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Eleanor Ross (’24) on the Seneca Falls Convention, Kidz Vote

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Eleanor Ross (’24), is a prospective International Comparative Studies Major focusing on French, Arabic, and Wolof and understanding the culture and politics of Africa’s Sahel region and the Middle East. Eleanor is active in non-partisan voting initiatives including spearheading Bull City Vote’s Duke outreach during the 2020 election and starting the KIDZ VOTE club to promote early voting engagement in schools. Eleanor also writes biographies for the Dictionary of Art Historians and is an associate editor for the Research Africa Network.

Kidz Vote is a club dedicated to engaging Durham middle schoolers in voting. Read her civic’s corner piece below on the Seneca Falls Convention:

For over 140 years after American independence, women were forbidden from voting. As March is Women’s History Month, this civic’s corner is dedicated to the Seneca Falls Convention—the first women’s rights convention in the United States.

Before the 19th amendment granting women the right to vote was passed in 1920, women were told they could not vote for a variety of reasons. Many argued that women were too occupied with their families to study politics; others said they were less intelligent than men and, accordingly, did not have the mental capacity to vote; and some anti-suffragists even claimed that voting would cause infertility.

While the suffragist movement gained steam in the late 19th century, women had been petitioning for their own right to vote for years. Though less likely to be educated, young women in the 1820s and 1830s began the suffrage movement, inspired by books like Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and Sarah Grimké’s The Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Women. As activists like Ernestine Rose (1810-1892) and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902) petitioned and protested for their rights, women’s suffrage cultivated momentum. When Lucretia Mott (1793-1880) and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were barred from attending the World Anti-Slavery Convention in 1840, the pair declared they would hold the first Women’s Rights Convention: Seneca Falls.

A pivotal moment in women’s history, the Seneca Falls Convention penned “The Declaration of Sentiments”—a feminist spin on the Declaration of Independence. Echoing the words of the United State’s founding document, the Declaration said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men and women are created equal.” It argued that without the right to vote, women were not allowed a say in their education, livelihood, or rightful place in the church. Consequently, women had to be subservient to their husbands and were seen as inferior to men in society.

Though the 19th amendment wasn’t passed for 72 years, the Seneca Falls Convention is regarded as the first collective action towards women’s suffrage in the United States. With over 300 attendees, it marked a momentous and critical point in America and signaled to countless other women that they were united in pursuit for equality. Though equality has not yet been fully achieved, the strides in the past 174 years would not have been possible without fearless leaders like Rose, Stanton, and Mott.

Initially included in the biweekly Kidz Vote’s newsletter. Sign-up for the listserv here