If feminism is the belief that women are full and equal human beings, then feminists have always existed. I find it difficult to believe that not a single woman in the Roman Republic ever thought, “hey, why shouldn’t I get to be a senator?” Or not a single woman in Medieval England thought, “just let the girl inherit the throne.” Hell, that’s the Queen Elizabeth story (I think. I made a C in British History).
So, in that sense, feminism has existed since the first person looked at a woman’s treatment and thought “hey, that’s not fair.” But as an organized political movement in the United States, feminism began on this day – July 18 – in 1848.
Lucretia Mott, a Quaker and an early feminist, helped to plan the convention while visiting Seneca Falls, NY. Several other Quaker women from New York helped to plan the event. Quakers were unique in that they allowed women to speak in public and thus, many of the best women speakers were from that sect. Elizabeth Cady Stanton was notable as an outspoken feminist who wasn’t a Quaker.
About 300 people attended the convention, the first women’s rights convention in the United States. Frederick Douglass was one of the attendees because my mans was down for the cause – damn near every cause, it seems. If somebody was getting mistreated, Fred was there to call it out. So, I reckon he was the first feminist ally.
The Declaration of Sentiments
The convention featured speakers and panels and the like; pretty typical fare for a convention. The resulting resolution was The Declaration of Sentiments, a document based on the Declaration of Independence. Truthfully, the document is pretty fire. It features a lot of ideas that are still relevant to the current wave of feminism (fourth wave?).
The Declaration opens with “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal […]. (emphasis mine)” The entire thing is worth a read, and you can read it here. To paraphrase Angelica Schuyler from Hamilton, Elizabeth Cady Stanton “included women in the sequel.”
The attendees of the convention differed most sharply on the issue of women’s suffrage. Even Lucretia Mott thought that women voting was probably a step too far, just a little bit too radical. However, Frederick Douglass gave an impassioned speech and convinced them to include it. One thing about Fred, he gives an impassioned speech.
Legacy for Feminism
Women’s conventions occurred annually after the Seneca Falls Convention; they were interrupted by the Civil War, though. A cataclysmic crisis for the survival of the republic has that effect.
The original copy of the Declaration of Sentiments has never been found. The legacy survives.