I recall a visit to Eisenhower College sometime in 1980 to give a talk there. That college 0 no longer in existence – was in the quaint little town of Seneca Falls which is in the Finger Lakes Region of upstate New York. I was told by a professor there that the town and its environs had inspired Frank Capra in his classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life.
No less importantly the town is famous for one of the earliest conventions in the country – perhaps in the world – that discussed the topic of women’s rights. That convention began one hundred and fifty three years ago, on July 19, 1848, and lasted for two days. Few may remember the Quaker orator Lucretia Mottt (who would have been 200 this year) who was a leader there. With her husband James Mott who founded the American Anti-Slavery Society, she vigorously opposed slavery, and boycotted cotton clothes because slaves were used to pick cotton in those days. This reminds us of Gandhi who boycotted mill-manufactured clothes because the British took away cotton from India and made them into textile which was sold back to Indians at huge profits.
It is interesting to recall that even enlightened men of the time did not approve of Lucretia Mott or any other woman delivering speeches in public, least of all to audiences with men. They called this promiscuous behavior. When we are shocked or amused by countries which don’t allow women to drive a car these days, we have only to look back in history and remember how backward others have been not so long ago. The fault in unenlightened thinking, beliefs, and practices lies not so much in their unenlightened state, but in that they continue to sway the minds of people in this day and age.
It is equally important to remember the non-believing Elizabeth Cady Stanton, another ardent abolitionist who was also at that meeting, and who was also a relentless fighter for les droits des femmes.
Licretia Mott and Elizabeth Stanton were among the pioneers who initiated a movement that gave women the civic rights and social dignity that were denied to them in many societies all over the world in pre-modern times. It is thanks to such leaders that we have women prime ministers, presidents, and secretaries of stet in today’s world. History moves forward only when it is pushed or pulled by bold visionaries.
July 19, 2011