November 2, 2017

A Lost Piece of New York State History: The Declaration of Sentiments

TOP A Lost Piece of New York State History: The Declaration of Sentiments
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On November 6, 1917, three years before the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution granted women the right to vote, New York women won the right to vote at home. The road to suffrage was long and not easy, and New Yorkers of all genders owe a debt of gratitude for the women, and men, who fought so hard for the most basic principle of our democracy: the right to vote. To honor this anniversary, the New York State Suffrage Commission is re-launching the search for the missing Declaration of Sentiments… and we need your help!

 The Declaration of Sentiments

To prepare for the first ever women’s rights convention at Seneca Falls, Elizabeth Cady Stanton of Johnstown, NY led the drafting of the Declaration of Sentiments, which was later debated and ratified at the convention. Modeled after the Declaration of Independence, it calls for the moral, economic and political equality for women. Of the 300 attendees at the convention, 68 women and 32 men signed it. Ultimately sixteen sentiments were ratified and signed, and almost unbelievably, suffrage almost didn’t make the cut. Many thought that calling for voting rights would hurt their larger cause, and only after a rousing floor speech from Frederick Douglass arguing that freedom was not divisible according to sex or color did the resolution narrowly pass. The Declaration of Sentiments is the foundational document for women's rights and as far as we can tell… it's missing.

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Unfortunately, like many artifacts from women’s history, as far as we know today, the original document has been lost to time. Abolitionist and Declaration signer, Fredrick Douglass, published a copy of the Sentiments in Rochester’s The North Star newspaper—and thankfully so. Douglass is otherwise the only reason we know what the Sentiments said!

New York’s Role in the Suffrage Movement

New York was not only an early adopter of women’s suffrage in 1917, but many credit New York State as the birthplace of the women’s rights movement. In 1848, Lucretia Mott, Mary Ann M’Clintock, Martha Coffin Wright, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Jane Hunt—all abolitionists—met for tea and decided to organize the first-ever women’s rights convention. Soon after, more than 300 women and men assembled in Seneca Falls, New York for the first ever convention of its kind.

 Have You Seen the Sentiments?

If you believe you’ve seen the original copy of the Declaration of Sentiments, or have any clues to where it might be, we'd like to hear from you both on social media using the hashtag #FindTheSentiments and with us directly here.

While we continue the search for the Sentiments in our basements and our attics, we also must continue to search for the Sentiments in our hearts and minds—the fight for true gender equality is not yet won and it is on all of us to keep working toward a more equal future. 

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