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ROSE NOLEN: We should memorialize, continue to fight for women's rights

Tuesday, March 13, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:22 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, March 13, 2012

It's March, which means it's Women's History Month, and it couldn't have come at a more appropriate time. The first women's rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, N.Y., on July 19, 1848. And here we are, 160-some years later, still being dictated to by men.

Although 240 women attended the convention, the women leaders were still uncertain of their own ability to address such a gathering. Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who were the principal leaders of the group, had been joined by Jane Hunt, Mary McClintock and Martha Wright to issue the call for the meeting. The women's experience dealing with social causes had been acquired by their participation in the abolitionist movement. While the women were not accepted as members of the anti-slavery movement, they were allowed to attend meetings. In the end, Lucretia Mott’s husband, James, agreed to chair the meeting in Seneca Falls.

After the first session, the conventioneers agreed to reconvene two weeks later at the Rochester Community Church. They agreed to adopt a Declaration of Sentiments which was modeled after the Declaration of Independence. The document began by stating, "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men and women are created equal."

This was followed by 18 legal grievances that women submitted to. Women, at that time, had few legal privileges. They were not allowed legally to keep their own wages or their children. They were not allowed legally to even be responsible for themselves. They were limited both educationally and economically. The women discussed each of the 18 grievances and narrowed them down to 12, which they unanimously adopted. While women were denied the right to vote, they chose not to include that grievance in their declaration because they considered it too radical to be included. As it was, the women who attended the convention and the declaration were ridiculed by the public and the press for years before the movement gained the support of the majority of women.

The fight for women's rights has not been pretty. It took more than 300 years from the time the first European women landed at Jamestown until they got the right to vote. It is not until one takes a serious look at history does one understand what life has been like for people who have been different in any way. Whether it is a matter of gender or the color of one's skin, difference of any kind matters to some people.

Sometimes we forget that the Equal Rights Amendment was never passed into law. I suppose that since we have the Civil Rights Amendment on the books, women assumed that there was no reason to continue to fight for equal rights. Most men, I believe, consider the rights of women to be as important as the rights of men. But like most laws, the Equal Rights Amendment should be passed for that small group of men who refuse to get the message. That law should be passed to set an example for men such as those who still engage in domestic violence against women and for those employers who still treat female employees as domestic servants.

We sincerely hope that we Americans will somehow come to understand that we cannot preach one thing and practice another. Some of us, many of whom are women, simply will not allow you to get away with it.  Many men have violated laws, broken statutes and done whatever they were capable of doing to become multi-billionaires. But we have to tell them that they still do not have the right to abuse and mistreat women.

Some men hold other men in high esteem. They feel that these men are not governed by the same laws as the rest of us. But those of us who believe that no one is above the law expect everyone to be subject to the same law.

This generation and future generations must fight to preserve the rights gained by other generations. If not, those rights will be taken away.

The women who gathered at Seneca Falls had everything to lose. But they stood and they fought, and our lives were made better because of them. Let us remember them and celebrate their struggle.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or emailing her at nolen@iland.net.


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