Seneca Falls

The Seneca Falls Convention—the first open women’s rights convention in the US—was held July 19-20, 1848. Organizers wanted to discuss “the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of women.” The meeting launched the women’s right movement.

Seneca Falls

The National Park Service is restoring and interpreting key structures in Seneca Falls, New York. The Women’s Rights National Historical Park tells the story “of struggles for civil rights, human rights, and equality, global struggles that continue today. The efforts of women’s rights leaders, abolitionists, and other 19th century reformers remind us that all people must be accepted as equals.”

Scott and I had the chance to visit last summer. At the Visitor Center, we were greeted by “The First Wave,” statuary depicting convention planners and early leaders.

Seneca Falls

The leaders who spoke publicly were courageous. Earlier semi-secret gatherings in other locales triggered outcry, including threat of a fire-bombing.

Seneca Falls

Sojourner Truth, who gave her famous speech in 1851.

We also took time to explore museum exhibits. The artifacts serve as reminders that the struggle for equal rights was contentious…and continues to this day.

Seneca Falls

Seneca Falls

Seneca Falls

Seneca Falls

I was most excited about a ranger-led tour to the Wesleyan Chapel, site of the convention. Built in 1843, it was a congregating spot for  human rights activists. Many were Quakers.

Seneca Falls, Wesleyan Chapel

Only the reddish bricks are original.

In 1871, the Methodist congregation sold the building. Over the years it was used by a variety of businesses, including a skating rink, a furniture store, a laundromat, and an auto dealership (complete with grease pits).

When the park service acquired the site in 1985, almost nothing was left of the original structure.  Architects have stabilized and protected what does remain.

Seneca Falls

The walls were originally plastered. A remnant is preserved under plexiglass. The pockets in the bricks once held supports for a balcony.

Seneca Falls

These original beams show the scars of several fires.

Seneca Falls

These pews date only to 1870, but it’s possible that some of the convention goers who attended this church sat in them. The original wood floor disappeared during the car dealership era.

Although there is little left to physically link visitors to those brave souls who dared openly advocate for women’s rights, I found it powerful just to be in the space, where the reverberations of those hot days in 1848 still echo.

Seneca Falls

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10 Responses to “Seneca Falls”

  1. Kathleen Says:

    It seems surprising to me that many women have never heard of the historic events that took place here. Don’t they teach children about this in school? Many have heard of Susan B. Anthony, but few know about Elizabeth Cady Stanton. For anyone interested, Ken Burns ( I love him ) has done a PBS special called “Not for Ourselves Alone” which is excellent on this subject!

    Also, if you ever get the chance to visit Susan’s home in Rochester, New York, you will find it inspiring as well!

    • Kathleen Ernst Says:

      Thanks, Kathleen! I have not seen the documentary, which I’m sure I will enjoy; and I’d love to visit Susan’s home. The park service has lots of projects on the horizon in Seneca Falls, too. Eventually there will be several homes open to the public, I believe.

  2. nancyloswald Says:

    Wonderful post, Kathleen. I’ll have to try to find the Ken Burns (who I love, too) documentary. It never ceases to amaze me how the history in the east is so different than the history in the west. Thanks again for continuing to educate me.

    • Kathleen Ernst Says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed it, Nancy. I’ve often thought about the different experiences, east and west, especially since I started hanging out with Women Writing the West ladies, and reading their books. Endlessly fascinating, isn’t it?

  3. Arletta Dawdy's Blog Says:

    Kathleen, Thank you for this tour! I would have liked to visit in person so this is the next best way. It’s a great reminder of all that women have accomplished and all that still needs doing.

  4. janekirkpatrick Says:

    loved all of this! What fun you must have had at the museum. Great pictures, too. Jane

  5. qnpoohbear Says:

    I would love to go there. I study 19th century women and women’s rights/reform. I first learned about Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott in elementary school. I’ve since learned about Lucy Stone, Abby Kelly, Paulina Wright Davis and so many more incredible women. The Ken Burns documentary is really good and there’s a website to go with it. If you want further reading I can recommend some scholarly books.
    e-mail me at aupoohbear [at] hotmail [dot] com

    • Kathleen Ernst Says:

      Thanks so much for sharing! I’d love to do more with this topic one day. My one-day visit made me realize how little I really know about this important movement.

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