This Woman Was the Only Signer of the Declaration of Sentiments Who Lived to See Women Vote
On July 20, 1848, the Seneca Falls Convention, known as the country's first women's rights convention, produced the Declaration of Sentiments — largely considered one of America's most important documents advocating women's suffrage.
But of the 68 women who signed the document at the meeting in Seneca Falls, N.Y., only one — Charlotte Woodward Pierce — lived to see the day women could vote.
For Woodward, the lack of opportunities available to women compelled her to attend the convention, despite the fact that she had to travel farther than almost everyone else in order to come.
"I was at the first meeting held at Seneca Falls," she remembered, "when I was but a young girl, little knowing the broad field awaiting laborers." In 1848, Woodward was likely 18 or 19 years old of Quaker background, and living in New York.
At the time of the convention she was working from home, sewing gloves. But previously she served as a schoolteacher when she was just 15 years old.
"I do not believe there was any community anywhere in which the souls of some women were not beating their wings in rebellion. . . . Every fiber of my being rebelled, although silently, for all the hours that I sat and sewed gloves for a miserable pittance, which, after it was earned, could never be mine," she said.
Here are five things you need to know about Charlotte Woodward Pierce:
1. After Charlotte Woodward received an announcement that there would be a women's rights convention, she reportedly ran from one house to another in her neighborhood to spread the news.
Based on an interview in 1920, historian Rheta Childe Dorr reported that as Woodward traveled from house to house, she discovered other women reading the announcement, some with amusement and others incredulity. Woodward was said to get half a dozen of her close friends to agree to attend the first day of the convention when only their sex was invited to join.
2. Charlotte Woodward traveled farther than almost anyone else who came to the Seneca Falls convention.
Woodward and her friends used a wagon drawn by fat farm horses to get to the convention. According to the index of the 1850 census, Charlotte Woodward lived in DeWitt, Onondaga County that was about 40 miles east of Seneca Falls.
3. Seeing liberal men on the first day of the convention helped Woodward develop the courage to stay for the second day.
Despite the fact that the convention was marketed to women only, dozens of liberal men appeared in support of women’s rights. When Woodward arrived at the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls she said she saw about fifty men also waiting to enter the meeting. The presence of these men helped her continue to stay on for the second day of the convention.
4. In 1921, when Woodward was 92 years old, she gifted a trowel to the National Woman’s party to symbolize the continued struggle for women's rights.
Woodward sent a trowel to the NWP to be used in placing a cornerstone for the party’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. The trowel also features an inscription saying, "In memory of the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848: presented by its sole survivor, Mrs. Charlotte L. Pierce, in thanksgiving for progress made by women and in honor of the National Woman's Party, which will carry on the struggle so bravely begun."
5. Charlotte L. Woodward Pierce never actually voted for the right she signed to.
Seventy-two years after the Seneca Falls Convention in 1920, America finally passed the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. Woodward was in her early 90s at the time and was the only signer of the Declaration of Sentiments to live to see the triumph of suffrage for women. Sadly she was confined to her bed on the first Election Day when women were able to cast their ballots and never got to vote for the right she signed to.
Photo Credit: National Photo Company Collection (Library of Congress)