On September 16, a group of local volunteers, donors, and activists jumped on a bus to head to the site of one of the most subversive, divisive, and dangerous events ever staged. Daring as that might sound, we weren’t tackling a controversial issue like abortion or capital punishment. We didn’t spend the day at a political rally. No, we went straight to the beginning of the story. The Community Foundation took a field trip to Seneca Falls, NY.
It’s hard to imagine somewhere as sleepy and quaint as the Finger Lakes could hold such an exalted place in American history. Yet before these hills were known for growing reisling grapes, they were famous for growing truly radical thinkers. It was here that the movements for both women’s suffrage and the abolishment of slavery were nurtured and eventually launched onto the national stage.
The central event that really put Seneca Falls on the map was the first Women’s Rights Convention organized by Elizabeth Caty Stanton and her remarkable group of friends on July 19-20, 1848. Together, women’s rights leaders, abolitionists, and other 19th century freethinkers gathered to declare that all people must be treated as equals – regardless race or gender.
I probably don’t need to tell you that these concepts weren’t exactly welcomed by the rest of society, which is proven by the fact that women weren’t granted to the right to vote nationally until 1920 – fully 72 years later. (You can accuse the leaders of the women’s suffrage movement of a lot of things, but don’t dare call them impatient.)
No matter how much of the story you already know, I’d like to encourage you to take time to visit Seneca Falls to immerse yourself in this powerful, and excruciatingly relevant, historical narrative. Visitors are often delighted to find two terrific organizations eager to welcome and teach you all about Seneca Falls and the never-ending struggle for equality.
This is a day-trip that every Finger Lakes resident should make a priority. We are lucky to have these places in our backyard, and without our support and attention, these sacred spaces could someday be forgotten.
We focus much of our work on the philanthropic legacy of our region and how that translates into grants and scholarships, but the Finger Lakes has a spectacular legacy of ideas combined with passionate people and friendships that turned these ideas into movements. Part of our work is making sure their work continues, and the least we can do is take the time to remember them.