed the early feminists unmercifully. Some things haven’t changed that much in 160 years.

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ABOUT THE WRITER

Annie Laurie Gaylor is co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., and is editor of the newspaper Freethought Today and the anthology, “Women Without Superstition: No Gods _ No Masters.” She wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine. Readers may write to the author at: Progressive Media Project, 409 East Main Street, Madison, Wis. 53703; e-mail: pmproj@progressive.org; Web site: www.progressive.org. For information on PMP’s funding, please visit http://www.progressive.org/pmpabout.html#anchorsupport.

This article was prepared for The Progressive Media Project and is available to MCT subscribers. McClatchy-Tribune did not subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of McClatchy-Tribune or its editors.

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(c) 2008, Annie Laurie Gaylor

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

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