PART THREE: MONUMENTAL WOMEN
In 1980, Seneca Falls dedicated a significant portion of its space as a Women’s Rights National Historical Park. Rangers met us at the visitor’s centre, led us through the displays and handed us tour schedules to the Elizabeth Cady Stanton house, designated as a national historical landmark and located just a few streets away. The text of the “Declaration of Sentiments” that was signed at the 1848 First Women’s Rights Convention is engraved on a stone wall and fountain outside the centre and reproduced, in part, on souvenir trinkets that are on sale in nearby shops, along with pink triangles, rainbow flags, and suffragette cut-out dolls. Although there was something familiar in the souvenir-kitsch lining Main Street, there was at the same time an unfamiliar feminist twist, especially to a place that lays claim to a young Jimmy Stewart.
Outside the visitor centre all that remains of the historic Wesleyan Chapel where the convention was held and where Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Mary Ann M’Clintock and other women were introduced to history is the exterior stone structure and courtyard. On this particular mid June afternoon, one hundred and fifty-nine years later, the only folks about were a few local boys skateboarding at a fast clip along the gentle slope. After taking a few pictures and sipping our ubiquitous coffee, we went inside the visitor’s centre to watch a ten-minute film called Dreams of Equality dramatizing the birth of women’s rights. Other than Heather and me, there were only two other women in the audience. “Word will spread,” promised Heather.
Seneca Falls also houses the National Women’s Hall of Fame, where portraits of 217 inductees—some still living—grin down from the walls. Hilary Clinton is up there. So are Amelia Earnhardt, Ella Fitzgerald, Lucille Ball, and Mother Jones. Their faces led me to once again wonder how Canadian women are engraved, as it were, on our landscape. Up in Canada, I thought, we don’t have entire towns honouring women but we do have sites, plaques, graves, museums, houses, books, and all manner of artifacts. Don’t we? The next day we drove back to Toronto and the day after that, with a few taps on my keyboard, I began my research.
In Canada, there is no national park devoted to women or to the emergence of feminism. There is the Person’s Case and two significant but controversial markers, one in Calgary and the other on Parliament Hill, to The Famous Five: Emily Murphy, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Louise McKinney, Irene Parlby, and Nellie McClung. Other than Nellie McClung, I suggest that none of these names are recognizable to most Canadian women. It’s even possible that the names of American suffragettes are better known. Even the Grimke Sisters, who were active in anti-slavery work, likely rolls more easily off the tongue. This is curious and a little bit disturbing; it led me deeper into my research.
STAY TUNED FOR PART FOUR OF “MONUMENTAL WOMEN”