32 pages 1 hour read

Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Declaration of Sentiments

Nonfiction | Essay / Speech | Adult | Published in 1848

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Summary: “Declaration of Sentiments”

Published in 1848 at the Seneca Falls Convention on women’s rights, the Declaration of Sentiments is one of the first public documents to support full civil liberties for women, including the right to vote. Written by women’s rights activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton and styled after the US Declaration of Independence, the Declaration of Sentiments was signed by 99 women and men, including rights activist Lucretia Mott and abolitionist Frederick Douglass. It is considered a founding document of the women’s rights movement.

The Declaration of Sentiments is in the public domain, and this guide refers to the edition provided online by the Women’s Rights National Historical Park.

The Declaration borrows much of its text from the US Declaration of Independence. Its preamble copies, nearly word for word, the corresponding sections of the original declaration, with changes in wording, where appropriate, to indicate that this document specifically concerns women’s rights.

The document begins with the famous words from the US Declaration: “When, in the course of human events” (Paragraph 1). It continues in the same vein, explaining that the paragraphs to follow describe the reasons for a rebellion.

The document then lays out its basic philosophy: “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men and women are created equal” (Paragraph 2). The Declaration repeats the assertion that governments that become tyrannical are rightfully overthrown by their subjects and replaced with better governance. For women, the tyranny at issue is the oppression they suffer at the hands of men, who generally forbid them many of the rights and privileges that men enjoy.

The Declaration agrees that governments should not be overthrown for frivolous reasons. However, people sometimes put up with mistreatment more willingly than they should, and against women “a long train of abuses and usurpations” (Paragraph 2) forces the issue.

The document lists 16 affronts to women’s freedom and dignity at the hands of men. Firstly, women are forbidden the right to vote. Second, women are forced to obey laws over which they have no voice. Third, taken from women are rights that even the lowliest men enjoy.

As well, marriage reduces a woman’s rights to that of a dead person: her property and earnings belong to her husband; her behavior is dictated by him; and the laws of men control divorce and the disposition of any children.

Women are taxed without representation. A woman may work only in fields permitted by men; she is paid “scanty remuneration”; and she may not enter into prestigious fields such as law and medicine. College is forbidden to women. A woman may join the church but cannot participate in its leadership.

Men enjoy a moral double standard whereby they may do many things that women are forbidden to do. Men override women’s conscience in matters properly between a woman and “her God.” Finally, men have degraded women’s confidence and encouraged them “to lead a dependent and abject life” (Paragraph 19).

Therefore, women ought to insist on “immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens” of the United States (Paragraph 20). Convention members pledge to campaign for these rights among the people and states of the US, with the hope that additional conventions might convene to further this work.

The conventioneers sign their names. Ninety-nine signatures are appended, including 67 women and 32 men, among them prominent activists such as author Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Frederick Douglass, Mary Ann M’Clintock, Amy Post, and future US Representative Jacob Chamberlain.

The full Declaration of Sentiments is accessible on the National Park Service website.

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