Women’s Rights National Historical Park

At this point in the Overland Expo to TBEX expedition, we’d been living out of the car for three weeks. This trip was unusual for the minimal camping we’d been doing and the hotel-hopping was starting to wear on us. Combined with the blistering pace up until this point, I could see the effects of fatigue. I started pondering what shifts needed to be made to combat the road trip blues but one thing I was not willing to sacrifice was a stop in Seneca Falls, NY.

Faces of the fight for equality.

Understanding the past…

I’ve talked before about the value of experiential education with respect to road-schooling Fred and George but I believe in it for all ages since our value of history and knowledge matures as we do. In particular, visiting historic sites can be quite powerful as an educational tool because being immersed in actual places and having the opportunity to see artifacts of history have so much impact. To walk in the footsteps of historic figures and gaze upon the items they touched themselves is transporting. It gives events the context to leave a lasting impression.

And that’s why I felt I couldn’t miss the Women’s Rights National Historical Park. Given the freedoms and privileges I now enjoy because of the road paved by people greater than myself, I wanted to better understand what they went through to make such a huge difference in society and history. And obviously I thought it was important for Fred and George to have a sense of that as well.

The Women’s Rights National Historical Park
Power players in the quest for equality: Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady-Stanton, a tremendous partnership.

Big events in a little town…

Seneca Falls is a charming town. That it was the epicenter of enormous social change seems ill-fitted to the quiet streets we walked during our visit. Small shops and restaurants line the roads and in between are the monuments to the equality movement. The Women’s Rights National Historical Park consists of the museum and four landmarks that that pay tribute to the events here. Two historic homes are located in Waterloo just west of Seneca Falls but the others are in Seneca Falls itself.

The museum itself didn’t have a tremendous number of artifacts but the interpretive displays were
compelling and covered a variety of facets in the struggle for equality. From double-standards to salary discrepancies to textbook biases, the visual representations of inequity that has spanned decades were well-represented and were not lost even on young boys.

As I absorbed the magnitude of this movement myself, I was humbled by the effort and perseverance required by these women and men who took up the cause. I stood in the shadow of the Stanton home and marveled at what she accomplished all while raising a family and facing pressures to conform. The reflection of the house across the street reminded me of what she faced in terms of ridicule and scrutiny, yet she pressed on. And even though much of the traveling and pavement pounding was taken on by Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton did an admirable job of doing what she could from home.

It is has been said that I forged the thunderbolts and she fired them. ~Elizabeth Cady Stanton

For all of the figures involved in forging this social change, her story hits home for me most of all. It inspires to be more and do more. Because even while raising a family she fought for something even bigger than herself. She valued her family but it wasn’t the end-all for her. For some women it is and that’s perfectly fine. I’m just grateful to have the choice. During a time when the prevailing male attitude was that if a woman’s basic needs were attended to, what else could she dare want, here’s what Stanton had to say:

My duties were too numerous and varied to and none sufficiently exhilarating or intellectual to bring into play my higher faculties. I suffered with mental hunger which, like an empty stomach, is very depressing. ~Elizabeth Cady Stanton

The reflection at the Cady-Stanton house gave me pause to consider what she faced in her quest.
For the efforts of those who fought for change, I get to define womanhood for myself.

Impact…

Obviously the Women’s Rights National Historical Park was something I wanted to see for my own inspiration. I wanted Fred and George to understand as well of course, but you never know what they’ll internalize. You just have to take them to the water and hope they’ll drink. After some time in the museum, here’s what Fred had to say:

I knew they had it rough but I had no idea it was that bad. ~Fred

Keep in rolling…

Overall, George isn’t a history buff so he approaches historic sites with only mild curiosity. For Fred though, history comes to life in these settings. Reading a history book or watching a documentary at home doesn’t excite him so I’m always amazed at how engaged he becomes when we stop at historic sites. Suddenly, watching a movie or reenactment resonates with him. For him, a connection is made that simply doesn’t happen in a detached setting. It those moments that make the effort to get there worthwhile and why I wave the experiential education banner so high.

Walking in the footsteps of social change.