Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Search for the Women's Declaration of Sentiments

This is a new Nicholas Cage movie in the making; National Treasure III: Finding the Feminists. 

WashPost, White House is Searching for the Origins of Women's Rights

White House chief technology officer Megan Smith on Wednesday launched a nationwide search for the original "Declaration of Sentiments," the document signed in July 1848 at the Women's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, N.Y..

The historic resolution, which called for not just women's suffrage but equal pay and the right to attend college, is not technically a government document. But Smith, who spent part of her childhood in upstate New York, wanted to see it for herself once she started working for the administration in the fall of 2014. There was one catch: the National Archives didn't have it, and no one knew where it was.

"So the game begins," Smith recounted in a phone interview from Houston, where she was preparing to make the announcement at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Wednesday afternoon.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote the resolution before the Seneca Falls conference, which took place July 19-20, 1848. Historians know that anti-slavery activist Frederick Douglass  took it to the print shop of his newspaper, The North Star, to print it.

"We don’t know where it goes from there," said Smith, adding she doesn't think the original document was intentionally excluded from the nation's historic coffers. "There’s nothing malicious here. This is simply a lack of consciousness. For most Americans, if you asked them what the Declaration of Sentiments is, they would have no idea what you’re talking about." ***

While several of the items on the Declaration of Sentiments have been addressed through changes to U.S. laws on voting, marriage and divorce, among other matters, others are still a work in progress. The political debate over equal pay for women continues to rage, a subject the suffragists outlined when they wrote, "He has monopolized nearly all the profitable employments, and from those she is permitted to follow, she receives but a scanty remuneration."

A printed version of the Declaration of Sentiments is here.

Our conference at the Center for Constitutional exploring the historical origins of women's equality and the Declaration of Sentiments on the 200th Anniversary of Elizabeth Cady Stanton's birth is on Thursday, Nov. 12.  Details are here.

And my book exploring Stanton's complex and nuanced feminist theories of gender equality in marriage, divorce, property, and parenting is forthcoming from NYU Press, 2016.



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