Why Commemorate the 1850 Woman's Rights Convention?
"The movement in England, as in America, may be dated from the first National Convention, held at Worcester, Mass., October, 1850." The speaker was Elizabeth Cady Stanton; the occasion, the opening session of the 1870 Woman's Rights Convention in New York City called to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the beginning of the woman's rights movement.
Why did Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott and other pioneers who signed the "Call" to the 1870 meeting regard the 1850 Convention as the beginning of the crusade for woman's equality? Why not the 1848 meeting at Seneca Falls for which Stanton drafted the celebrated Declaration of Sentiments and in which Mott played a leading role? Their reasons were several:
- The gathering at Seneca Falls was largely a local affair as were several others that followed; the Worcester convention attracted delegates from most of the northern states.
- Seneca Falls sparked discussion, but did not produce any organized activity. It was not clear in its aftermath whether or not there was a national constituency ready to take up the cause. The Worcester meeting answered this question. The response to its Call, which summoned all who wanted to see a woman's rights movement, as well as the positive reaction to its published proceedings both at home and in Europe showed that a critical mass of women, and some men, were ready.
- The 1850 convention eventuated in a set of standing committees which mark the beginnings of organized work for woman's rights.
- The Worcester convention broadened and deepened the debate over woman's rights; as Stanton remarked at the 1870 meeting about Paulina Wright Davis (president of the 1850 and 1851 conventions, and chosen again to preside in 1870) and her cohorts "it is surprising to see how perfectly the leaders of this movement understood all the bearings of this question, and with what boldness they followed the truth in all directions, in the consideration of woman's social as well as political wrongs. I state these facts in regard to Mrs. Davis, that our report, which is to be published, may do full justice to all."
- The Worcester Women's History Project draws its inspiration from the still timely comments Lucretia Mott expressed in 1870: "She [Mott] felt that it was of great importance to the future work that this history be preserved . . . She felt that we had lost in not having kept more careful record of the progress of the work."