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today 173 years ago …

In the calendar and geography of 173 years ago this week, in the territory now known as the United States of America and also territory of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, the First Women’s Rights Convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York.

The conference was held over two days. The first day was for women-only (and children) and the second day the general public was invited. The convention had been advertised in a local newspaper, the Seneca County Courier, only the week before. Even so nearly 300 people showed up.

Many of the participants were well known suffragettes, as well as abolitionists and/or Quakers. Fredrick Douglas was there.

Of all the women involved Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s names stand out. High school history class may have included a paragraph about them. Or possibly not. It may be information I have picked up simply by being alive and curious about the layers of the narratives around history and who’s version of the story it is.

know our history, mine, yours, theirs, our history

I was reminded of this historic but largely unheralded event by a note in my datebook.

Curious to know more, I searched the Internet. Most entries were about how 2020 had been the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote. Commemoration of the 19th amendment to the US constitution in 1920.

One women’s history gem I discovered today was the life of Charlotte Woodward Pierce, a teenager at the time of the Seneca Falls convention. In 1920 when women won the right to vote, she was 91 and the only signer to the 1848 Declaration of Sentiments still living.

In 1848, Charlotte was 19 and a piece-meal seamstress working from home. When she read about the convention in the newspaper, she ran from one house to another in her neighborhood, rallying women to go. Six of her friends agreed to go with her, and long after the convention, she worked for women’s rights.

Charlotte’s story here in Smithsonian Magazine.

what’s missing?

You may remember since a while ago I am trying to learn more about the original peoples in the region where I grew up. And Seneca Falls is my backyard, so this seemed a calendar and geography perfect moment to dig in and know more.

And last year when I researched and wrote about the Thanksgiving article, I remembered reading an article about how those early suffragettes had been animated by the role and rights of women in the Haundenosaunee Confederacy.

So I did a quick Internet search, first just seeking to know more about the 1848 convention and then looking for any article mentioning this link with the Haudenosaunee women and the suffragettes. Most stories I found left out this relationship.

So I will give you the short version:

The Six Nation Haudenosaunee Confederacy had and has a family/governmental structure based on female authority. Children come through the mother’s line and women have always owned and controlled property. Decisions are made by consensus in this pure democracy, the oldest continuing one in the world. In contrast, white women of European descent in the US at that time had no rights at all.

From Wikipedia I learned that Lucretia Mott visited the Haudenosaunee Nation the same summer as the convention. And other sources affirmed that the pioneers of the 19th century women’s rights movement drew inspiration for their vision of women as full participants in American society from the matrilineal culture of the Haudenosaunee.

But why isn’t this exchange between the US women of European descent and the Native American women referenced more? It is a monumental big deal. It should be part of our national myth like George Washington chopping down a cherry tree. Or at least within the halls of international sisterhood and women’s history. The people’s history. All the people’s history.

It’s the same with the founding myth of the United States. Very few accounts mention the visits Benjamin Franklin made to Haudenosaunee territory to study how they practiced democracy and the influence this indigenous nation had on the government structures of the US.

New and nothing new, or is there?

Collage by María Salomón 
Collage left to right: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Haudenosaunee woman, Matilda Joslyn Gage

Once again the (major) contribution of the Native American community is left out of the story as it is popularly told. And once again it’s up to all of us to make sure it gets heard. Like Shirley Chisholm used to say, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” So let’s raise our voices and sit down. We haven’t been anywhere and aren’t going anywhere.

I am going to share some of the best articles I found on the topic so you can read more about this yourself. See the end of the article.

and time to celebrate, people!!!!

The US baseball team formerly known as the Cleveland Indians announced today that they are changing their name to the the Cleveland Guardians! Thank you Cleveland Guardians. It took a while, but you have done the right and respectful thing.

Hip hip hurrah, well done people!

Meanwhile, keep on keeping on and doing stuff. Victories are good. They help make us be as bold as love, and love will always win. And there will always be more that needs doing. And love is the fuel that can keep us going.

One such case that could use some “love” is the on-going campaign to replace my high school’s mascot (it is currently the R-word). I invite you to sign the petition here. Thanks for reading (and signing) and see you soon.


further reading

How Native American Women Inspired the Women’s Rights MovementThe National Park Service rocks!

Recognizing Women’s Right to Vote in New York State, the Haudenosaunee – “… When women in New York State began to organize for their rights in 1848, they took their cue from the nearby native communities. Haudenosaunee women ignited the revolutionary vision of early feminists by providing a model of freedom and agency. Euro-American women were inspired by the Native American women’s control of their bodies and property, religious voice, custody of their children, satisfying work, and absence of rape and domestic violence …”

And if nothing else, visit the page to see some stunning images.

Inspiring Women’s Rights: Haudenosaunee Life Stimulates Historical Movement – “… They caught a glimpse of the possibility of freedom because they knew women who lived liberated lives, women who had always possessed rights beyond their wildest imagination – Iroquois women.”

Only One Woman Who Was at the Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention Lived to See Women Win the Vote – Charlotte Woodward Pierce’s story

Seneca Falls Convention – from the Wikipedia people. A decent entry, and I totally love how this event crops up. Some pissed off women having tea one day decide they are going to call a public meeting. And two weeks later, that’s what they did. And then a local campaign multiplying the efforts would begin … There is so much that resonates with today’s community groups organizing to do something together. And there are arguments, splits. And of course the meeting where no one brought the keys! Classic!

A century later, the women’s suffrage movement offers a timely lesson on how to win through escalation – Different but related, and another ancestor sister to up hold: Alice Paul

She’s history! – a play and educational project I simply find amusing and up-lifting, so I include it on the list

Annual Women Artist date book – by the wonderful Syracuse Cultural Workers

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