Written by Morgan DeLisle
Edited by Steven Spear, Jr.
No progress occurs without the deliberate choice of people to refuse the status quo or the intentional actions of those people to demand an alternative to that status quo.
It makes sense then, that no movement finds its birth at a convention like Seneca Falls, but instead a longing for change must have been borne within the heart of a person or people long before then, searching for a way to be turned to action. In the case of the major players at the Seneca Falls Convention, the conviction that drove them to the women’s rights movement was being developed long before Seneca Falls and would continue throughout their life as an unshakeable dream.
Lucretia Mott was, as we have seen in previous articles, one of the founders of the Seneca Falls Convention but was an activist long before that. Born in 1793, Mott worked as a women’s rights activist, an abolitionist and a Quaker minister. A fierce advocate of equality, Mott’s extreme style (boycotting businesses that used slave labor and becoming more liberal in her religious beliefs) often attracted naysayers, even to the point of threats of violence. Mott would not be swayed. She went on to help create the Seneca Falls Convention as a call for women to take their suffrage (the right to vote) seriously and spent her life advocating for the end of slavery. In her later years, Mott helped found Swarthmore College and worked to reunify the women’s movement when it split in 1869. She died in 1880 after a life spent working for the improvement of her nation and the achievement of equality.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
A skilled writer, Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s written work did not end with the stark beauty of the Declaration of Sentiments. She went on to become an incredible advocate of women’s rights, working closely with Susan B. Anthony as they formed the National Woman Suffrage Association, and then serving as its president. Stanton’s writing included the newspaper Revolution, three volumes of the History of Woman Suffrage, and The Woman’s Bible. Stanton was a woman devoted to the rights of women in many diverse areas like divorce and bicycle use, and spoke openly on each until her death in 1902.
Frederick Douglass served the Seneca Falls Convention as one of the strongest supporters of the necessity of female suffrage, and his support of the women’s movement continued throughout his life. Douglass believed that “right is of no sex, truth is of no color,” and thus that equality ought not be hindered by prejudice of any kind. Douglass, and many men like him (both Mott and Stanton had incredibly supportive husbands who bore their passion for change), were remarkably influential in the women’s movement. These men also faced ridicule and rejection, but fought alongside women for the rights they believed should be available to all people. Douglass lived to see the ratification of the 15th amendment (prohibition of race-based suffrage), but—like almost all of the others at Seneca Falls—not the 19th (prohibition of sex-based suffrage). He died in 1895, a hero abolitionist.
Of all of the names in this article, and all of the names that will come up when researching the women’s movement, this one probably sounds foreign. Woodward is not a celebrated hero of the cause, a writer, a leader, or a martyr. Woodward was just a girl with few options for her future because she happened to be a woman. So, when she heard a convention would be held to talk about the very thing she knew held her back from her full potential, she rounded up some women and headed for New York. Woodward was young, 18 or 19, but passionate. The Seneca Falls Convention and the movement it empowered led her to join the American Woman Suffrage Association, and she was supportive of all branches of the women’s movement throughout her life.
Why does she matter? Because those “just a normal person” stories must never be forgotten. They resonate deeply within us and remind us of what we, the normal people, are capable of. Woodward fought for female suffrage her entire life and was the only attendee of the Seneca Falls Convention to see it happen. Charlotte Woodward died in 1921, having lived to see women able to vote in the 1920 election.
The fight for equality was far from over, but a major battle had been won. Won because of the outstanding work of the Mott’s and Stanton’s and Anthony’s and Douglass’s of the world. But also because of the Woodward’s, whose passionate, lifelong service may not have made headlines, but without whom the outcry over inequality would have been a whisper—because every voice counts.