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Erin Blakemore @heroinebook
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Alright, people. I said I'd talk about Seneca Falls and the birth of the women's rights movement.

I'm going to come through—and tell you how an epic case of manspreading helped spark what we now consider to be the forerunner of modern feminism. Yellowing old pin reads
Next week is the 170th anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention—the hastily planned, recklessly ambitious event at which a small group of intrepid women (and men!) set the agenda for American women's progress for the next century or more.
First, a cast of characters.

We have Lucretia Mott, a Quaker woman and a revolutionary female minister who began to speak in public and advocate for political change long before either were common for women. An elderly woman in a see-through sheer bonnet
And we have Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a newlywed.

She's not just any bride—she's one who, in the mid 19th century, refused to include the word "obey" in her wedding vows. And she is very, very discontented with the lot of women in America. A woman with dark hair sits between two young boys.
I love that picture of ECS. We so often think of her as this woman—often smiling, kind of exhausted, instead of that prickly, discontented young mother.

Her children do remember her cheerfulness. But ECS was baffled by what society expected of her as a woman. A woman in a black dress sits at a table.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton refuses to give up her maiden name, Cady. She will not agree to a marriage in which she's subordinate to her husband's will.

This is 1840, by the way. In the United States, a woman cannot own property. She cannot vote. She cannot move freely.
In 1840, a woman is chattel. She is the possession of her husband, her father, her male relatives.
Of course, there is another societal evil going on in the United States in 1840—the booming slave trade, which treats the bodies and labor of black men and women as a possession to be traded and owned.

Both Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton are vehemently against it.
“I have no idea...of submitting tamely to injustice inflicted either on me or on the slave," Mott writes. "I will oppose it with all the moral powers with which I am endowed. I am no advocate of passivity.”
Mott is so against slavery that she devotes pretty much all of her time to the abolitionist movement, even when people try to attack her house. She hosts fugitive slaves. She raises money for the movement. She brings other women into the fold.
Her leadership—even in the face of resistance by men who are shocked to see a woman concern herself so deeply with matters outside the home—is undeniable. So when a huge world antislavery convention is called in 1840, she's included in the American delegation.
Meanwhile, ECS marries a huge abolitionist. They head to England for the conference, too. Both women get on boats and head to London to work with other abolitionists to make a concerted action plan for giving slavery the boot for good.
Okay, actually I should have used this GIF, because the convention ends up being a nightmare due to a 19th-century permutation of manspreading.
The Americans waltz into the conference, eager to get going.
And they find essentially the whole conference waiting to say "Uh yeah, no, that won't be possible. I mean, you have WOMEN with you."
Word of a woman delegate had preceded Mott, and most of the men at the convention were shocked at the idea of a woman sitting among them and participating in their convention.
These are the same men who vehemently argued about whether black men should be allowed to attend their anti-slavery meetings. So.
Mott was asked multiple times by members of the American delegation to step down and stop causing trouble.

One of the men sent to persuade her to step down "thought Women constitutionally unfit for public or business meetings," she wrote in her diary.
Mott went to the floor of the convention anyway. So did Stanton and some other women. They were barred from the floor, forced to hear a heated debate about whether they could sit on the floor with the men, and finally told they had to sit in a separate balcony.
To their credit, some of the men who had also traveled thousands of miles to be there refused to sit on the floor of the convention if women were not welcome. They joined the women in the gallery.
To be clear—it wasn't that there wasn't room. It was that the men who were there didn't want women in their space. It was about publicly punishing women who insisted on having a voice and participating in a complex political conversation.

It was mansplaining meets manspreading.
Mott and ECS were PISSED. They were humiliated. They were outraged that the "compromise" these dudes came up with was to allow them to stay, but without a voice or any visibility.
At some point that week, ECS later recalled, the new friends decided it was time to start to talk about the liberty of women, too.
Then life intervened. Both women returned to the States, and both continued to work for the abolitionist movement. But ECS was busy having babies and taking care of her husband, who was sickly, and Mott was busy, you know, not letting dudes deter her from her activism.
Those years discouraged ECS even more. She was so painfully aware of her status as a woman—her inability to express herself, to get the education she should have gotten, to do the things she would have done if she were a man. A woman in an elaborate bonnet smiles as she holds a baby
The injustices faced by women "swept across my soul," she later wrote.
Fast-forward eight years. A mutual friend of Mott and Stanton invited them both to tea.

I wrote about that fateful tea party a bit more here:…
These were frustrated women. They were brilliant and underutilized and unappreciated. They were pissed about how they were treated even by movements that needed them. They were sick of the status quo.
At that tea party, they let LOOSE on those frustrations...and decided to do something about them.

Mere days later, they were presiding over a first-of-its kind conference.
It was so unheard-of for women to do this kind of work that they didn't even know anything about parliamentary procedure or how to run an event. Aside from Mott, none of them had much public speaking experience because women didn't speak in public.

It was terra incognita.
Which makes the Declaration of Sentiments—the document they ratified at the convention—even more incredible.…
It is a BARN BURNER of a document. It doesn't just co-opt the language and the concepts of the Declaration of Independence. It does so on behalf of half of the United States' population—a group of people who, it thought, had no value outside of marriage and childbirth.
I got to write a bit more about the DoS here:…
As a woman, it hurts to read this document today. To realize how many of the sentiments went unaddressed.

I MEAN. "Resolved, That the same amount of virtue, delicacy, and refinement of behavior, that is required of woman in the social state, should also be required of man."
The convention and the document set the stage.

These women and their sisters and their daughters and their many real and spiritual successors eventually claimed the rights Mott and ECS were brave enough to dream of claiming for themselves during their lifetimes.
I remain profoundly grateful—and humbled that what boiled down to some predictable manspreading and a seating kerfuffle ended up changing the world.
And yes, the American women's suffrage movement was steeped in racism, did not benefit all American women, and contained profound shittiness. It's been well addressed by scholars who give it a much more thorough treatment than I ever could in a Twitter thread.
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