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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

I Didn’t Hear Anyone Sing “Happy Birthday”

But last weekend was the 170th anniversary of the world’s first call for women’s rights. It was on July 19 and 20, 1848, and nearly in Canada, in the northern New York town of Seneca Falls. That was because Lucretia Coffin Mott of Philadelphia visited her sister, Martha Coffin Wright, who lived nearby. Seneca Falls was home to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, whom Mott had met eight years earlier, when they both were rejected as delegates to the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London. They had tea at the home of Jane Hunt, and joined by another Quaker woman, Mary Ann M’Clintock, these five housewives and mothers ended their day by calling for a discussion that would set the feminist agenda far into the future.

(A brief aside, for the benefit of Tampans. In her youth, Martha Coffin was “read out of meeting” when she eloped with Peter Pelham. Not only was he a non-Quaker; he was a professional soldier, something that these pacifists found objectionable. She came with him to Fort Brooke, where their daughter probably was the first white child: Marianna Pelham was born in August 1825, soon after Fort Brooke began in 1824. And yes, I know there’s a historical marker near the convention center that attributes this first to a boy -- but then, what’s new about considering males to be first at everything? You can read the factual details in my Real Women of Tampa. Anyway, Peter died, and with her baby, Martha made her way back North. By 1848, she had remarried, borne six more kids, and lived in Auburn, New York.)

The five put a three-line notice in the Seneca Falls newspaper that invited women to a discussion at the Wesleyan Methodist church on the “social, civil, and religious rights of women.” To their immense surprise, just three days later, almost 300 people showed up. Many men took time off as crops grew in July heat, and they drove horses and wagons so that women could (as ever) take care of the children who also came along. They brought picnic food and camped overnight while debating heady ideas.

After the tea party gathering, other women, men, and even children had met in M’Clintock’s parlor to write the agenda for, as Stanton said, “the inauguration of a rebellion such as the world had never before seen.” In the end, all of the proposed points of their declaration were adopted, with only the right to vote being extensively debated. James Mott, Lucretia’s husband, presided over the meeting, as women then had absolutely no opportunity to join organizations, much less learn parliamentary procedure. From time immemorial, men could socialize at taverns and other places where it was scandalous for a woman to be seen, and men had organizations such as the Masons for centuries. George Washington, for example, was a Mason – but Martha stayed home, as there was not even an auxiliary organization for her.

A Mighty Flood of Disruptive Ideas

If today, you are a woman who wears pants, votes at election time, or signs a contract to rent an apartment or to get a credit card, then you are a woman who owes a debt to these women. If you take for granted that you are the guardian of your own children, you owe these women. If you assume that your paycheck will be written to you and not to your husband, you owe these women. If you are a man who is proud to send his daughter off to college, you also owe these women. And if you are a man who would rather not take financial responsibility for your unmarried female relatives, you owe these women.

It is important, too, to understand that most women opposed these pioneers. Indeed, most women had to be talked into their own liberation, slowly persuaded over many decades that they were worthy of the same rights that their husbands, brothers, and sons took for granted. The tendency to invest in the status quo, in fact, is so strong that women even built big organizations dedicated to maintaining the bonds that held women down.

It is time, 170 years later, to say thanks to those who defied the ridicule and scorn heaped upon them because they departed from conservatism. It is past time for us to understand how long, complex, expensive, and sophisticated was the effort that these simple farm women (and men) put in motion. It is past time to acknowledge that feminism is the world’s most difficult civil rights movement and still is unachieved.

Stanton and the other writers modeled their 1848 Declaration on the 1776 Declaration of Independence – from which women were explicitly excluded, despite the pleas of Abigail Adams, Mercy Otis Warren, and other smart women. John Adams, indeed, treated Abby’s political point as a joke, responding to her logical letter with “you may be sure that we know better than to repeal our masculine system.” Seven decades after his dismissive dicta, the Seneca Falls women cleverly emulated the 1776 Declaration -- down to the number of arguments made against King George and the number of resolutions to implement the rights they claimed. The resulting document is too long to quote in full, but you can find it in my History of the American Suffragist Movement. Here’s the most salient part.

“Let Facts Be Submitted to a Candid World”

“When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one portion of the family of man to assume among the people of the earth a position different from that which they have hitherto occupied…a decent respect to the opinion of mankind requires that they should declare the causes that impel them to such a course.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal… But when a long train of abuses…evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their duty to throw off such government…

“The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations… To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

“He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise.

“He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice…

“He has made her, if married, in the eyes of the law, civilly dead.

“He has taken from her all right in property, even to the wages she earns…

“He has framed the laws of divorce [so that] guardianship of children shall be given…upon a false supposition of the supremacy of man…

“If single and the owner of property, he has taxed her to support a government which recognizes her only when her property can be made profitable to it.

“He has monopolized nearly all the profitable employments…

“He has denied her the facilities for obtaining a thorough education, all colleges being closed to her…”

“He has created a false public sentiment by giving the world a different code of morals for men and women…”

There’s more, but you get the point. We have indeed overcome -- but mountains go both up and down, and as Thomas Jefferson said of liberty in general, we must be ever vigilant. There still are millions of men and many women, even in America, who would like to return to the old ways. Watch for ‘em.

Various Lighter Stuff

Yet another 4th of July has come and gone, and yet another Times editorial pointed out that amateurs who buy the fireworks that are available in every parking lot must sign a form declaring that they are familiar with state law on the subject. That law limits the use of fireworks to farmers who intend to scare birds away from crops. Yes. And this has been the case for many, many years. It’s just another example of how Tallahassee “conservatives” are boys who insist on being boys. That such hypocrisy encourages disrespect for government never occurs to them – or if it does, who cares?

Consider, too, that fireworks are used at night when birds are roosting high in trees, not eating crops. Such a willful display of stupidity is another example of why the Department of Agriculture should not be a Cabinet-level agency -- with some law enforcement powers that exceed those of the attorney general. Let’s abolish it as an elected entity and instead go back to electing our secretary of state, who is in charge of that democratic fundamental: elections.


In last week’s LaGaceta, my colleague Gene Siudut ran verbatim what Donald Trump said at his Helsinki press conference, as well as Barack Obama’s comments at the same time in South Africa. Like former president Bill Clinton, Obama speaks in logically connected sentences – for which Clinton was unfairly criticized as “Slick Willy.” The contrast between Obama/Clinton and Trump could not be clearer, and it is important to remember that Trump is the product of expensive private schools, while the other two got their basic education in public schools.

But that’s not the point that motivated me to get out my red pen and re-read the two pieces. Like the teacher I always will be, I circled Trump’s usages of “I.” The egotist-in-chief used that 32 times, while in the same amount of space, Obama used it just three times – all at the end, and one of which said merely, “I want to add…” Words matter, and anyone who uses the “I” word that excessively is inherently self-centered and therefore dangerous.

Finally, did you notice the subtle message that Queen Elizabeth II signaled when Donald Trump visited? The brooch she wore on the first day was given to her by the Obamas. It is a lovely but inexpensive little piece that they bought with their own money. The queen’s fashion sense stopped about 1955; she still wears the “ensemble” style of a dress, a matching coat, and a big hat that was popular when I was in grade school. No fashion police ever calls her out for that. The reason why? She is her own class act.


Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
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