Declaration of the Rights of Women Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The National Woman Suffrage Association’s presentation of its Declaration of the Rights of Women at Philadelphia’s Centennial Exposition had little immediate impact, but the declaration served to remind Americans of the nation’s constitutional obligation to provide equal rights to all its citizens.

Summary of Event

In 1872, a centennial commission was formed to prepare for the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. Designed to celebrate one hundred years of U.S. independence, this exposition would prove to be a monumental and much-publicized affair. More than two hundred buildings were erected, and nearly six million dollars of private, local, state, and federal moneys were raised to fund the project. Declaration of the Rights of Women (1876) Women’s movement[Womens movement];Declaration of the Rights of Women (1876) Philadelphia;Centennial Exposition Anthony, Susan B. [p]Anthony, Susan B.;and Declaration of the Rights of Women[Declaration of the Rights of Women] Gage, Matilda Joslyn [p]Gage, Matilda Joslyn;and Declaration of the Rights of Women[Declaration of the Rights of Women] Stanton, Elizabeth Cady [p]Stanton, Elizabeth Cady;and Declaration of the Rights of Women[Declaration of the Rights of Women] Hawley, Joseph R. Centennial Exposition (1876);Declaration of the Rights of Women National Woman Suffrage Association;and Declaration of the Rights of Women[Declaration of the Rights of Women] [kw]Declaration of the Rights of Women (July 4, 1876) [kw]Rights of Women, Declaration of the (July 4, 1876) [kw]Women, Declaration of the Rights of (July 4, 1876) Declaration of the Rights of Women (1876) Women’s movement[Womens movement];Declaration of the Rights of Women (1876) Philadelphia;Centennial Exposition Anthony, Susan B. [p]Anthony, Susan B.;and Declaration of the Rights of Women[Declaration of the Rights of Women] Gage, Matilda Joslyn [p]Gage, Matilda Joslyn;and Declaration of the Rights of Women[Declaration of the Rights of Women] Stanton, Elizabeth Cady [p]Stanton, Elizabeth Cady;and Declaration of the Rights of Women[Declaration of the Rights of Women] Hawley, Joseph R. Centennial Exposition (1876);Declaration of the Rights of Women National Woman Suffrage Association;and Declaration of the Rights of Women[Declaration of the Rights of Women] [g]United States;July 4, 1876: Declaration of the Rights of Women[4910] [c]Women’s issues;July 4, 1876: Declaration of the Rights of Women[4910] [c]Civil rights and liberties;July 4, 1876: Declaration of the Rights ofWomen[4910] [c]Social issues and reform;July 4, 1876: Declaration of the Rights of Women[4910] Gillespie, Elizabeth Duane Mott, Lucretia [p]Mott, Lucretia;and Declaration of the Rights of Women[Declaration of the Rights of Women] Ferry, Thomas W.

Although the exposition’s organizers reportedly advocated erecting a building for women’s exhibits, no funds were allocated for that purpose. Nevertheless, Elizabeth Duane Gillespie organized the Women’s Centennial Committee, whose members sold stock at local bazaars and concerts to raise nearly $100,000 to pay for their exhibition. In return, they were promised a display area in the main building of the exposition. Prior to the opening of the centennial, however, Gillespie’s committee was told there was no room available for them. Undaunted, the women raised more money to erect a separate women’s building. Although the pavilion they had built contained inventions and artwork by women, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, president of the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), opposed the site because it ignored women’s challenges to the legal system, particularly those of the suffrage movement.

As officers of the NWSA, Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage were determined to represent women’s efforts in the suffrage movement. Throughout the centennial’s preparations, they prepared to issue a declaration of rights for women to counter the scheduled reading of the 1776 Declaration of Independence during the centennial’s Fourth of July ceremonies. At the association’s headquarters, the officers tirelessly worked sixteen-hour days. In consultation with Anthony, Stanton and Gage produced the new declaration. It included articles of impeachment against the government for its usurpation of women’s rights.

Anthony, Stanton, and charter member Lucretia Mott Mott, Lucretia [p]Mott, Lucretia;and Declaration of the Rights of Women[Declaration of the Rights of Women] organized a women’s convention to be held on the same day as the exposition’s Fourth of July celebration. Anthony resolved to interrupt the ceremonies at Independence Hall to present a copy of the declaration to Acting Vice President Thomas W. Ferry Ferry, Thomas W. , who was delegated to officiate at the ceremony in President Ulysses S. Grant’s absence. Anthony’s measure of protest is significant, as a presentation of the Declaration of the Rights of Women ensured that the declaration would be officially recorded as part of the day’s events.

Anthony wrote to General Joseph R. Hawley, president of the centennial commission, requesting seats on the platform for NWSA officers in order to display the representation of women at the event, but Hawley declined. Anthony then secured five press passes from her brother’s Kansas newspaper, the Leavenworth Times. Stanton noted that the program was to host a visiting party of foreign dignitaries. She was unwilling to disrupt the scheduled event but was adamant about women’s representation, so wrote to Hawley requesting permission to present the bill of rights after the reading of the Declaration of Independence. Fearing that the women’s declaration would detract from the day’s scheduled activities, Hawley declined the association’s second request. Stanton, who was reportedly angry at the rebuff, refused to participate in Anthony’s gesture of protest, choosing instead to wait with Mott at the First Unitarian Church, the site of the scheduled convention.

