The M’Clintock Family of Farmington Quarterly Meeting: Equality, unity, and reform activism built upon Quaker faith and practice.
The first women’s rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York, on July 19-20, 1848. We honor the M’Clintock family of Waterloo, New York, and the Quakers associated with the 1816 Farmington Quaker Meetinghouse for their leadership role in that convention. The M’Clintocks were actively engaged in the planning of that historic event and their home was one of the places where the planning took place. In fact it was at their tea table and the Sunday before the convention where Elizabeth Cady Stanton sat, and with the participation of family members drafted the Declaration of Sentiments, later adopted by the convention.
The M’Clintock family included parents Mary Ann and Thomas, and five children – four daughters and one son. Collectively and individually, they were active in upstate New York reform efforts for abolition of slavery, the Underground Railroad, Native land rights, and woman’s rights. Thomas M’Clintock was also Clerk of Genesee Yearly Meeting of Friends, 1838-1843. Their activism emerged from their faith as egalitarian Quakers, emphasizing equality and community, seeing “that of God” in every person. They believed, also, in the power of ongoing revelation, that each individual has ability and responsibility to experience spiritual leading. With a strong kinship network and community ties, the whole family had a major impact in Quaker circles and beyond.
As such, they helped organize the Congregational Yearly Meeting of Friends at the 1816 Meetinghouse in October 1846. Congregational Friends (later called Progressive Friends and then Friends of Human Progress) were “an assembly in which Christians, Jews, Mahammedans, and Pagans, men and women of all names and no name,” noted the call to their annual convention in 1854, “may . . . labor together for the promotion of human welfare, with no other law to bind them in their associate capacity but the LAW of LOVE.” These Congregational Friends became a prototype for Friends General Conference, which still exists today.
In early July 1848, Mary Ann M’Clintock met Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and Martha Wright, at Jane Hunt’s home in Waterloo. This was one of those rare moments when longstanding conditions are confronted by a group equipped with the knowledge, skills, values, and courage needed to effect change. Those gathered decided to organize a woman’s rights convention, immediately, to challenge the unjust status of half of humanity. This was no grandiose airing of overblown ideas; these women made their collective decision and moved into action, securing their venue at the Wesleyan Church in Seneca Falls on July 19, getting an announcement in the press on July 11, and assigning Stanton to frame a speech.
During the heady days of preparations, Stanton visited the M’Clintocks with her notes in hand, sat down at their table, wishing, one imagines, for the inspiration of shared vision. One of the M’Clintocks took out the Declaration of Independence, reading it aloud with gusto, inspiring the group to model their own Declaration of Sentiments on this foundational national document. They represented the claims of “woman” against injustices imposed by “man,” asserting that “all men and women are created equal.”
One has to wonder, how did they all feel that day, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the M’Clintocks, working together on their momentous project? Were they beside themselves with excitement and purpose? Was their perception shaped by Quaker practice, assuring them that they acted in accordance with the Light? Could they have understood the historic impact of the event and document?
Quakers associated with the 1816 Farmington Meetinghouse formed the single largest religious group at the Seneca Falls woman’s rights convention. The current president of the 1816 Farmington Quaker Meetinghouse, Judith Wellman is author of The Road to Seneca Falls: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the First Woman’s Rights Convention. She has estimated that at least twenty-five Friends signed the Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments (one-quarter of the total). “Just as no woman’s rights convention would have occurred in Seneca Falls in 1848 without Elizabeth Cady Stanton,” noted Wellman, “so it would not have occurred without these egalitarian Friends. Stanton was the catalyst. Friends transformed the idea into action.”
Whatever their lived experience may have been, the 1848 Woman’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls yielded sustained activism for woman’s rights from that time until passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. Only one woman who attended the Seneca Falls convention (Rhoda Palmer, a Quaker from Geneva, New York), actually voted. One more, Charlotte Woodward Pierce, lived to see the Nineteenth Amendment but was too ill on election day to vote. But their achievements and example mobilized their daughters and granddaughters, who fought—and continue to fight—for equal rights, including voting rights, for women.
To learn more:
Judith Wellman, The Road to Seneca Falls: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the First Woman’s Rights Convention (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2004).
Judith Wellman, with Tanya Warren, Discovering the Underground Railroad, Abolitionism, and African American Life in Seneca County, 1820-1880 (Waterloo: Seneca County Historian’s Office, 2006) contains essays on several sites in Seneca County associated with abolitionist and women’s rights leaders. PDF available at https://www.co.seneca.ny.us › discovering_ugrr-ADA
In addition we encourage all to “attend” the Women’s Rights National Historical Park, livestream of Convention Days events, July 19-20, 2021. Here is a description form the website:
Virtual Convention Days 2021: From the Pages to the Streets
Women’s Rights National Historical Park (NHP) is pleased to announce Virtual Convention Days 2021: From the Pages to the Streets, a series of online programs being held July 16-18, 2021. This year’s theme focuses on how women’s writing in the first wave of the women’s rights movement translated into powerful activism and real social change.
Convention Days has been a signature event in Seneca Falls for many years. This annual event allows visitors to engage with women’s history, focusing on the revolutionary 1848 Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention through art, storytelling, speakers, and special programming. The park will continue this tradition virtually this year due to COVID-19. https://www.nps.gov/wori/planyourvisit/virtual_convention_days_2021.htm.
Photo of Mary Ann M’Clintock courtesy of Friends Historical Library, Swathmore College