Wesleyan Chapel
Wesleyan Chapel at Women's Rights National Historical Park, Seneca Falls, NY. (Pre-2009) National Park Service image in the public domain

Scruffy history

Babes With Blades just announced the cast for their 2018 production of The Good Fight. I thought I’d mark the occasion by re-posting an entry I wrote for Theatre Unbound’s production in 2012, about the struggle for women’s rights in the USA.

In the spring of 2000, I was on a solo road trip to upstate New York and noticed an exit for Seneca Falls. Seneca Falls was, of course, the location of the First Women’s Rights Convention in July of 1848. The Convention was organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Martha Wright, and Mary Ann M’Clintock, and it culminated in the signing of a “Declaration of Sentiments,” modeled on the Declaration of Independence.

I took the exit to Seneca Falls and found the Women’s Rights National Historical Park. The Park centers on the Wesleyan Chapel where the Convention took place. In 2000, the Chapel was a ragged red-brick shell, only partially roofed, with raw openings by way of windows and doors. Seeing it made me indignant at first. Such an important place, so badly neglected! But the feeling changed when I stepped through the doorway. It’s hard to describe. Something momentous had happened there. Excitement and determination were in the air, still. It didn’t matter what the building looked like.

In one way, though, the building’s appearance did matter. It was small. Since then, I’ve read that the original dimensions were roughly forty by sixty feet. More than three hundred people attended the Convention. Maybe they didn’t all crowd into the building at the same time, but even so, it must have been a snug fit. In July. With no A/C. And corsets and petticoats and high-button shoes.

I looked at the website for the Park today, and I saw that the Chapel was rehabbed in 2009. Now it looks solid, well-appointed and cared-for, which is good. I’m glad I saw it in its rougher, scruffier state, though.

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