Deciding that we would not do more than 4-5 hours on the road during our drive around vacation meant that we would stop off someplace between Montreal and Pittsburgh. My friend Kristy suggested Seneca Falls, home of the Women’s Rights National Historical Park and the beautiful surrounding land of the upper New York State’s Finger Lake Region.
This has to be one of the smallest national parks taking up about ½ of a square block on the western end of downtown Seneca Falls (which by the way is reputed to be the town that Frank Capra used as his model for “It’s a Wonderful Life”). The Park is composed of an exhibition building which houses information about the two day convention held in July, 1848, the restored Wesleyan Church where the 2-day convention was held and a small park with a running waterfall wall that is inscribed with The Declaration of Sentiments drafted by the 300 participants who atteneded the conference along with the 100 brave women and men who signed the document
As the park ranger was describing the convention, I had a single question about the work that was done in Seneca Falls. Why did this happen here? How improbable was it that Elizabeth Caty Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Mary McClintock, Martha Wright and other leading women and men of this region came together to ratify draft this document? Not surprisingly the ranger was ready for my question and his response made so much sense. There were basically three elements that brought this event to fruition at this time in history:
- Seneca Falls is along the Cayuga-Seneca canal, a tributary of the Erie Canal and was a vibrant manufacturing and production center for goods that were shipped, via barge, to points East and West. People from all across the East and West migrated to this area for opportunities. It was not, by any means a backward part of the world.
- It was a center for progressive thinking due to a large population of Quakers. The Quakers were a sect who at that time afforded women some rights of equality. In addittion many people in the region were also focused on abolition, temperance and other social issues.
- Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucy Mott met in London in 1840 attending a World Anti-Slavery Conference that spent it first day deciding whether women should be admitted to the conference. They were eventually allowed to attend but were seated in the balcony and were not permitted to speak. Seven years later Stanton moves to Seneca Falls and along with her new found colleagues called for this convention.
News travelled fast about the Declaration. Frederick Douglas printed the drafts of the minutes and within months the issue of women’s rights had spread across the country. While it took 70 years for women to earn the right to vote which was a hallmark of the Declaration, the work done by these courageous women changed the world.
As we left Seneca Falls, I could not help wonder about how the unlikely confluence of events happened in this small New York community. I realized, however, that these kinds of events happen all the time although perhaps not at this level of importance. I think about events and people who have come and gone in my own life who have made a difference and with whom I have made a difference.
Seeming unlikely at one level that the circumstances could possibly be right for events to happen at one time in the world or personal history yet if we are open to the opportunities that abound and are courageous enough to take them by the wrist, then perhaps we to can change the way the world works.
As the author Barry Stevens wrote, “You don’t have to push the River, It flows by itself”