After our visit to New York city we contemplated driving further north towards Vermont, New Hampshire and up into Canada but the temperatures had dropped and we didn’t relish waking up at our campsite in the freezing cold. Instead we spent a couple of days in quaint upstate New York then veered in a westerly direction towards Niagara Falls arriving there in a downpour.
After the rain let up we walked the short path through a green park to the mammoth falls along with a confluence of international tourists, took the usual photographs (the falls are impressive up-close) then got back in our van driving along along Highway 90 without any idea of where to go other than west.
As we neared Seneca Falls, NY we saw signs announcing the Women’s Rights National Historical Park.
Just as I was wondering about this novel National Park, Chris asked, “Don’t you want to see it?”
“Yes I do,” I replied.
We turned off the interstate and lost our way trying to find the Park. Instead, we followed the signs that led us to the home of Elizabeth Cady Stanton who lived in Seneca Falls from 1847-1862. Elizabeth Cady Stanton was one of the original five organizers of the First Woman’s Rights Convention in 1848. She was an unwavering voice for the full rights of citizenship for all women at a time in America when women had virtually no rights.
From there we got our bearings and drove to the Park, not the usual National Park of earth wonders but the exact physical location of the First Women’s Convention where women openly discussed in public their grievances.
We walked into the large empty barn-sized room (originally the Wesleyan Chapel) constructed with brick walls and wooden rafters. I strolled up to the podium imagining this hall filled with the electrically charged atmosphere of around three-hundred women (and a dozen or so supporting men) all gathered together for the first time to give voice and fervent expression in their determination to change existing conditions that prevented women from voting, receiving rightful wages, property rights and kept them tied like chattel to their husbands as second-class citizens.
Those courageous women risked ridicule and censure speaking up for what they believed. Standing on the very spot where that rise to dignity began, I felt an emotional communion with those historical women – and could “hear” the frustrations and the ardor in their voices during those raw beginnings.
“At the end of the two days, 100 people made a public commitment to work together to improve women’s quality of life.” – (quote from a Park pamphlet)
Due to their fervent persistence, American women today have the freedom to vote, receive equal education, rise to the top of their fields and stand on lawful ground with their male partners – and still the fight for full equal opportunity goes on, fueled by those early beginnings.
Afterward we visited the Women’s Rights Museum next door filled with artifacts, pictures and stories and learned more about the historical background for equal rights from it’s early beginnings up until present day. To quote a Museum pamphlet, “This area was known for sweeping reform, which burned across the landscape through village, town, and city like a prairie on fire. Much of this reform was due to the numerous members of the Society of Friends, or Quakers, who made their homes here…these Quakers provided model relationships where men and women worked and lived in equality.”
Throughout our travels in America we have stumbled upon hidden gems – the Women’s Historical Park is little jewel lit up with an inner fire. It is a moving testament to the power of collective voice and to the women who braved social ostracism to cut through the gender divide.