MARY GRATTON, operations manager of the National Women's Hall of
Fame, grew up in this rural village in upstate New York. She
remembers how students learned only about a few women, such as
Martha Washington, Betsy Ross and Harriet Tubman.
"If it weren't for the fact that I went to Elizabeth Cady
Stanton Elementary School, I wouldn't have known who she was," she
"It's just really awesome, when you stop and look back, going
to the Hall of Fame and the Women's Rights National Historical
Park, how much women's history we did not learn.
"It's nice to see in my children's textbooks things like Seneca
Falls, the convention and women's rights. I know for a fact it
wasn't in my fourth-grade textbook."
This is the 75th anniversary of women winning the right to
vote, and many are making a pilgrimage to Seneca Falls to learn
more about the suffragists who made it happen. This village is
known as the birthplace of women's rights because in Seneca Falls,
in 1848, the first women's rights conference was held. Attended by
women such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, the
convention unveiled a document called the Declaration of Sentiments
that declared, "All men and women are created equal." It also
demanded the vote for women.
The idea of women being able to vote was radical. In those
days, the list of things women couldn't do was extensive. A woman
could not make contracts, sue in court, divorce an abusive husband
or gain custody of her children. She couldn't keep her own wages or
own property - not even the clothes she wore. Twelve days after the
Seneca Falls conference, another one was held in nearby Rochester.
Soon, they were happening across the country.
Today, Seneca Falls reflects strong pride in its heritage.
Pictures of famous suffragists hang in local coffee shops. Rooms in
bed-and-breakfasts are named after historic women such as Clara
Barton and Lucretia Mott. Local organizations host countless
conferences on women: women in politics, women in baseball, women
changing careers, women in religious leadership.
This village of more than 9,000 people often seems untouched by
time. There's a large historic district where the homes and shops
appear just as they did years ago. Roads, uncluttered by
billboards, lead to vistas of rolling pasture land, rust-red barns
and grazing cattle.
Like many small towns in upstate New York, Seneca Falls is
suffering tough economic times and has seen factories close and
industries leave. But this village is blessed with history that
Million-dollar grants, state and federal, feed a rich cultural
heritage: the history of women's rights in America.
"Tourism is the fastest-growing industry in the state," says
village planner Francis Caraccilo.
"We'd be crazy not to try to hop on the bandwagon and take
advantage of it. But beyond just the economic impact of it all, an
important aspect is just our own recognition of our heritage and
what happened here before us, and being respectful, and wanting
maybe to show off a little, take some pride in our past."
Pilgrims now flock to this mecca of women's history. During the
first four months of 1995, attendance at the Women's Rights
Historical Park shot up by 30 percent. Two years after the park
opened in 1980, only 650 people visited. Last year, more than
30,500 tourists came from around the country.
In the past five years, attendance rates have doubled at the
National Women's Hall of Fame. Tourism was boosted by a $12 million
renewal project that included the restoration of the site of the
1848 convention - the church had become a red-brick laundry - and
the creation of a landscaped park with a waterfall flowing over an
inscription of the Declaration of Sentiments. …