"The Road to Seneca Falls: Elizabeth Cady
Stanton and the First Woman's Rights Convention"

 
           Judith Wellman just finished her book on the Seneca Falls women's rights convention which will be available in the spring of 2004.  It  contains background facts about events occurring in upstate New York and  includes some discussion of debates about the Married Women's Property Act. One of the most interesting documents discussed is one that came from "married ladies" in Darien and Covington in Genesee and Wyoming Counties.
In April l848, the New York State legislature again addressed the problem. Again, they were prodded by petitions from citizens. One in particular revealed the importance of revolutionary rhetoric and grassroots commitment in sustaining support for women's rights. In March l848, forty-four ladies (married, as they were careful to assert) petitioned the legislature from the towns of Darien and Covington in Genesee and Wyoming Counties. With potent sarcasm, they argued that your Declaration of Independence declares, that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. And as women have never consented to, been represented in, or recognized by this government, it is evident that in justice no allegiance can be claimed from them.  Your laws after depriving us of property, of the means of acquiring it, and even of individuality, require the same obedience from us as from free citizens. We therefore think, common justice and humanity would dictate, that when you class us and our privileges with those of idiots, and lunatics, you should do the same with regard to our responsibilities; and as our husbands assume responsibility for our debts and trespasses, they should also for our misdemeanors and crimes; for justice can never hold lunatics, idiots, infants, or married women, (as the law now is,) accountable for their conduct. When women are allowed the privilege of rational and accountable beings, it will be soon enough to expect from them the duties of such. Our numerous and yearly petitions for this most desirable object having been disregarded, we now ask your august body, to abolish all laws which hold married women more accountable for their acts than infants, idiots, and lunatics.

Perhaps inspired (or shamed) by such rhetoric, the New York State legislature did pass its first Married Women's Property Act in April 1848. The History of Woman Suffrage called this bill "the death-blow to the old Blackstone code for married women in this country."


Judith Wellman
Historical New York Research Associates
2 Harris Hill Road
Fulton, New York 13069

315-598-4387
wellman@twcny.rr.com