Reading of the Declaration of Independence at Philadelphia’s Centennial Exposition.

(C. A. Nichols & Company)

Anthony, Gage, and three other NWSA officers, Sara Andrews Spencer Spencer, Sara Andrews , Lillie Devereux Blake Blake, Lillie Devereux , and Phoebe W. Couzins Couzins, Phoebe W. , entered Independence Hall armed with press passes and an elaborate roll of parchment that housed the declaration, signed by thirty-one of the most prominent advocates of the suffrage movement. Richard Henry Lee Lee, Richard Henry of Virginia was scheduled to read the declaration of 1776, and the women determined that the close of his reading would be the best moment for presenting their declaration.

After Lee’s delivery, a hymn was played that muffled the sound of the women’s approach. As they marched to the speaker’s stand, the women advanced upon the startled chairman; the foreign dignitaries and military officers before the podium moved to permit the women’s arrival. Anthony then presented the declaration to Vice President Ferry, thereby officially registering the document as part of the day’s proceedings.

Ferry Ferry, Thomas W. evidently accepted the declaration without a word and turned pale. The women then quickly moved to the musicians’ platform on the opposite side of Independence Hall, handing copies of the declaration to the outstretched hands of the male audience, while Hawley shouted “Order, order!” to the cries of the crowd. In front of the statue of George Washington and the Liberty Bell, Anthony stood under the shade of an umbrella held by Gage and read the NWSA’s Declaration of the Rights of Women to an enthusiastic crowd. Stanton sensed the latent symbolism of this act, noting with irony that during the same hour, men and women stood on opposite sides of Independence Hall and expressed their different views of democracy and its effects.

After receiving an ovation from the assembled crowd, the association’s officers again distributed copies of their document and headed for the convention that was slated to begin at noon. There, in Philadelphia’s historic First Unitarian Church, they again delivered their document before a large crowd, this time led by Stanton. The reading was followed by speeches regarding various points of the declaration. After five hours, the convention adjourned.

While demystifying the Founders’ documents, which neglected to include women in their rubric of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, the NWSA’s declaration revealed men’s usurpation of legislative power over women to be in direct opposition to the principles of democracy. The declaration criticized the introduction of the word “male” into state constitutions State constitutions;and women[Women] , thereby definitively excluding women through terminology and biology. It also attacked the writ of habeas corpus Habeas corpus;in United States[United States] , which prioritized the marital rights of the husband to the exclusion of the woman’s rights. The declaration criticized the constitutional principle of the right to trial by a jury of one’s peers because the Sixth Amendment did not protect women for the reason that women were subject to judges, jurors, and legal counsel who were exclusively men. It charged that women were subject to taxation without representation because they were expected to pay taxes but were prohibited from voting.

The declaration also attacked the principle of drafting special legislation for women, because, the association asserted, women’s rights had been subject to legislative caprice as laws varied from state to state. By 1876, twenty-four states had been admitted to the union, but not one of them recognized women’s right to self-government. The declaration assailed universal manhood suffrage, which the suffrage movement asserted had established a despotism based on biology, and the judiciary of the nation, which opposed the spirit and letter of the Constitution.

Significance

The Declaration of the Rights of Women was written twenty-eight years after Stanton had written the Declaration of Sentiments Declaration of Sentiments (1848) , with which she ceremoniously opened the first suffrage convention at Seneca Falls in 1848. The 1876 declaration prompted no tangible changes but served as a reminder to a nation that was celebrating its achievements over the past century that it still had much to do in the future—grant political enfranchisement to women.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Clinton, Catherine. The Other Civil War: American Women in the Nineteenth Century. New York: Hill & Wang, 1984. Details Philadelphia’s Centennial Exposition, noting Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s opposition to the woman’s pavilion because it ignored women’s contributions to the legal system.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Griffith, Elisabeth. In Her Own Right: The Life of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984. Chronicles Stanton’s life as a reformer, using her personal correspondence and diary to present additional information regarding the inception of the Declaration of the Rights of Women.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lutz, Alma. Created Equal: A Biography of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 1815-1902. New York: John Day, 1940. Early and insightful biography of Stanton. Provides great detail regarding the Centennial Exposition and the events surrounding the presentation of the women’s declaration.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Palmer, Beverly Wilson, Holly Byers Ochoa, and Carol Faulkner, eds. Selected Letters of Lucretia Coffin Mott. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2002. Selection of letters that Mott wrote between 1813 and 1879, providing an understanding of her public and private lives.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sherr, Lynn. Failure Is Impossible: Susan B. Anthony in Her Own Words. New York: Times Books, 1995. Chronicles, through speeches and letters, Anthony’s participation in the NWSA and her crusade for women’s rights.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Stanton, Elizabeth Cady. Eighty Years and More: Reminiscences, 1815-1897. 1898. Introduction by Ellen Carol DuBois. Afterword by Ann D. Gordon. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1993. Details the motivation behind the creation of the Declaration of the Rights of Women. Unique in crediting Anthony for her participation in coauthoring the 1876 document.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Stanton, Elizabeth Cady, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage, eds. History of Woman Suffrage. Vol. 3. Rochester, N.Y.: Mann, 1886. Chronicles the woman suffrage movement from 1840 to 1885. Offers first-person accounts of the events surrounding the conception and delivery of the Declaration of the Rights of Women. Includes the document in its entirety and newspaper accounts of the event.

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