“Woman is man’s equal.”

Declaration of Sentiments issued at Seneca Falls, New York, July 1848

“The equal right of Woman to social, civil and political equality, has always been to me like an axiom which it were as idle to dispute as to undertake to controvert the multiplication table.” – Lavinia Goodell, 1875

On July 19, 1848, the first woman’s rights convention held in the United States convened in Seneca Falls, New York.

The event was organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a distant cousin of Lavinia Goodell’s mother, and Lucretia Mott. The women had met at an anti-slavery convention in London eight years earlier. Stanton and Mott were barred from the convention floor because of their gender, and their indignation formed the seeds of the women’s rights movement in America.

Seneca Falls Convention, 1848

The convention was held at Wesleyan Chapel, near Stanton’s home. The July 18 Baltimore Sun announced, “There is to be a convention to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition of woman, at Seneca Falls, N.Y. on the 19th and 20th instant. Lucretia Mott, the eloquent Quakeress, is to be present.”

The first day’s activities were limited to women. Two hundred women came. Stanton read the “Declaration of Sentiments and Grievances,” a manifesto modelled after the Declaration of Independence that described women’s grievances and demands. Written largely by Stanton, it called on women to fight for their constitutionally guaranteed right to equality as U.S. citizens.

Men were invited to attend on the second day, and forty did, including the African American abolitionist Frederick Douglass. The Declaration of Sentiments and Grievances was adopted and signed by the assembly. The convention also passed twelve resolutions calling for equal rights for women. Eleven passed unanimously, but there was heated debate over women’s right to vote. Douglass sided with Stanton on the issue of women’s enfranchisement, and the resolution passed. Because the convention had advocated that women should have the right to vote, it was subject to ridicule and some people who had supported other rights for women withdrew their support. But the resolution marked the start of the suffrage movement in America.

In addition to advocating that women should have the right to vote, the Declaration of Sentiments asserted that women should also have equality in politics, the family, education, jobs, religion, and morals. Lavinia Goodell held these same beliefs and throughout her life fought to advance them. Learn more about Lavinia’s views on women’s rights here.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a tireless worker and prolific lecturer. She spoke at Myers’ Opera House in Janesville, Wisconsin in November of 1870. Her topic was “Marriage and Divorce.”  The Janesville Gazette reported, “This lecture is drawing large audiences in all the principal cities, and Mrs. Stanton is received with the utmost favor everywhere.”

Lavinia Goodell’s parents were living south of Janesville at that time. Lavinia was still living in Brooklyn but apparently had heard Mrs. Stanton’s speech because she wrote her mother,  “I have heard Mrs. Stanton’s lecture on the marriage question, and do not agree with her, altho’ she makes some strong points. I think her plan, if carried out, would bear harder on the women than on the men. More men would want a change after a few years of marriage, for bad reasons, than women for good ones. ”  The details of Lavinia’s difference of opinion with Mrs. Stanton’s speech have been lost to history, but during Lavinia’s legal career she fought a number of difficult legal battles on behalf of women clients. To read more about them, click here and here. Lavinia drafted a bill “to provide for the support of married women and their minor children, and for the custody of minor children by their mothers, in certain cases.” The proposed law would give a married woman, whose husband either from drunkenness, profligacy or other causes, refused to support her and their children, the right to petition the court for permission to take possession of his real and personal property for financial support and for custody of their children. A husband affected by such an order could petition to have it modified or set aside. She persuaded John Cassoday, speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly in 1877 and later a Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice, to introduce the legislation. It does not appear to have passed. You can read Lavinia’s bill here.

Lavinia corresponded with Stanton and Susan B. Anthony throughout her life, and when Lavinia embarked on a short-lived law partnership with Angie King, she happily noted in her diary, “Mrs. Stanton has sent us her and Miss Anthony’s lithographs, good size, which will hereafter adorn our walls.” In 1877, Lavinia circulated petitions, obtained from Stanton, advocating for a constitutional amendment that would give women the right to vote. In 1878, Lavinia signed a petition to Congress, commonly referred to as the Susan B. Anthony amendment, that would have given women the franchise. This amendment is apparently identical to the one Congress ratified in 1920.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton & Susan B. Anthony

Although we have found no explicit mention of the Seneca Falls convention or the Declaration of Sentiments & Grievances in Lavinia’s writings, there is no doubt that Lavinia put the principles contained in the Declaration into action in her life and work. As we approach the centennial of the 19th Amendment which finally gave women the right to vote, we honor the brave women who toiled ceaselessly to advance the cause “That woman is man’s equal.”

Sources consulted: Lavinia Goodell’s diaries; Lavinia Goodell’s letter to Sarah Thomas (March 14, 1879); Lavinia Goodell’s letter to William & Clarissa Goodell (November 27, 1870); Lavinia Goodell’s letter to Clarissa Goodell (November 27, 1870); Janesville Gazette, November 16, 1870.; This Day in History: Seneca Falls Convention Begins,; National Constitution Center: On this day, the Seneca Falls Convention begins; Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History: The Seneca Falls Convention: Setting the National Stage for Women’s Suffrage.

1 comment

Steven J Bates

Another well presented article in the Lavinia Goodell saga. Thank you.

John Cassoday is an interesting and apparently progressive fellow as he shows up several places aiding Lavinia in one pursuit or another. That he ascended to the State Supreme Court suggests that he was not also far out of the mainstream of popular thought.

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