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a milestone in the women’s rights movement

Anthony, Susan B., Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, et al. Declaration of Rights of the Women of the United States by the National Woman Suffrage Association

[Philadelphia: National Woman Suffrage Association], 1876

4 pages. 11 x 8 ½ in. chipping at edges, separations at folds.

This landmark in the history of women’s rights is signed in type by the giants of the American women’s rights movement including Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and twenty-one other leading activists.

The National Woman Suffrage Association, founded by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, was the leading women’s rights organization in America after the Civil War. Its leaders saw the Centennial International Exposition in Philadelphia as a golden opportunity to promote their cause. Their original plan was thwarted when they were refused permission to present a Declaration of Rights of Women at the July 4th celebration at Independence Hall. They then used the five tickets granted the Association to infiltrate the gathering. After Richard Henry Lee of Virginia read the original Declaration of Independence, the women acted:

“[F]ive women, headed by the indomitable Miss Anthony, went up on the platform and bore down on the chairman, president pro tempore of the United States Senate, Thomas W. Ferry. The startled Ferry, a supporter of woman suffrage, incidentally, grasped the parchment Miss Anthony handed him and bowed; the women, expecting every moment to be taken into custody, turned and walked off the platform and out of the hall, first drawing from their capacious reticules large handfuls of printed broadsides carrying their Declaration, which they scattered left and right. There was great confusion as men stood on their seats reaching for the handbills and hundreds of arms were stretched for them …” (Flexner, Century of Struggle).

Susan B. Anthony then crossed Independence Square and read the Declaration to the crowd. The document demands equal rights under the law calling for the inclusion of women in juries, no taxation without representation, repeal of the word “male” in state constitutions, the writ of habeas corpus for women, the end of unequal codes of justice, and more. Its rousing conclusion states, “We ask of our rulers, at this hour, no special favors, no special privileges, no special legislation. We ask justice, we ask equality, we ask that all the civil and political rights that belong to citizens of the United States, be guaranteed to us and our daughters forever.”

The Declaration exists in two nearly identical forms. Priority, if any, is unknown.  The present example, one of a handful of known copies, bears the now-famous title Declaration of Rights of the Women of the United States. The other, known in a single copy (Library of Congress), bears the less familiar title Declaration and Protest of the Women of the United States. There are several small textual differences between the two. The Rights version has two postscripts, one inviting supporters to send their signatures to be pasted into the “Centennial Books of the National Woman Suffrage Association,” the other soliciting a $1.00 donation to accompany the signature. The Protest form omits the second postscript, which may indicate a rethinking of the crass solicitation. Finally, the Protest version contains several additional printed signatures not found in the Rights version. Priority for the present Rights form may be suggested by the likelihood that signatures were added to the Protest form after the first publication in the Rights form.

The example in the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Papers is featured in the Library of Congress’s “Creating the United States” online exhibition

Very rare. No other examples have appeared in the auction records or in the trade, and we can find no trace of another example having appeared in the trade.