When Elizabeth Cady Stanton first proposed the idea that women ought to be able to vote, Lucretia Mott, a Quaker minister, gasped in horror and exclaimed, ''Why Lizzie, thee will make us ridiculous!'' ''Lizzie's'' husband was so embarrassed at his wife's audacity that he left town for several days.
It was July 19, 1848, when Elizabeth Cady Stanton made her ''ridiculous'' proposal - the most controversial of 12 resolutions approved at the first women's rights convention. Homemakers Stanton and Mott held the historymaking meeting in a little chapel in the quiet village of Seneca Falls, in western New York. The issues raised there were to be debated into the next century.
On July 17, the National Park Service officially opened the Women's Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, honoring the birthplace of the 19 th-century women's rights movement. Congress passed legislation in December 1980 establishing the only national park to commemorate it.
The park now consists of a visitor center and the Stanton home, plus additional sites within the 475-acre historic district and in nearby Waterloo. The Elizabeth Cady Stanton Foundation, formed by local citizens to purchase the Stanton home for preservation, officially turned the home over to the Park Service at the opening.
Actor Alan Alda, a Stanton Foundation director and contributor, participated in the opening as part of a three-day celebration. Weekend activities included area tours with park rangers, induction of two honorees into the Women's Hall of Fame, a women's history conference, and a Victorian lawn party.
The Women's Rights National Historical Park is the only national park to be opened this year. ''This opening is a tribute to the many groups, individuals, and agencies who worked to bring this together,'' park superintendent Judy Hart says.
Lucille Povero, founder and first president of the Stanton Foundation, says of the 1848 Seneca Falls convention: ''It changed the course of history. . . .''
The 300 women and men at the convention that year addressed such issues as property rights, equal pay, access to education and employment, the double standard in morality, divorce reform, church leadership, child custody, and, of course, voting rights. Barely a third of those present signed the resolutions. Few people were willing to sign their names to such radical demands - especially the one claiming the right to vote.
It wasn't until 1920 that ''Lizzie's'' ''ridiculous'' proposal became a reality - 72 years after the Seneca Falls convention, and 18 years after her passing.
''But we are still debating most of the other issues raised at the convention ,'' observes the Stanton Foundation's Lucille Povero.