The Myth of Seneca Falls

Memory and the Women's Suffrage Movement, 1848-1898

By Lisa Tetrault

296 pp., 6.125 x 9.5, 16 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-3350-3
    Published: February 2017
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-1428-1
    Published: June 2014
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-8455-8
    Published: June 2014

Gender and American Culture

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Awards & distinctions

2015 Mary Jurich Nickliss Prize, Organization of American Historians

The story of how the women's rights movement began at the Seneca Falls convention of 1848 is a cherished American myth. The standard account credits founders such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Lucretia Mott with defining and then leading the campaign for women's suffrage. In her provocative new history, Lisa Tetrault demonstrates that Stanton, Anthony, and their peers gradually created and popularized this origins story during the second half of the nineteenth century in response to internal movement dynamics as well as the racial politics of memory after the Civil War. The founding mythology that coalesced in their speeches and writings--most notably Stanton and Anthony's History of Woman Suffrage--provided younger activists with the vital resource of a usable past for the ongoing struggle, and it helped consolidate Stanton and Anthony's leadership against challenges from the grassroots and rival suffragists.

As Tetrault shows, while this mythology has narrowed our understanding of the early efforts to champion women's rights, the myth of Seneca Falls itself became an influential factor in the suffrage movement. And along the way, its authors amassed the first archive of feminism and literally invented the modern discipline of women's history.

2015 Mary Jurich Nickliss Prize, Organization of American Historians

About the Author

Lisa Tetrault is associate professor of history at Carnegie Mellon University.
For more information about Lisa Tetrault, visit the Author Page.


“Tetrault expertly unpacks the myth of Seneca Falls by examining the messy history of the leaders in the post-Civil War women’s rights movement.”—Choice

"This provocative work challenges the standard narrative of the history of the women's rights movement in the United States. Even more important, however, it aids readers in understanding how collective historical memory is created and shaped. . . . Fascinating. . . . Recommended for scholars in women's history, constitutional history, and late 19th-century American history."—Library Journal

“This wonderful book draws on classics, political science, and sociology to fill a large gap in the history of the U.S. women’s movement.”—Journal of Interdisciplinary History

“Useful for any historian looking for a detailed study of women’s organizing after the Civil War as well as for scholars interested in the relationship between collective memory and social movements.”—Journal of American History

“This book should be read by anyone interested in women’s history as well as the history of memory-making.”—Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

“All historians would benefit from reading Tetrault’s study and giving thought to the construction of memory narratives”—American Historical Review