The picturesque village of Seneca Falls, N.Y., is known for many things—some say it inspired the classic film “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and others know it as the booming industrial part of The Flats. But if you ask Ann Rayner, a Walden University MS in Higher Education student, her hometown is the birthplace of the American women’s rights movement.
Ann proudly recalls growing up in Seneca Falls with a very deep sense of belonging to a community with a rich history “you just feel.” Seneca Falls is where the first Women’s Rights Convention took place in 1848 and it is now the home of the National Women’s Hall of Fame and the Women’s Rights National Historical Park.
“Paradoxically, growing up, the town’s Laundromat was the Wesleyan Chapel, where the convention was held to discuss expanding the role of women in America and the Declaration of Sentiments was signed by 68 women and 32 men stating that all men and women are created equal,” says Ann.
Many of the town’s buildings had been privately owned with only a state marker outside to designate historical significance. It wasn’t until after the Hall of Fame opened in 1969 that the town and park service started to purchase Seneca Falls’ historical buildings and masterfully restore them to their original glory, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s house, which was referred to as the “Center of the Rebellion” and home to the women’s rights activist.
While Ann was studying women’s studies at nearby SUNY Geneseo, her mother heard the town was trying to obtain the land to create the Women’s Rights National Historical Park. Wanting to put her education to good use, Ann accepted an internship to help develop the first park dedicated to women.
“Normally it takes about five years for a park like this to open, but we did it in two and a half months,” explains Ann, who later became the park’s first interpretive ranger at age 22. “We were passionate and worked our tails off developing tours around the park’s many canals, covering all the major historical events that happened with women leaders and abolitionists such as Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott.”
Ann credits the town’s diverse population, ripe with Quakers, Shakers, and other progressive thinkers, with influencing her perspective. “It is second nature to me to always be passionate about not just women’s rights but the rights of all people because of the way I was raised,” adds Ann. “I’m lucky to have parlayed my experience into my academics and into my profession.”
Explore the lives of the women who have influenced Ann and celebrate National Women’s History Month with Walden University by attending the Women’s History Month Speaker Series. Register for the event and learn more at www.WaldenU.edu/celebratingwomen.
(image from the Lakeland Ledger, July 19, 1982)