1968: While radical feminism boiled, Seneca Falls laid foundation for women’s hall of fame

By Sarah Taddeo, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, on Oct. 18, 2018

While feminist sentiment was boiling over in other parts of the country during 1968, women’s rights activism in the western New York town of Seneca Falls — the crucible of the women’s rights movement in America — had drifted into relative complacency.

Mentions of local women’s rights trailblazers like Elizabeth Cady Stanton were rare, and the Wesleyan Chapel where the pivotal 1848 Seneca Falls Convention was held was a laundromat.

“There was only a tiny little sign out front…it was terrible,” said Shirley Hartley, 79, of Hernando, Florida, who at the time was a pregnant 29-year-old and who has just retired as a secretary at a local college. “And I thought, ‘That is ironic.’”

Mere months later, Hartley and others would become standard bearers for a less militant brand of feminism championed by local women who weren’t comfortable with the fiery dissent of the Women’s Liberation Movement on prominent public display.

That fall, Women’s Lib protesters burst into the American consciousness at the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City, burning bras and mops and cementing a critical cultural milestone into the nation’s history and popular culture.

Hartley and others weren’t necessarily looking for radical change — but they wanted to remember women who had advanced the fight for women’s rights in the years prior. And so the National Women’s Hall of Fame began to take shape.

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