Guest post by Jamie Rhein
Women’s rights take center stage at the Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, New York. This historic slice of upstate New York is in a region steeped in social justice. Its location is fitting. Seneca Falls is where a group of women (and some men) held the first Women’s Rights Convention. The Women’s Rights National Historical Park tells the story.
Led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Jane Hunt, Mary Ann M’Clintock, Lucretia Mott and Martha Wright, the Women’s Rights Convention centered on full and equal rights with men. Prior to the convention, the women used the Declaration of Independence as a model to pen the Declaration of Sentiments. On July 19, 1848, they presented their document at the convention. “’We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal.’”
This was just the beginning of the movement that is closely linked to the rights of African Americans and the abolitionist movement.
Upstate New York is dotted with sites connected to social justice and the Women’s Rights National Historical Park is just one of those places. In Canandaigua, there’s the courthouse where Susan B. Anthony’s trial occurred, for example. However, the visitor’s center and museum of the Woman’s Rights National Historical Park is a fitting starting place for an encapsulated version of social justice as it pertains to equal rights –not only of women.
Several displays tie in the significance of the abolitionist movement and connects Frederick Douglass to the efforts of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. Douglass attended the convention and was also a player when it came to women’s rights as well as those of African Americans. The exhibit of Sojourner Truth whose speech “Ain’t I a Woman” is a powerful testament to the rights of both women and those who are African American, takes in Truth’s life and her work as an activist.
Along with presenting background information about these brave women and the creation of the Declaration of Sentiments, the displays tell the story of the pathway of women’s rights as equal citizens in the United States from the right to vote to equal access to sports to equal pay. A copy of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act that Barack Obama signed in 2009 is on display. Obama personally delivered a copy of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to the museum.
Lest anyone wonder what the big deal is about women’s rights, the displays are an excellent reminder as to what ideas and laws spurred Stanton, Mott and others to action. During their day, these are rights that married women did not have: the right to own property, keep inheritances or keep their earnings. All went to their husbands upon marrying and if a husband died, a woman could be destitute.
Other displays show the vibrancy, vitality and the importance of contributions of women to the fabric of American society and the world.
Others are a nod to how much has not changed like the ideas of what constitutes beauty—not what is beautiful, but that there are still standards upheld that women may go to great lengths to fill. While women may not wear corsets anymore, there are fashion items about which one might wonder.
I was happy to see the display about sports and education since I remember being in the 9th grade without a track team for girls. By 11th grade that had changed and I had some friends who were blazin’ around the track.
While I was visiting a large group of 4th graders boisterously took in the exhibits. One girl piped up after a film that depicted the early years of the women’s rights movement, “It wasn’t fair that women couldn’t own property.” Exactly.
This is one National Historical Park that is certainly worth the visit. While there, make sure you stop in the Wesleyan Chapel next door. This restored site is the actual location of the convention. It’s used as a space for rotating exhibits about human rights.
The Women’s Rights National Historical Park museum and visitors center is free and parking is free as well.