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Commemorating the 150th Anniversary
of the Women's Rights Convention
at Seneca Falls


The Pivotal Right comprised a collaborative set of exhibitions that marked the 150th anniversary of the Women's Rights Convention at Seneca Falls, New York. They were sponsored by Rutgers University Libraries in the Summer-Fall 1998 and included a display at the Mabel Smith Douglass Library at Douglass College entitled Issued Forth: The Legacy in New Jersey of the Women's Rights Convention at Seneca Falls, 1840-1920, which explored the impact of this historic event on the suffrage movement in New Jersey. Concurrently, Special Collections and University Archives in the Alexander Library mounted an exhibition entitled From Suffrage to Liberation: Women in the Public Sphere in New Jersey, 1920-1970, which traced the continuing activism of New Jersey women's organizations and individuals in the years following the achievement of “the pivotal right.” This virtual exhibition represents a sampling of materials that were seen on-site at the show held at the Alexander Library.

Issued Forth focused on prominent figures in the women's rights movement in New Jersey from the 1840s until the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. Suffrage leaders Lucy Stone and Elizabeth Cady Stanton both lived in New Jersey for many years and had a significant impact on the women's rights movement in the state. Alice Paul, the founder of the National Woman's Party and author of the Equal Rights Amendment was a native of Moorestown, New Jersey. Among African-American women, Jersey City resident Florence Spearing Randolph worked tirelessly as a minister and social activist on behalf of women's issues, organizing the New Jersey Federation of Colored Women's Clubs and serving on the Board of the New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association. The exhibition featured photographs, documents and artifacts from the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Memorial Collection, donated to the Mabel Smith Douglass Library in 1925 and now part of the Margery Somers Foster Center collections, as well as from other Rutgers University Libraries collections. The exhibition was curated by Ferris Olin and Sarah Falls, with the assistance of Carla Hernandez. The Juliette Mittendorf Hill Fine Arts Endowment, the Associate Alumnae of Douglass College and the Mary H. Dana Women Artists Series provided funding for the exhibition.

From Suffrage to Liberation consisted of documents, photographs and artifacts drawn from Special Collections and University Archives' extensive manuscript and printed collections documenting the history of women in New Jersey, as well as from repositories and individuals throughout the state. Many items were taken from the records of the League of Women Voters of New Jersey, Consumers League of New Jersey, the Council for Human Services in New Jersey, and the papers of pioneering bank executive and philanthropist Mary Roebling. These four collections were arranged and described through the Women in Public Life Archives Project, funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. The exhibition was curated by Fernanda Perrone.

The legacy of Seneca Falls in New Jersey, which originated in the nineteenth-century women's suffrage movement, culminated in the victory of 1920, and extended into the complex realities of women's position in the mid-twentieth century and the radical feminism of the early 1970s, continues today. New Jersey women continue to fight for the Equal Rights Amendment, (originally written in 1923), and minority women, whose role in the state women's movement was long unrecognized, have finally been allowed to be heard.

These issues were illuminated by a panel discussion held in September, 1998, with presentations by Dr. Ann Gordon, Editor, Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony; Dr. Delight Dodyk of the Drew University History Department; Roberta Francis, former Director of the New Jersey Division on Women and head of ERA Summit; and Dr. Rosalyn Terborg-Penn of the Morgan State University English Department, author of African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote, 1850-1920.