Published: December 1, 2015
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The White House has launched a search for a key historical document and is seeking the public’s help in finding the whereabouts of the Declaration of Sentiments, a key document in the women’s rights movement.
In a blog, US Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith writes, “When I joined the White House a year ago, I asked the Archivist of the United States David Ferriero if the Declaration of Sentiments was part of the National Archives. The Declaration of Sentiments is the foundational document for women’s rights drafted in Seneca Falls, N.Y., at the first women’s rights convention in July 1848. It changed the course of history.”
The document is not in the archives’ holdings and the closest to an “original” that anyone knew of is the printing of the text done in 1848 by Frederick Douglass’s print shop in Rochester, N.Y. Newspaper accounts were scrutinized, as well as the book, The Road to Seneca Falls, by Judith Wellman, who wrote that no one has ever found the meeting minutes by Mary Ann McClintock that likely also went to Douglass’s print shop. They learned that the tea table upon which the original declaration was drafted has been found, but the document itself is still missing.
The road to drafting the Declaration of Sentiments began in 1840 when Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott and their husbands traveled to London to attend the World Anti-Slavery Convention, only to learn that women were no longer permitted on the main floor and had to listen from a gallery. The women vowed then to address women’s rights.
A few years later, Mott visited her cousin Katherine McClintock near Seneca Falls, N.Y. During the visit, they hosted a tea where five women planned a convention to discuss women’s rights. In preparation for the convention, Stanton drafted a “Declaration of Rights and Sentiments,” which she modeled after the Declaration of Independence. In the document, she called for moral, economic and political equality for women.
Smith noted that the White House conducted its own search. The Women’s Rights National Historical Park at Seneca Falls said that after the convention, Frederick Douglass — one of the more than 30 men who joined the convention and signed the declaration — took it to Rochester to publish it in his newspaper, The North Star, but since that time the guide said that as far as they know it has been “lost to time.”
Some Americans know about the women who went to work in factories and shipyards during World War II thanks to Rosie the Riveter, and the women who kept the game of baseball going during those years from the film A League of Their Own, but they often don’t know Grace Hopper, the Navy rear admiral who was at the forefront of computer programming for nearly 50 years and invented computer languages; NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson or the University of Pennsylvania ENIAC programmers — six women who were the first digital programmers in America during World War II; or Rosie Rios, treasurer of the United States who is working with Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to make sure women are included on paper currency for the first time in a century. The only two women who have ever appeared on US notes were Pocahontas and Martha Washington in the 1800s.
A page devoted to the search for the declaration has been set up at www.whitehouse.gov/blog/find-the-sentiments, and anyone with information is asked to contact Smith via this link. Social media followers can also use the hashtag #FindTheSentiments to spread the word.
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