A New Book on Seneca Falls and Women’s Rights


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Tim Stafford over at Books and Culture, has reviewed Sally McMillen’s new book Seneca Falls and the Origins of the Women’s Rights Movement. He kicks it off with a revealing story about the place of women’s history among leading historians:

“Chatting casually with historian James McPherson, Davidson professor Sally McMillen learned that he was co-editing a series called Pivotal Moments in American History. “Surprised by what I did not hear, I responded, ‘But you have nothing on women!’ He looked at me and asked, ‘Do you have any ideas?’ ‘Well, as a start,’ I answered, ‘Seneca Falls.'”

McMillen tells that anecdote explaining how she came to write the story of the American women’s rights movement in the 19th century. For her “pivotal moment” she chose the 1848 two-day convention in Seneca Falls, New York, the first substantial meeting dedicated exclusively to women’s rights. She weaves her account of the movement around four prominent leaders: Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Lucy Stone. (Unnervingly, McMillen refers to them throughout by their first names—”because I have come to know them well and because using their first names make [sic] them seem more human.”)

The result is a very readable, brief history—just what someone needs to begin to learn about the early trajectory of women’s rights in America. McMillen is thorough and even-handed, with no ideological axe to grind. She writes well. Bravo.

McMillen chairs the history department at Davidson College.

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