Memory and the Women's Suffrage Movement, 1848-1898
UNC Press 2014
Lisa Tetrault received her Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is an associate professor of history at Carnegie Mellon University. Tetrault's book The Myth of Seneca Falls: Memory and the Women's Suffrage Movement, 1848-1898 (University of North Carolina Press, 2014) uncovers the politics behind the creation of an origins myth for women's rights. Typically, the beginning of the women's rights movement in the United States is dated to 1848, at the meeting in Seneca Falls, NY. This origins story, however, did not become commonplace until much later, a story not told during the antebellum period, but a story created in response to Reconstruction-era politics with broad-reaching implications for the direction of the movement. The myth also was effective for women's rights leaders to deal with division within the movement and an attempt to unify a very diverse understanding of women's rights. The Myth of Seneca Falls, poses a corrective to the narrative of Seneca Falls as the origin of women's rights. Tetrault's work brings attention to conflicts in a narrative that often jumps from 1848 to the final triumph--a woman's right to vote--in 1920. Our author examines the creation of the myth, the lessons it provided, and the ways in which it transformed the women's movement. Myths, she argues, are not false; rather they serve as shorthand for larger stories. They also neatly obscure conflict and contingency. While scholars have written alternative histories, Tetrault sees Seneca Falls as having undue influence and seeks to decenter the narrative by illuminating its contested nature.