March is Women's History Month, so it's time to honor the female change agents who helped paved the way for women to vote, battled gender discrimination in sports (thanks Title IX!), and who are still fighting for equal pay (props to Patricia Arquette's Oscar speech for drawing attention to the issue). If you'd like to plan a trip that follows in the footsteps of some female rebels who helped change history, check out Seneca Falls, New York.
On June 19th and 20th, 1848, the Seneca Falls Convention took place in the town it was named for. The event brought together female (and a few male) activists who drafted a new women's rights manifesto modeled after the Declaration of Declaration of Independence. The convention was soon followed by a number of others, which helped to bring women's rights into the national conversation—and eventually helped earned them the right to vote. To this day, it is considered by many to be the event that sparked the American feminist movement.
Seneca Falls is located in the western part of New York state, in the scenic Finger Lakes region. It takes just over four hours to drive there from New York City, and around six from Boston. To keep up to date on events happening here, you can download the Seneca Falls app, available for iPhone and Android.
Women's Rights National Historic Park
The main attraction in Seneca Falls is Women's Rights National Historic Park, a National Park Service holding that manages most of the town's historical sites. The best place to start at the park is the Visitor Center, which features a film that gives an excellent overview of the convention and a number of exhibits, including one that chronicles women's fight for equality from the days of the convention to the present day. Before you leave, make sure to check out "The First Wave," a monumental sculpture in the lobby that depicts the founders of the women's rights movement.
Attractions in Town
To truly experience the conference, head down the street to the Wesleyan Chapel, where the actual convention was held. Informational signs and frequent ranger talks outline what happened on the day, while the newly-recreated interior makes it easy to imagine the pivotal events taking place.
Also don't miss the home of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who helped organize the conference and is considered one of the early leaders of the women's rights movement. The house, which Stanton informally named, "Center of the Rebellion," can only be seen during a ranger-led tour, where a park employee shares Stanton's family life and her role in the conference and wider women's movement.
Another woman who was heavily involved in the conference and movement was Mary Ann M'Clintock. Her house is also open to visitors. If you think that one activist's house is enough, though, think again: M'Clintock and her family were abolitionists, and their home acted as a stop on the Underground Railroad. The house and its exhibits, which cover both aspects of her life, should not be missed.
Festivals and Events
If you just can't get enough of the convention and the women who organized it, think about visiting Seneca Falls on the one weekend each year where the entire town turns out to celebrate the convention. Every July, they play host to Convention Days, a massive festival that features speeches, exhibits, food, shopping, and much, much more, all of which are related to the events that happened in 1848.
Your trip is far from over after you've seen all the sites within Women's Rights National Historic Park. Seneca Falls is also home to the National Women's Hall of Fame, which honors notable American women and educates the public about their achievements through exhibits and events. The organization is also currently renovating the Seneca Knitting Mill, a stunning former factory building on the banks of the Erie Canal. If you visit after December 2016, you'll get to experience all the hall of fame has to offer in its new home.
The history of Seneca Falls is not limited to the convention but was also the home of many industrialists who made their money from the booming trade along the Erie Canal in the mid-1800's. You can learn about them and many other aspects of the area's history at the Seneca Falls Historical Society, which is housed in an industrialist's magnificent Victorian mansion.
Once you've had your fill of history, there is even more to explore in Seneca Falls and the surrounding region. The Finger Lakes region is known as one of the most beautiful areas of New York State, and so spending time outdoors is a must. Seneca Falls is located minutes from Cayuga Lake State Park and half hour from Sampson State Park, which are both located on lakes and feature beaches, camping, and much more. The area is also home to more than 100 wineries, breweries, and distilleries.