Pioneers of women's rights movement celebrated in Seneca Falls

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Scholars generally agree that the women's rights movement in the U.S. was born at the 1848 Women's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, N.Y., which was the hometown of suffrage activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Today, the site of that meeting and Stanton's home are part of the Women's Rights National Historical Park.

Another of America's best-known civil rights leaders, Susan B. Anthony, also lived in New York state.

Her Rochester home is now a museum and part of the tourist circuit. Thus, upstate New York is fertile ground for history buffs interested in itineraries built around the themes of suffrage, gender equality and civil rights.

The Women's Rights National Historical Park encompasses the remains of the Wesleyan Chapel, where the Women's Rights Convention was held; the Elizabeth Cady Stanton House; and the nearby homes of Mary Ann M'Clintock and Jane Hunt.

Visitors start at the park's visitor center to view a film, "Dreams of Equality," and exhibits covering the women's rights movement into the 1990s.

It becomes clear to visitors at that point that the women's rights movement of the 19th century was entwined with anti-slavery societies. In fact, abolitionist Frederick Douglass was among the suffrage convention's delegates. The convention's five organizers were all abolitionists, and all but Stanton were Quakers.

The chapel was redesigned nearly two decades ago as a memorial space commemorating the convention and its Declaration of Sentiments, modeled on the Declaration of Independence, that called for voting and other rights.

A ranger-guided tour of Stanton's restored house shows visitors the home of not only an activist, but a wife and mother of seven. The house is open from early March to mid-December.

The restored M'Clintock House, where the convention was planned, is open for tours in the summer. Restoration of the Hunt House is not complete, but the house is used for special events.

Susan B. Anthony's home in Rochester, a National Historic Landmark, was for 40 years the headquarters for a vigorous abolitionist and women's rights advocate. It is open for guided tours year-round.

Depending on interests, a women's rights tour can be broadened to encompass the abolitionist movement. The M'Clintock and Hunt houses were both stations on the Underground Railroad, which aided escaped slaves before President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation.

Maryland-born abolitionist Harriet Tubman spent more than 50 years in Auburn, N.Y. Her home is open to the public Tuesdays through Fridays.

Abolitionist Sojourner Truth was born and lived 30 years as a slave in Ulster County. Although illiterate, she won fame as a public speaker against slavery and for women's rights. However, there is no museum specifically devoted to Truth.

In summer, groups visit but most tourists come independently. The Women's Rights National Historical Park no longer charges admission to its attractions, a policy that started this year.

For more information, visit www.nps.gov/wori.

To contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to Nadine Godwin at [email protected].

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