This Week in History: The Seneca Falls Convention

July 19, 1848

The Seneca Falls Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, begins with notable suffragettes in attendance.

Here’s the needlework connection to this date:

Among the items for sale at the National Suffrage Bazar at New York City’s Madison Square Garden in December 1900 were, according to the December 15, 1900, issue of The Woman’s Column, “mounds and billows of delicate fancy work showed that they are expert with the needle.” The newspaper also published a “Suggestive List for Contributions” prior to the event, which included: knitted shawls, skirts, afghans, and teapot holders. One of the items for sale in the Lucretia Mott booth was a washcloth she had knitted. For more on this fascinating event, see the article “Let Us Keep Knitting and Crochet for the Bazar, Sisters!” by Katherine Durack in the November/December 2015 issue of PieceWork.

Seneca Falls Convention

Wesleyan Chapel, Seneca Falls, New York. The Wesleyan Chapel was the site of the first women’s rights convention in the United States held on July 19th and 20th, 1848. Built in 1843, it was also the sight for antislavery efforts, free-speech events, and political rallies.
Photo courtesy of Moelyn Photos/Getty Images.

A prelude to this event was the Seneca Falls Convention organized by two prominent American women, Lucretia Mott (1793–1880) and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815–1902). Billed as “a convention to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of woman,” the convention’s formal “Declaration of Sentiments” included the suffrage resolution. Accounts vary on the number of people who attended the convention, but most sources agree that about 300 women and men took part.

As I write this, Colorado is in the midst of primary voting to determine the candidates that will run this fall for a host of offices. I vividly remember the first time I was old enough to vote; I had been counting the days for years.

I grew up in a family that was and had been passionate about voting. It was never something that was glossed over or not done. Kitchen table debates ruled for months prior to the next election. Everyone’s voice was heard; everyone voted. For my grandmother, who was a teenager when the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1920 granting women the right to vote in the United States, it was especially important. And she instilled this importance into her daughters, granddaughter, and great-granddaughter. She knew first-hand of the struggles and sacrifices that many American women endured in order to vote.

Seneca Falls Convention

Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Photograph in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

With this background, it won’t come as surprise to learn that Ava T. Coleman’s “Suffragette Collar and Cuffs” from the Fall 2012 issue of a PieceWork special publication, Knitting Traditions is a favorite of mine. Here’s Ava with her personal connection to the suffragette movement:

  • A family photograph that my grandmother gave me nearly fifty years ago reminded me that collars and cuffs have at times had a more important role than merely finishing off a woman’s costume. This was brought home to me further when I saw an appraiser on the PBS British Antiques Roadshow identify a small rosette containing pink, white, pale green, and purple stones as representing the official flower (the rose) and colors of the British Women’s Suffrage movement from the early twentieth century.
  • As a high school civics student in 1964, I asked Grandma if she would be going to vote in the coming presidential elections. She answered that she and Grandpa had always supported the right of women to vote and that she had worn “the colors” to let others know how she felt. She related how Grandpa had accompanied her to vote in her first election because he still wasn’t sure how women would be received at the polls, even in Grand Junction, Colorado. Although the Nineteenth Amendment had been ratified in 1920, it hadn’t been that long since police in numerous American cities had arrested and jailed women who demanded their right to vote. Many had been beaten or otherwise mistreated while in custody.
Seneca Falls Convention

Lucretia Mott. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

Ava’s photograph shows her grandfather, grandmother, and their daughter, Bonnie (who would become Ava’s mother). Her grandmother is wearing “the colors” (her ribbon-embellished suffragette collar). As a tribute to British suffragettes, Ava worked her companion knitted collar and cuffs project in their colors: white, pink, green, and purple with rosettes representing the movement’s flower, the rose.

Seneca Falls Convention

Photograph of Robert, Bonnie, and Leona Colescott, Ava Coleman’s grandfather, mother, and grandmother. Photographer unknown. 1929. Leona is wearing her suffragette collar.
Photo courtesy of Ava Coleman.

Seneca Falls Convention

Ava Coleman’s knitted “Suffragette Collar and Cuffs.” Photo by Ann Swanson.

To Lucretia, Elizabeth, Ava’s grandmother, my grandmother, and all who have championed women and their right to vote—thank you.

Here are two additional posts on the topic of suffragettes and the needlework associated with them that I think you’ll enjoy: “U.S. Senate Proposes Female Suffrage” and “Suffragette Extraordinaire (and Lace Enthusiast) Susan B. Anthony Is Born.”

Celebrate suffragettes and their needlework in these issues of PieceWork!


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