Eunice Foote & the Feminist Movement
“That woman is man’s equal…and the highest good of the [human] race demands that she should be recognized as such.”– Resolution adopted at the Women's Rights Convention of 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York.
Eunice Foote was not just an accomplished scientist and inventor, but also a feminist and important player in the 19th century women’s movement. As an educated white, upper middle class, Protestant woman she started her adult life with many advantages. Her access to higher education proved to be the greatest.
Foote’s immersion in feminism began as a teenager at the Troy Female Seminary, the first school for women’s higher education in the country. As a student there she had access to a scientific education as good or better than any of her male peers, for it was the pedagogical aim of the school’s founder to educate women capable of being “the companions, not the satellites, of men.” 2
In 1848 Foote attended the Woman’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York as an active participant. Not only did she sign the Declaration of Sentiments in support of its principles of equality for women in all spheres of life, she was one of five to write up the convention proceedings for publication.
Patent for improved paper making, 1864
By the 1860s, Eunice Foote had filed two mechanical patents under her own name, including one for an improved paper making machine. The process she developed spun the wood fibers both parallel and perpendicular to each other. This served to reduce pulp waste and make a stronger paper product. Her earlier and more profitable invention -- the first thermostatically-controlled cook stove-- her husband patented in 1842 under his own name in part because this stove was expected to be profitable, and married women could not defend their patent rights at the time.
Cover of the proceedings of the first Woman's Rights Convention in 1848
Partners in an egalitarian marriage, both Eunice Foote and her husband Elisha attended. The convention discussed 11 resolutions on women’s rights including one that was added at the last moment: “Resolved, that the speedy success of our cause depends upon the zealous and continuing effort of both men and women…for securing women on an equal participation with men in the various trades, professions and commerce.” As Elizabeth Cady Stanton observed, “Though few women responded to the demand for political rights, many at once saw the importance of equality in the world of work.”
Signatories to the Declaration of Sentiments
Foote’s name on the Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments appears fifth, just after her friend and foremost feminist of the nineteenth century, Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
Cartoon of Women's Rights Convention
As the published proceedings circulated throughout the northern states, the reaction was swift, often contemptuous and down-right hostile. But they had expected such condemnation, writing in the proceedings of the Seneca Falls Convention: “…we anticipate no small amount of misconception, misrepresentation and ridicule.”