cover image Seneca Falls and the Origins of the Woman’s Rights Movement

Seneca Falls and the Origins of the Woman’s Rights Movement

Sally Gregory McMillen, . . Oxford Univ., $28 (310pp) ISBN 978-0-19-518265-1

McMillen, who chairs the history department at Davidson College, presents a fine history of the 1848 Seneca Falls convention, which galvanized the women’s movement through the remainder of the 19th century and also affected concurrent struggles for temperance, abolition and educational reform. Narrowing her focus to four suffragists—Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony and Lucy Stone—McMillen nimbly weaves their stories with the larger narrative of reform. After a splendid introductory chapter that outlines the legal injustices most women suffered (typically, they could not vote, hold property or receive equal pay for their work), McMillen describes the convention itself, about which we know relatively little (Stanton gave it just two sentences in her mammoth memoir) and then traces its unexpectedly weighty impact on reformers through the decades. She does an outstanding job of discussing how religion functioned as both an impetus and an obstacle to reform, and pays particular attention to how the women’s movement broke apart during Reconstruction because of internal bickering, racism and class divisions. This is not a revisionist work or a substantial challenge to the conventional historiography of suffrage, but a well-written and cogent synthesis accessible to the general reader while remaining firmly grounded in primary sources. 20 b&w illus. (Feb.)