On this date in 1984, Geraldine Ferraro, whom I wrote about last week, accepted the vice presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco. "By choosing a woman to run for our nation's second highest office," she told the delegates, "you send a powerful signal to all Americans: There are no doors we cannot unlock. We will place no limits on achievement. If we can do this, we can do anything."
Ferraro didn't mention it that night, but it was on another July 19 -- in 1848 -- that Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott convened the first Woman's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, N.Y. The two organizers had planned such an event since the beginning of the decade, but the pivotal spark came at a social gathering at a mutual friend's home in upstate New York. Recounting old grievances over cups of tea ("the torrent of my long-accumulating discontent," Stanton would write), the women decided to hold their convention just five days hence.
The Woman's Rights Convention launched in the summer of 1848 by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott ran for two days, July 19 and 20, at the Seneca Falls Wesleyan Methodist Church. The only publicity was a small notice placed in the Seneca County Courier, advertising Mott as the featured speaker. Nonetheless, some 300 people -- most of them Quakers and 40 of them male -- made their way to the church.
Among that group was 19-year-old Charlotte Woodward, a seamstress who lived with her parents 40 miles away. The men included Frederick Douglass, a former slave who edited the abolitionist newspaper the Rochester North Star, and Lucretia Mott's husband, James, who presided over the sessions. The men did not vote, although Douglass did help persuade the convention to adopt a platform calling for the women's vote, the only plank not unanimously embraced.
Using the Declaration of Independence as her blueprint, Stanton had drawn up a "Declaration of Sentiments" that set the tone for the meeting. All men "and women" had been created equal, she wrote in her preamble. Stanton also enumerated, Thomas Jefferson-style, a litany of 18 "injuries and usurpations" -- the same number of charges leveled by the Founding Fathers in 1776 against King George III – "on the part of man toward woman."
This document, read aloud by Stanton herself, was signed by 100 of the attendees, 68 women and 32 men. Reaction against it varied. Influential New York newspaper publisher Horace Greeley considered calls for the vote impolitic, but he wrote that the logic of extending "natural rights" to women was unassailable.
James Gordon Bennett, a Greeley rival, dismissed the exercise in Seneca Falls as frivolous. To prove his point -- or so he thought -- Bennett reprinted the entire Declaration of Sentiments in the New York Herald.
"Just what I wanted," Stanton responded. The savvy suffragist was ahead of her time in more ways than one: She understood the power of the mass media, that her adversaries had given her views wider circulation than they would have had otherwise. She knew that once these ideas were planted it was only a matter of time before they took hold. But it took a very long time: When women got the vote in 1920, the only original Seneca Falls delegate still alive was Charlotte Woodward -- by then Charlotte Woodward Pierce -- who at 91 years of age went to the polls in Philadelphia on Nov. 2, 1920, to cast her ballot in a presidential election.
Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.