No Small Courage: A History of Women in the United States

By Nancy F. Cott | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 5
An Unfinished Battle
1848–1865

Harriet Sigerman

Newspapers across the country carried reports of the Seneca Falls convention. Much of the coverage was critical, even nasty. One editorial called the convention “the most shocking and unnatural incident ever recorded in the history of womanity.” Editors accused female participants of “unwomanly behavior” and of neglecting “their more appropriate duties.” They feared that equal rights would “demoralize and degrade” women and “prove a monstrous injury to all mankind.”

The newspapers’ disparaging coverage frightened some people away. A few signers of the Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions withdrew their support because of all the publicity, and others even spurned the organizers of the Seneca Falls convention. Still other women who did indeed support the cause of women’s rights could not resist their husbands’ opposition. But some women were not so easily cowed, and the convention galvanized them to work for women’s rights.


A Movement for Women’s Rights Begins

Seneca Falls was the opening salvo in the organized women’s rights movement in the United States. Women had finally set forth the problem of sexual inequality in all of its forms—political, social, economic, and personal—and organized a movement to combat this inequality. The Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions became a road map for the path they hoped to travel toward equality and selfdetermination. It would set the tone and goals of the American women’s rights movement for decades to come. More important, the convention brought women together as a group to solve their problems. After Seneca Falls, women would hold other conventions and eventually establish local and national organizations to press their claims. From now on, American women would crusade for their rights behind the banner of an organized movement.

Perhaps it was not coincidental that the Seneca Falls convention was held in 1848, the year in which revolutions and insurrections swept Europe. In the United States the spirit of progress and reform abounded. The antislavery movement, the

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