1852 Woman’s Rights Convention Site

Syracuse’s Market Hall, renamed City Hall in the same year as the Third Annual National Woman’s Rights Convention (1852). This photo was taken circa 1889; the bell tower was a late addition (1857) and was not part of the structure at the time of the Woman’s Rights Convention.

The 1848 Woman’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls was followed in 1850 by the first in a series of annual conventions designed to raise the profile of the woman’s rights movement, held at Worcester, Massachusetts. The second annual convention (1851) was held in Worcester also. On September 8 - 10, 1852, the Third National Woman’s Rights Convention was held in Syracuse at Market Square, where Syracuse City Hall now stands. Because the site was nearer to Seneca Falls than was Worcester, a record number of signers of the Declaration of Sentiments adopted at Seneca Falls were able to attend.

The tone for the convention was set by poet and activist Elizabeth Oakes Smith, who told attendees, "Our aim is nothing less than...that every American citizen, whether man or woman, may have a voice in the laws by which we are governed." Lucretia Mott, one of the Quaker co-architects of the Seneca Falls Convention, was elected president of the Syracuse Convention. At one point she was compelled to silence a minister who insisted on presenting Biblical justifications for women’s subordination to men. A letter from Elizabeth Cady Stanton was read aloud and resolutions it contained were voted on.

The Syracuse Convention’s most noteworthy aspect may be that both Susan B. Anthony and Matilda Joslyn Gage made their first public speeches on woman’s rights at this event. Lucy Stone made her first public appearance in the "Bloomer" costume invented by Elizabeth Smith Miller and popularized by editor and reformer Amelia Bloomer, whose name came to be attached to that style of "reform dress." Atheist and woman’s rights activist Ernestine L. Rose also spoke.

The Syracuse Convention may be best remembered for what it did not accomplish: it did not lead to the creation of a permanent, national organization to advocate for the rights of women. After a motion along these lines was rejected, Elizabeth Smith Miller urged the formation of state-level organizations, but that too was rejected out of fears that a permanent organization might sow divisiveness or limit the creativity and spontaneity of activists. No national women’s organization would be formed until after the Civil War.

The convention venue was Market Hall, a two-story structure that grew up at the junction of the Erie and Oswego Canals. The building initially contained marketplace stalls. In 1852, the year of the Convention and four years after Syracuse was incorporated as a city, the market stalls were replaced by municipal offices and the building was renamed City Hall. By the end of the Civil War it was clear that a vibrant Syracuse had outgrown this structure, but not until 1889 was a commission empaneled to oversee construction of a replacement. The new City Hall opened in 1892, designed by architect Charles E. Colton in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, built of local limestone and anchored by a dramatic 165-foot bell tower. The structure continues to serve as Syracuse’s seat of government today.