This weekend is the 160th anniversary of the first (US) women’s rights convention at Seneca Falls, July 19 and 20, 1848. At Seneca Falls, Elizabeth Cady Stanton rewrote the Declaration of Independence as the Declaration of Women’s Rights, beginning, of course, with “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal…” And the Declaration included the shocking call for women’s right to vote. It took 72 years till the right to vote was accomplished.
The final resolution in the Declaration called “for the overthrowing of the monopoly of the pulpit, and for the securing to woman equal participation with men in the various trades, professions and commerce.” One hundred and sixty years later, and we’re still working on that.
Of course, “all men and women” still really meant only “all (white) men and women”, and the history of the fight for women’s suffrage includes the sad fighting over whether priority ought to be given to “negro suffrage” or white women’s suffrage, where “negro suffrage” meant the vote for black men. This was played out in what is known as the Kansas campaign of 1867, where the proposition to allow women to vote was actually put to ballot, but defeated. Abolitionists fighting for negro suffrage were at odds with women’s suffrage workers who were willing to align themselves with those who supported their cause but opposed the vote for black men. From Alice Rossi’s The Feminist Papers, quoting a woman in the middle of the Kansas campaign:
“So long as opposition to slavery is the only test for a free pass to your platform and membership of your association, and you do not shut out all persons opposed to woman suffrage, why should we not accept all in favor of woman suffrage to our platform and associations, even though they be rabid pro-slavery Democrats? Your test of unfaithfulness is the negro – ours is the woman; the broadest platform, to which no party has as yet risen, is humanity.”
I can’t help thinking of how this echoes down the years into the Democratic primary season just past. We’ve come so far, and have so far to go. We simply cannot allow our opponents – or ourselves – to fool us into thinking our hopes, dreams, and aspirations are at odds with one another, or must come at the cost of one another.