Document 3: Excerpts from "The First and Closing Paragraphs of Mrs. Stanton's Address, Delivered at Seneca Falls, NY, July 19, 20, 1848," Proceedings of the Woman's Rights Convention, Seneca Falls, New York, 1848 (New York: Seneca County Courier, 14 July 1848), p. 5 (Gerritsen Collection of Women's History, microfiche 683, no. 3163).
As Roth notes, the presence of middle-class activists within the social movements of the 1950s and 1960s caused social theorists to alter their definitions of social movements. Previously some social theorists had described these organizations as consisting of "alienated" or "atomised" individuals. Because people within the mainstream of American society created the social movements of the 1950s and 1960s, theorists began to view social movements as "rational" forms of political expression created by people situated outside established political institutions.
Since women were largely excluded from the formal structures of political power until the twentieth century, social movements had proved to be a powerful way for them to advance their political agenda as "rational" actors seeking social change. This document, which also appears in "Male Supporters of the Woman's Rights Movement," illustrates the ways that the woman's rights movement in the 1850s was part of a rational expression of political thought by women with little access to formal institutions.
The First and Closing Paragraphs of Mrs. Stanton's Address, Delivered at Seneca Falls, N.Y., July 19, 20, 1848:
I should feel exceedingly diffident to appear before you at this time, having never before spoken in public, were I not nerved by a sense of right and duty, did I not feel the time had fully come for the question of woman's wrongs to be laid before the public, did I not believe that woman herself must do this work; for woman alone can understand the height, the depth, the length, and the breadth of her own degradation. Man cannot speak for her, because he has been educated to believe that she differs from him so materially, that he cannot judge of her thoughts, feelings, and opinions by his own. Moral beings can only judge of others by themselves. The moment they assume a different nature for any of their own kind, they utterly fail. The drunkard was hopelessly lost until it was discovered that he was governed by the same laws of mind as the sober man. Then with what magic power, by kindness and love, was he raised from the slough of despond and placed rejoicing on high land.
Let a man once settle the question that a woman does not think and feel like himself, and he may as well undertake to judge of the amount of intellect and sensation of any of the animal creation as of woman's nature. He can know but little with certainty, and that but by observation.
Among the many important questions which have been brought before the public, there is none that more vitally affects the whole human family than that which is technically called Woman's Rights. Every allusion to the degraded and inferior position occupied by women all over the world has been met by scorn and abuse. From the man of highest mental cultivation to the most degraded wretch who staggers in the streets do we meet ridicule, and coarse jests, freely bestowed upon those who dare assert that woman stands by the side of man, his equal, placed here by her God, to enjoy with him the beautiful earth, which is her home as it is his, having the same sense of right and wrong, and looking to the same Being for guidance and support. So long has man exercised tyranny over her, injurious to himself and benumbing to her faculties, that few can nerve themselves to meet the storm; and so long has the chain been about her that she knows not there is a remedy.
The whole social, civil and religious condition of woman is a subject too vast to be brought within the limits of one short lecture. Suffice it to say, for the present, wherever we turn, the history of woman is sad and dark, without any alleviating circumstances, nothing from which we can draw any consolation. . . .[A]
A. The editor has included only the opening paragraphs of Stanton's address.
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