Friday, October 30, 2015

Lost Documents: The Case of the "Declaration of Sentiments"

          About two weeks ago, the Washington Post published an article entitled "White House is searching for the origins of women's rights." Reported the article, the White House chief technology officer Megan Smith wanted to track down the "Declaration of Sentiments," the document passed at the 1848 Seneca Falls convention organized by and for women in the pursuit of equal political, social, and economic rights. You can read more about it here:

          The only problem is: the document is missing and seems to always have been.

          We know the exact contents of the document because it was published by The North Star and undoubtedly a part of contemporary national media discourse. Smith attempted to track down the original Declaration at the National Archives, but because it's not a federal document, it was never housed in any NARA institution. So, Smith is essentially going on a national hunt to see if anyone knows where it might be housed.

          Is the Declaration housed in an archives? Is it owned by an individual? Or, is it gone forever? The value of the document is obvious, but its absence speaks volumes. For me, the issue is more than just that its missing, but who will house it if it's ever found? David Ferriero, the Archivist of the United States, explicitly stated that it was not currently housed at NARA. However, I wonder if the federal government would ever take possession of it. Perhaps it would be appropriate for the document to be housed in Seneca Falls, New York, but to accession it as a federal document would also make a watershed moment in women's history central rather than peripheral to the American historical narrative.

          Either way, I hope it's found one day. And even though the document itself is lost, its central concept of equality for women has certainly not been lost on us today.

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