“All Men and Women Are Created Equal”: The Declaration of Sentiments from the Seneca Falls Convention (1848)

July 10th, 2013

By Anne Continetti  

Download the full lesson as a PDF.

Note: This lesson should be used after “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: A Lesson on the Declaration of Independence.”

Course | US History, US Government (AP or non-AP), Civics, Women’s History, Grades 11–12

Length | This lesson is designed for a 45-minute class period. Extension activities are included at the end of the lesson.

Objective | Students will be able to: understand the meaning and central ideas of the Declaration of Sentiments; cite textual evidence to analyze these primary sources; and compare and contrast the meaning and structure of the documents.

Common Core State Standards Addressed | Literacy in History/Social Studies, Grades 11–12:

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including analyzing how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term over the course of a text (e.g., how Madison defines faction in Federalist No. 10).
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.5 Analyze in detail how a complex primary source is structured, including how key sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text contribute to the whole.

Materials Included | Each student should have a copy of the Declaration of Sentiments (PDF) to read for homework.  Students will also need their copy of the Declaration of Independence (PDF) for use in class.

Teacher Background Information |  Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815–1902) and Lucretia Mott (1793–1880), American activists for abolition of slavery and early activists for women’s rights, convened the first major conference on women’s issues in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848. The “Declaration of Sentiments” (also known as “The Declaration of Rights and Sentiments”), written by Stanton and Mott, was presented at the Seneca Falls convention, where it was signed by 68 women and 32 men. Modeled on the structure and language of the Declaration of Independence, it seeks to prove, from the “history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman,” that man has “in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her.” Addressed, like the Declaration of Independence, to a “candid world,” it submits 15 facts to support this conclusion.

Class Activity

Student Preparation | Instruct students to read the Declaration of Sentiments, underlining meaningful word choices and defining words they do not know. Students should summarize in the margins the meaning, central ideas, and key themes of each section of the document. Students should also bring to class their copy of the Declaration of Independence that they studied earlier in the year. (See “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: A Lesson on the Declaration of Independence.”)

Warm-Up (10 minutes) | Instruct students to answer the following question in a paragraph: What sort of equality between women and men do you regard as crucial for the perfecting of our union? Have students share their answers with a partner.

Textual Analysis/Compare & Contrast (30 minutes) | Make sure students have both the Declaration of Independence and the Declaration of Sentiments. Then, discuss the following questions:

1. Thinking about the title of these documents, what is the difference between a Declaration of Independence and a Declaration of Sentiments? What difference—if any—should such a difference make?

2. Comparing the original Declaration with this one, do you think Stanton and Mott were wise to use the first as their model?  Why or why not?

3. The Declaration of Independence opens by speaking about the political right of a people to “assume among the powers of the earth, the Separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them.”

a. What is the comparable opening claim in The Declaration of Sentiments?

b. To what exactly are women (as women, specifically) entitled by “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God”?

4. The paragraph about self-evident truths of the Declaration of Independence issues in a defense of the right (and duty) of political revolution.

a. What is the conclusion of the comparable paragraph of the Declaration of Sentiments?

5. The first of the 15 grievances listed against man is the denial of woman’s “inalienable right to the elective franchise.”

a. Why is this mentioned first? How does it inform or ground the other grievances?

b. Is the right to vote an “inalienable right,” to be regarded on a par with the Creator-endowed rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Why or why not?

 6. Instruct students to highlight the personal, social, cultural, and religious grievances using different colored pens or different symbols.

a. How are the personal, social, and cultural grievances listed related to the religious grievances?

b. Are all of these things necessarily connected?

Wrap-Up (5 minutes) | Instruct students to spend five minutes answering the following question with a partner: The right to vote is emphasized in Declaration of Sentiments. How important is the right to vote to you, and why?  

Extension Activities | 1. Write an op-ed from the point of view of Elizabeth Cady Stanton as if she were alive today. What would Stanton think about the status of women’s rights today? Would she be pleased with the progress that has been made? Why or why not?

2. Choose a topic in the news today pertaining to women’s rights, such as the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act or women in combat in the military, and write an essay using the following prompt: How do these issues compare or contrast to the ones listed in the Declaration of Sentiments? 

About the Author Anne is a history teacher at the Madeira School in McLean, Virginia. Contact her at anne [at] whatsoproudlywehail [dot] org.

Click here to sign up for our newsletter.

Tags: , , , ,