The Seneca Falls Convention — Diary Entry from 1848

By Puja Balaji (SMHS ‘20)

In my Honors US History class, I learned about the Seneca Falls Convention. Specifically, I learned that:

  • The Convention was held in July of 1848 at the Wesleyan Chapel located in the city of Seneca Falls, New York.
  • “Although the Convention was hastily organized and hardly publicized, over 300 men and women came to the Convention to protest the mistreatment of women in social, economic, political, and religious life.”
  • The five women who organized the Convention — Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Mary Mcclintock, Martha Coffin Wright, Jane Hunt, and Lucretia Mott — were also active in the abolitionist movement (which called for the emancipation of the slaves.)
  • “The Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions issued by the Convention, which was modeled after the Declaration of Independence, detailed the “injuries and usurpations” that men had inflicted upon women and demanded that women be granted all of the rights and privileges that men possessed, including the right to vote.”
  • Many historians view the Senecca Falls Convention as the beginning of the women’s suffrage movement, which more than seventy years later granted women the right to vote.

After having learned the above, my teacher encouraged me to write a 750–1000 word Fictional Diary Entry, with this diary entry to be written from the perspective of a woman between the age of 21–25 and who had attended the Convention.

In the Fictional Diary Entry appearing below, I assume that I was a 25 year old Quaker female present for the second day of the Seneca Falls Convention.

I also assume that I was writing in my diary while seated at a table in the living room of my home in Waterloo, New York on July 20, 1848, the night after the convention had ended. Waterloo is located not far from Seneca Falls and is known for having women live in harmony with men.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Dear Diary:

I can’t believe it. Unimaginable events happened that I can’t even wrap my head around. The newspapers called the republicans favoring the abolition of slavery “radicals,” but this is on a whole other level. I am so nervous-no, thankful-about the occurrences of today.

As my husband and I took his wagon to the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel at 8:00 am this morning, we gripped each other, nervous for the ridicule we would be subjected to. But as we continued our way to Seneca Falls, hundreds of wagons gathered with us. It was a march.

Inside the chapel, my dress stuck to my skin as sweat beaded my forehead on this hot summer day. It was so crowded inside that my husband and I had to sit in the upstairs gallery above the main seating area.

And then it began. Lucretia, the wife of the presider, rose and read the minutes of the previous day. A hush swept the hall, and Elizabeth slowly arose. At first, I could barely hear her; her hands were shaking. So were mine.

“When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary…,” she whispered. Each of her words hung in the air, striking a small blow to my head. Her words made me feel like we were preparing for a war. And then, everyone’s eyes widened.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal,” she stated clearly. All the men, women, and children in the chapel looked around anxiously at each other. We have all heard those words before-well, most of it. Stanton was indeed elevating this battle to the level of America’s independence.

She continued by listing the grievances placed on women by men: “He has compelled her to submit to laws…He has taken from her all right in property….” As she listed off every form of oppression, I began to nod along with her. And, I noticed I wasn’t the only one doing that.

The discussion was sparked. Including, Assemblyman Ansel Bascom who countered that the right to property was actually guaranteed to married women under the newly passed Married Women’s Property Act. I didn’t even know that. After further discourse, Mr. Mott held a vote. Tension filled the room as he asked for those in favor of Stanton’s Declaration. Slowly, hands went up. Every hand went up. The declaration was adopted unanimously. My husband and I went forward to sign the document. But, only about a third of us did though. Looking back, I don’t know whether I should have signed it. I’m scared for my family name since now every person knows what I believe.

Essentially, Elizabeth’s document called for the equal rights for women, under the premise that we are equal citizens in the eyes of the law. She so bravely demanded equal opportunity in education and work. And, she even wants to give women the right to vote. Elizabeth is a true revolutionary. She is going to create change; I just know it.

In the afternoon session, the eleven resolutions were read, demanding equality for people and declaring it the duty of men and women to bestow such a right endowed by the Creator. The presider took a vote after each resolution, and I raised my hand for each one. My husband, however, was a little more conservative. He didn’t raise his hand for the ninth one. But, that’s alright with me. He’s done so much for me already. After the convention, he even told me he would set up a separate bank account for me the next day.

And, he was actually one of many, many men and women who did not raise their hand for that resolution: the right to the elective franchise. Even, Lucretia seemed to have her reservations. It know it sounds ridiculous, but Stanton brought up an exceptional point. If we don’t have the right to vote, how are we supposed to ensure our rights are always honored?

Soon thereafter, Frederick Douglass, the only black man in the room rose and spoke eloquently in favor of the women’s vote. I had only read about him in the papers until that moment, but I could tell many respected him, including me. A former slave, Douglass was a major part in the championing of slaves rights. His oratory skills proved itself today as he almost single handedly swayed the views of so many in the convention. The ninth resolution also passed with a majority approval.

This was followed by the afternoon session, where accusers rebuffed the calls for feminism. And, after an excerpt from William Blackstone’s laws were read by Thomas M’Clintock, Mott offered a final, unusual resolution. She said that the success of the women’s rights movement in order to overthrow the male dominance depended on “zealous and untiring efforts” of all. This twelfth resolution resolution also passed.

In light of these twelve resolutions and the Declaration of Sentiments, I am shocked that something like this would happen. I’m surprised at Stanton and Miss Mott’s radical call. I hear there is going to be another convention in New York soon. I can’t wait. I’m scared, but ready to fight.

Hopeful,

SOURCES

“Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions.” Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions, Seneca Falls: Stanton and Anthony Papers Online, The Elizabeth

Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Papers Project, 30 July 2018, ecssba.rutgers.edu/docs/seneca.html.

“Seneca Falls Convention 1848.” World Encyclopedia, Encyclopedia.com, 26 Nov. 2018, www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences-and-law/law/law/seneca-falls-convention-1848.

“Seneca Falls Convention Begins.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 21 Aug. 2018, www.history.com/this-day-in-history/seneca-falls-convention-begins.

“Seneca Falls Convention.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, 21 May 2018, www.pbs.org/video/seneca-falls-convention-8efxdw/.

ACADEMIC HONESTY POLICY DECLARATION

I declare that this work is my own work and that I have correctly acknowledged the work of others. This work is in accordance with SMHS Academic Honesty Policy and its guidance on good academic conduct and how to avoid plagiarism and other assessment irregularities.

  • Puja Balaji

High school APUSH teacher with much in-class and online teaching experience. Also a blogger, keynote speaker, editor, podcast host, and conference presenter.