by Jone Johnson Lewis
Jone Johnson Lewis has a Master of Divinity, and is a humanist clergy member and certified transformational coach. She has been involved in the women's movement since the late 1960s.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott wrote the Declaration of Sentiments for the Seneca Falls Women's Rights Convention (1848) in upstate New York, deliberately modeling it on the 1776 Declaration of Independence.
The Declaration of Sentiments was read by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, then each paragraph was read, discussed, and sometimes slightly modified during the first day of the Convention when only women had been invited and the few men present anyway were asked to be silent. The women decided to put off the vote for the following day, and permit men to vote on the final Declaration on that day. It was adopted unanimously in the morning session of day 2, July 20. The Convention also discussed a series of resolutions on day 1 and voted on them on day 2.
What's in the Declaration of Sentiments?
The following summarizes the points of the full text.
1. The first paragraphs begin with quotes that resonate with the Declaration of Independence. "When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one portion of the family of man to assume among the people of the earth a position different from that which they have hitherto occupied ... a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes that impel them to such a course."
2. The second paragraph also resonates with the 1776 document, adding "women" to "men." The text begins: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." Just as the Declaration of Independence asserted the right to change or throw off unjust government, so does the Declaration of Sentiments.
3. Men's "history of repeated injuries and usurpations" in order to "an absolute tyranny over" women is asserted, and the intention to lay out the evidence is also included.
4. Men have not permitted women to vote.
5. Women are subject to laws they have no voice in making.
6. Women are denied rights given to "the most ignorant and degraded men."
7. Beyond denying women a voice in legislation, men have oppressed women further.
8. A woman, when married, has no legal existence, "in the eye of the law, civilly dead."
9. A man may take from a woman any property or wages.
10. A woman can be compelled by a husband to obey, and thus made to commit crimes.
11. Marriage laws deprive women of guardianship of children upon divorce.
12. A single woman is taxed if she owns property.
13. Women are not able to enter most of the more "profitable employments" and also "avenues to wealth and distinction" such as in theology, medicine, and law.
14. She cannot obtain a "thorough education" because no colleges admit women.
15. The Church alleges "Apostolic authority for her exclusion from the ministry" and also "with some exceptions, from any public participation in the affairs of the Church."
16. Men and women are held to different moral standards.
17. Men claim the authority over women as if they are God, instead of honoring women's consciences.
18. Men destroy women's self-confidence and self-respect.
19. Because of all this "social and religious degradation" and "disfranchisement of one-half the people of this country," the women signing demand "immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of the United States."
20. Those signing the Declaration declare their intention to work towards that equality and inclusion, and call for further conventions.
The section on voting was the most contentious, but it did pass, especially after Frederick Douglass, who was in attendance, supported it.
The whole document and event were met at the time with widespread disgust and mocking in the press, for even calling for women's equality and rights. The mention of women voting, and the criticism of the Church were especially targets of derision.
The Declaration has been criticized for its lack of mention of those who were enslaved (male and female), for omitting mention of Native women (and men), and for the elitist sentiment expressed in point 6.