Woman’s Rights National Historical Park

The museum at the Woman's Rights National Historic Park. The fountain wall bearing the text of the Declaration of Sentiments abuts its east wall, at right in this picture. The Wesleyan Chapel lies one door further east, off the right side of this picture.

The Women’s Rights National Historic Park, operated by the National Park Service, celebrates the achievements made in the battle for women’s rights. Its three principal components are the Elizabeth Cady Stanton House, the restored Wesleyan Chapel in downtown Seneca Falls, and (adjacent to the Chapel) the Woman’s Rights Museum.

The Wesleyan Chapel served as the site for the first Woman’s Rights Convention in 1848, organized by (among others) Elizabeth Cady Stanton and attended by abolition activist Frederick Douglass. This convention sparked the development of first-wave feminism and the nineteenth-century woman’s rights movement, which achieved the vote for women in 1920.

Some three hundred women and forty men attended the 1848 Convention, which is best known for adopting the Declaration of Sentiments, a statement of woman’s equality consciously patterned on the Declaration of Independence. The Convention also adopted twelve resolution, of which the most controversial was a then-unprecedented call for "the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise" -- that is, the vote.

It is no coincidence that the Convention took place at the then-new Wesleyan Chapel. In 1843, the Wesleyan Methodist Church split from the Methodist Episcopal Church. Issues included whether to oppose slavery abstractly (a sort of bare bones abolitionism) or to engage in more radical forms of activism such as defying the Fugitive Slave Act, sheltering escaped slaves, and participating in the Underground Railroad. The Wesleyans took the more radical position.

Their number included many reformers, including some who believed in equality between men and women. At that time Seneca Falls was a particular hotbed of radical reform agitation. Seneca Falls’s Wesleyan congregation was the first to build a chapel, and for many years the Seneca Falls chapel was the largest Wesleyan chapel in New York. It was routinely made available for reform speakers and events. No facility then in Seneca Falls would have been more likely to welcome the Woman’s Rights Convention.

For more information, see the Women’s Rights Park’s official site.

This site has been included among two hundred sites on the New York State Path Through History. For announcement, click here. For full list of Path Through History sites, click here.