1848 was a big year for American women. The first American medical school for women opened in Boston. The Liberty Party announced that women’s suffrage would be a plank in its platform. Caroline Still Anderson, who would become one of the first black women physicians in the U.S., was born. Wisconsin became a state and would eventually go on to produce great American women like Georgia O’Keefe and Tammy Baldwin. And, on July 19, 1848 – exactly 175 years ago – activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton opened the first American women’s rights convention with a speech that proclaimed, “We are assembled to protest against a form of government, existing without the consent of the governed – to declare our right to be free as man is free.”
The two-day convention was held at the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, NY; some call it the birthplace of American feminism, while others lament that its legacy is rooted more in symbolism than in effective actions. It would be, after all, another 72 years before the U.S. acknowledged women’s right to vote with the ratification of the 19th Amendment, and legislators continue pushing for the Equal Rights Amendment to this very day. Still, the convention’s goals involved more than just suffrage – Stanton’s remarks covered unjust legislation, economic issues, parental rights and personal safety – and it’s hard to imagine the progress of women in American history proceeding in exactly the same fashion if 300 people hadn’t gathered for those two hot July days in upstate New York.