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Seneca Fall and the Origins of the Women’s Rights Movement by Sally G. Mcmillen

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In Seneca Falls and the Origins of the Woman's Rights Movement, Sally McMillen unpacks, for the first time, the full significance of the revolutionary convention that changed the course of women's history

The book covers 50 years of women's activism, from 1840-1890, focusing on four extraordinary figures--Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, and Susan B. Anthony. McMillen tells the stories of their lives, how they came to take up the cause of women's rights, the astonishing advances they made during their lifetimes, and the lasting and transformative effects of the work they did.

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In a quiet town of Seneca Falls, New York, over the course of two days in July, 1848, a small group of women and men, led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, held a convention that would launch the woman's rights movement and change the course of history. The implications of that remarkable convention would be felt around the world and indeed are still being felt today. In Seneca Falls and the Origins of the Woman's Rights Movement, the latest contribution to Oxford's acclaimed Pivotal Moments in American History series, Sally McMillen unpacks, for the first time, the full significance of that revolutionary convention and the enormous changes it produced. The book covers 50 years of women's activism, from 1840-1890, focusing on four extraordinary figures--Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, and Susan B. Anthony. McMillen tells the stories of their lives, how they came to take up the cause of women's rights, the astonishing advances they made during their lifetimes, and the lasting and transformative effects of the work they did. At the convention they asserted full equality with men, argued for greater legal rights, greater professional and education opportunities, and the right to vote--ideas considered wildly radical at the time. Indeed, looking back at the convention two years later, Anthony called it "the grandest and greatest reform of all time--and destined to be thus regarded by the future historian." In this lively and warmly written study, Sally McMillen may well be the future historian Anthony was hoping to find. A vibrant portrait of a major turning point in American women's history, and in human history, this book is essential reading for anyone wishing to fully understand the origins of the woman's rights movement.

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Alike mid the greatest triumphs and darkest tragedies of life we walk along

On the devine heights of human attain-ments, eulogized land worshiped as a hero or saint, we stand alone. In igno-rance, poverty, and vice, as a pauper or criminal, alone we starve or steal; alone we suffer the sneers and rebuffs of our fellows; alone we are hunted andhounded thro dark courts and alleys, in by-ways and highways; alone we standin the judgment seat; alone in the prison cell we lament our crimes and mis-fortunes; alone we expiate them on the gallows. In hours like these we realizethe awful solitude of individual life, its pains, its penalties, its responsibilities;hours in which the youngest and most helpless are thrown on their own re-sources for guidance and consolation. Seeing then that life must ever be amarch and a battle, that each soldier must be equipped for his own protection, it is the height of cruelty to rob the individual of a single natural right (Suzanne M. Marilley, 1996). To throw obstacle in the way of complete education is like putting out theeyes; to deny the rights of property, like cutting off the hands. To deny polit-ical equality is to rob the ostracized of all self-respect; of credit in the mar-ket place; of recompense in the world of work; of a voice among those whomake and administer the law; a choice in the jury before whom they are tried,and in the judge who decides their punishment. Shakespeare’s play of Titusand Andronicus contains a terrible satire on woman’s position in the nineteenthcentury—‘‘Rude men’’ (the play tells us) ‘‘seized the king’s daughter, cut out her tongue, out off her hands, and then bade her go call for water and wash herhands.’’ What a picture of woman’s position. Robbed of her natural rights,handicapped by law and custom at every turn, yet compelled to fight her ownbattles, and in the emergencies of life to fall back on herself for protection. The girl of sixteen, thrown on the world to support herself, to make herown place in society, to resist the temptations that surround her and maintain aspotless integrity, must do all this by native force or superior education (Stanton and Anthony).

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Overall, individually each of the works reviewed here is important, but taken together they are of monumental significance-- an indication of how much the field of women’s history has matured in the last forty years. We now have a much richer understanding of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B

Anthony and Lucretia Mott as “flesh-and-blood women,” rather than just “shadow selves” who are made to bear the ideological struggles of both their age and ours. These women were among the most important, effective and astute reformers of the nineteenth century, and we can now more fully appreciate the challenges they faced in their struggles to bring about a more just world.

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‘‘Tenth National Woman’s Rights Convention,’’ in Stanton, Anthony, and Gage,eds., History of Woman Suffrage 735

Suzanne M. Marilley, Woman Suffrage and the Origins of Liberal Feminism in the United States, 1820–1920 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996), 55

Stanton and Anthony, ‘‘The Syracuse National Convention,’’ in Stanton, Anthony Gage, eds., History of Woman Suffrage,1 :527, 539.

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