July 19th is the two hundredth day of the year. One hundred seventy-one years ago, on July 19, 1848 (a leap year), in the home of Elizabeth Cady Stanton in Seneca Falls, New York, a Declaration of Sentiments was first promulgated, stating in part, “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men and women are created equal... The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of tyranny over her.”
The Declaration of Sentiments was signed by a hundred people, thirty-two of whom were men, including one African-American, Frederick Douglass, a decade removed from life as a slave.
The Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments was introduced on July 19, 1848, but not voted upon until the next day. The document contained twelve paragraphs which began with the word, “Resolved.” Only one of these resolutions, the ninth, produced any rancor among the Seneca Falls delegates. That resolution contained just one sentence, “Resolved, that it is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.”
Lucretia Mott and her husband, James, both Quakers, were among those who objected to pursuing the right to vote for women. Ms. Mott said directly to Stanton, “Why Lizzie, thee will make us look ridiculous.”
Stanton defended the concept of women's suffrage by arguing that the right to vote would bring future legislative change and produce further gains in rights for women. Douglass said that he could not accept the right to vote, as a black man, if women were not also granted the same franchise. "In this denial of the right to participate in government, not merely the degradation of woman and the perpetuation of a great injustice happens, but the maiming and repudiation of one-half of the moral and intellectual power of the government of the world.”
Douglass's words helped carry the day. The suffrage resolution passed by a wide margin. One of the sixty-eight women who signed the Declaration of Sentiments, Charlotte Woodward Pierce, lived long enough to see the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution become law in 1920. However, ill health confined the nonagenarian to her bed. That one final irony prevented the lone survivor of the Seneca Falls Convention from voting in that year's presidential election.
Many readers may recall that it was on another July 19th, 1984, in San Francisco, Geraldine Ferraro, a congresswoman from New York (Queens) became the first woman nominated by a major party to run for the office of vice-president on the Democratic ticket.
Obviously, this nation has still got a ways to go in regard to leveling the field in matters of race or gender. Things do not change overnight, as the seventy-two years between the Seneca Falls Convention and the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment attest. While researching other local matters in the Mendocino County newspapers of 1879 I ran across this notice, “ATTENTION – My wife, Mary Geisler, having left my bed and board, without just cause or provocation, all persons are hereby cautioned not to trust her on account as I shall pay no debts of her contracting after this date.”
The notice was signed by William Geisler. Lest readers think this was a one-off affair, the notice ran for months and, for many weeks, was printed on the same page with a nearly identical report by a Mr. Frank Mortier regarding his wife, Kentuck Mortier.
There's no further mentions of either Geisler or Mortier marriage partners that this writer can discern from available research materials, except a June, 1857 Daily Alta California article from Mr. Mortier's early days in San Francisco. “Frank Mortier was tried and convicted of petit larceny, in stealing a lot of clothing belonging to Messrs. Field & Nicholls, on Washington Street. The stolen goods were found by Captain Dunnelian in Frank's room.” A generation later, in 1881, Frank Mortier's son, Harvey, shot and killed Richard Macpherson, nephew of Fort Bragg's first great entrepeneur, Alexander Wentworth Macpherson. That, however, will have to remain a story for another time.