women’s rights

Seneca Falls, NY: Women’s Rights National Historic Park

After leaving Corning, we headed north along the edge of Lake Seneca, one of the Finger Lakes, ultimately Syracuse-bound. Since this was very much a Russell (my brother) and Jessica (me, obviously) trip, we made the following pit stops: a cider farm, so we could get freshly made cider doughnuts; a brewery called Climbing Bines, so we could split a taster of their beers (this was a Russell stop); an ice creamery that uses duck eggs in their ice cream rather than chicken eggs (as in, they make their custard with duck egg yolks, not that they put whole eggs in the ice cream. That would be gross) where we got an actual flight of ice creams (so much better than beer), and finally Seneca Falls to see the Women’s Rights National Historic Park.

 

I remember reading an article about this area in the Plain Dealer a few years ago which made it sound as though the museum had been recently redone, and suggested that a long weekend would be an appropriate amount of time to spend in Seneca Falls in order to see all its attractions. Because of this, my expectations were somewhat different to what was actually here. Apparently the “historic park” consists of four different building sites, but since we hadn’t properly researched it in advance, we ended up at the main visitors’ centre. Like many NPS sites, admission was free, so that at least was a step in the right direction. We were greeted by the collection of bronze statues downstairs that initially looked like they were made out of chocolate, but in the first of many disappointments, they were sadly not.

 

The museum was located in the upstairs part of the building, and was much smaller than I had been expecting. It consisted of a number of very visually appealing displays containing information about women’s fight for equality, but the overall impression was that it was that it was style over substance, as the displays were a bit short on content. I was also disappointed that every single interactive element was no longer working – maybe I had misread the newspaper article, but it certainly didn’t look as though it had been redone in the last few years (though not quite as outmoded as though it hadn’t been touched since 1980, when the site opened).

 

There was also a small section on the Seneca Falls Convention, which after all, is the whole reason the museum is here! Held in 1848, it was the first women’s rights convention, and produced the Declaration of Sentiments, a version of the Declaration of Independence that included rights for women. It was held in Seneca Falls because many suffragists lived in the area, including Elizabeth Cady Stantion, the oddly apostrophied M’Clintocks, Lucretia Mott, who was visiting Stanton at the time; and Susan B Anthony and Frederick Douglass, who lived in nearby Rochester. Although it didn’t immediately accomplish anything, it did introduce the country to the women’s rights movement, and clarify that the main goal for women’s rights activists at that time should be women’s suffrage. Again, I could have done with more information about this on the site, as the text provided seemed to be a somewhat patchy account (I couldn’t quite work out how Amelia Bloomer, who also lived locally, fit in to all of this).

The museum also had a very small temporary display on Sojourner Truth. The role of black women in the women’s rights movement is often a depressing one, because despite the presence of Frederick Douglass at the Seneca Falls Convention, and the abolitionist stance of most of the suffragists, some of them were still hella racist, and thought it was appalling that black men were granted the right to vote before white women had it. So if black men were looked down upon, black women didn’t really stand a chance. Despite that, women like Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth still got involved in the fight for women’s suffrage. One of the most interesting sections here was on Truth’s famous “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech. Although several sources reported on her speech after it was delivered (in Akron, Ohio, by the way), which originally did not contain the words “ain’t I a woman,” a version of it that was published twelve years later did, and the name stuck. This same inaccurate version also gave Truth a stereotypical black Southern dialect, though she had actually always lived in the North, and spoke Dutch as her first language, so it is highly unlikely that she would have had a Southern accent. Because of this latter, inaccurate, but most famous version of her speech, her actual words have virtually been wiped from history.

 

The Methodist church next door, where the convention was actually held, is also part of the historic site and is free to enter, though there was no one in there at the time of our visit, and virtually nothing to read. The other sites that are part of the park are the Elizabeth Cady Stanton House, and the M’Clintocks’ house, though as no one at the park actually spoke to us or provided any information, I didn’t realise this until I was researching this post. We did stop, however, at the “When Elizabeth met Susan, plus Amelia!” statue (not its official name), which I only discovered existed after picking up a tourist brochure in the church. Although there was a map included, it was still a total pain to find due to a road being closed, and we had to park (probably illegally) across the road so I could run over and grab a photo whilst wearing my new suffragist sash (not as good as the suffragette sash. Green is better than gold). It depicts Amelia Bloomer introducing Stanton and Anthony. The statue was great (after we found it), but I’m sorry to say I was very disappointed in the visitors’ centre, particularly since NPS rangers are usually super friendly and helpful. Not here. 2/5 for the portions of the park that we saw.