The Back in Time Zone Tour is a collection of experiences at historic spots in the USA based on vertical time zone regions. This year’s edition is inspired by the 100th birthday of the National Park Service and their #FindYourPark campaign. All month long I’ll be sharing some fantastic places, and hope you’re inspired to see what’s in your part of the country!
Oh how I adore the Finger Lakes! A region so dear to my heart, and with a National Park that speaks to me and inspires me to do so much more. Summer is a beautiful time to visit this area of upstate New York, so I zipped north this past weekend to visit the Women’s Rights Historic National Park in beautiful Seneca Falls.
Seneca Falls was the location of the first Women’s Rights Convention that was held on July 19-20, 1848. Advertising itself as “a convention to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of woman”, the meeting was organized by the two iconic suffragists: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. It produced the “Declaration of Sentiments”, a document that demanded equal social and legal status for women. While the right to vote was included, it was actually quite controversial and was only included because Frederick Douglass argued for its inclusion (Yup, he was there!).
The Declaration of Sentiments was a huge first step in what Stanton considered the official beginning of the women’s rights movement. Modeled after the Declaration of Independence with several important changes to reflect their goals, its influence spread across the USA and fueled the movement.
However! In a plot twist worthy of legend, the original document hasn’t been seen since it was taken to Frederik Douglass’ print shop in Rochester to publish in his newspaper. Last year the White House launched a campaign to #FindtheSentiments in the hope that it’s not lost for good, just patiently waiting somewhere to be unearthed.
Funnily enough, while the document remains at large, the actual table it was written on has been identified. You know what’s even crazier? In my personal education and that of the small amount of people I polled, I never KNEW about the Declaration of Sentiments or details about the incredible women who contributed to it, and for that I blame the all too common erasure of remarkable women in school textbooks. It’s not just Women’s History…it’s OUR history, and it needs to be more than just an afterthought.
Visiting the Park
You begin your visit in a Visitor’s Center right next to the Wesleyan Chapel, the actual building where the convention was held. The center’s two floors document what a woman’s role in society meant and the limitations placed on her life throughout American history, and delves into inequality that persists today. The exhibits are interspersed with compelling quotes, outdated artifacts that are ridiculous to us now, and images of women who have blazed their own paths. You can pose with bronze sculptures of your convention heroes, appropriately placed in front of a painted version of Alice Paul’s Suffrage Flag.
The chapel next door has preserved original rafters and areas of brick and plaster, and frequently hosts speakers and features temporary projects. After this area you have the opportunity to visit the M’Clintock House, where several convention planners drafted the Declaration of Sentiments. The parlor has a reproduction of the original table used (the real one is in the Smithsonian) and a Park Ranger will discuss more of the M’Clintock family’s involvement in the budding Women’s Rights Movement as well as the Underground Railroad. They were pretty interesting!
I ended my visit with a tour of Elizabeth Cady Staton’s home on the Cayuga-Seneca Canal, a small building that has an ancient chestnut tree in the front yard that was certainly present when she lived there. Her writing desk and armchair are on display in rooms with accurate wallpaper reproductions from her residency, and you learn a little bit more about her life.
This National Park is SO much more than just a place to commemorate a significant event, and I left feeling inspired and fired up. When a historic site leaves you asking questions and swirling with new ideas, you know your visit was a success!
On a Related Note…
I lived in nearby Ithaca for two years and was re-introduced to the history of Seneca Lake’s monumental significance through the roller derby league I skated with. The cleverly named Ithaca League of Women Rollers are a smartly themed organization with team names including the Bluestockings, Title XIs and the SufferJets. Roller derby and history; two of my favorite things!
The drive from Ithaca to Seneca Falls is scenic and passes many vineyards worth visiting and my favorite cider house. I highly recommend checking out the Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast and their episode about the Declaration of Sentiments to listen to on your way up to Seneca Falls to learn a bit of what you’re about to see.