A doll’s House, Declaration of Sentiments, and Declaration of Independence

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Declaring One’s Rights

A Doll’s House, Declaration of Sentiments, and Declaration of Independence
“I don't believe that any longer. I believe that before all else I am a reasonable human being, just as you are—or, at all events, that I must try and become one. I know quite well, Torvald, that most people would think you right, and that views of that kind are to be found in books; but I can no longer content myself with what most people say, or with what is found in books. I must think over things for myself and get to understand them.”

—A Doll House—Henrik Ibsen

“When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one portion of the family of man to assume among the people of the earth a position different from that which they have hitherto occupied, but one to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes that impel them to such a course.”

—Declaration of Sentiments—Elizabeth Cady Stanton

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

—Declaration of Independence—Thomas Jefferson


This unit provides teachers an opportunity to expose students to two primary source texts integral to the history of the United States after their study of the play, A Doll’s House. It should serve as an example for teachers of ways to integrate “seminal U.S. documents of historical and literary significance” (RI 9) into their current curriculum units.

During this unit, student will compare/contrast women’s status, themes, and grievances from the 18th/19th to 20th/21st century. Students will compare the Declaration of Sentiments with another familiar document, the Declaration of Independence. Students will identify specific quotes from A Doll’s House that directly relate to the Declaration of Sentiments and Hillary Rodham Clinton’s speech on women’s rights given in 1995.
Finally, students will use all the knowledge gained from their analysis of these works to conduct research on women in 18th/19thcentury and women in 20th/21st century. Using this research, students will create an electronic bulletin board comparing women of A Doll’s House era with women of the present day.
In addition, teachers may opt for the alternative assessment that requires students to write a narrative piece based on information learned in this unit and their research on women’s issues.
Learning Outcomes

  1. Students will compare and contrast the Declaration of Independence with the Declaration of Sentiments, and analyze which grievances appear in both and which appear only in the later.

  2. Students will assess and evaluate when and why Stanton’s text differs from the original source material.

  3. Students will record evidence of Nora’s grievances against her husband that align with the same grievances in Stanton’s Declaration of Sentiments to illustrate the shared theme of women’s inalienable rights.

  4. Students will compare and contrast Clinton’s speech with the play and the declaration, and analyze which grievances appear in all three, or only two, or only in a single speech.

  5. Students will research the roles of American women in the 18th/19th Century versus the 20th/21st century.

  6. Students will utilize an electronic board to represent the roles of women in different time periods through a mix of print, visual, and audio materials.

  7. Students will analyze three to four similarities and differences between the two time periods as represented on their electronic board and write about their thoughts and observations about the changing role of American women.

Curriculum Alignment

RL 2

Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze…how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details.

RL 6

Analyze a particular point of view or cultural experience reflected in a work of literature from outside the United States, drawing on a wide reading of world literature.

RL 9

Analyze how an author draws on and transforms source material in a specific work.

RI 1

Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

RI 2

Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.

RI 5

Analyze in detail how an author’s ideas or claims are developed and refined by particular sentences, paragraphs, or larger portions of a text.

RI 9

Analyze seminal U.S. documents of historical and literary significance (e.g., Washington’s Farewell Address, the Gettysburg Address, Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech, King’s ―Letter from Birmingham Jail‖), including how they address related themes and concepts.


Write informative/ explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.


Integrate quantitative or technical analysis (e.g., charts, research data) with qualitative analysis in print or digital text.


Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.

Classroom Time Required

The unit begins after students have finished their reading of A Doll’s House. Depending on the number of exercises the teacher chooses to do and whether students work in groups or individually, the unit should take anywhere from two-three 60-minute periods.

Period One: Introduce Declaration of Sentiments Reading (Handout 1)

Period Two: Introduce and Complete Women’s Rights are Human Rights (Handouts 2)

Period Three: Final Assessment (Handout 3 introduce and started in class but can be completed outside of class)
Teacher Preparation

*Note: there are two versions of each handout provided, a Teacher’s Edition (TE) and a Student Edition (SE)

  1. Read Declaration of Sentiments (go to: http://www.library.csi.cuny.edu/dept/history/lavender/2decs.html)

  2. Review Declaration of Independence (go to: http://www.library.csi.cuny.edu/dept/history/lavender/2decs.html)

  3. Read Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Speech, Women’s Rights are Human Rights (http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/hillaryclintonbeijingspeech.htm)

Materials Needed

  1. Copies of Declaration of Sentiments if computers are not available.

  2. Copies of Hillary Rodham Clinton speech, Women’s Rights are Human Rights, if computers are not available.

  3. Copies of handout #1 (Declaration of Sentiments questions)

  4. Copies of handout #2 (SOAPS—Blank Copy for students)

  5. Copies of Triple Venn Diagram

  6. Copies of handout #3 (Final assessment)

Technology Resources

  1. Teachers may need a laptop and projector to play audio clips of the speeches.


  1. Read and discuss A Doll’s House


  1. Read entire Declaration of Sentiments and Women’s Rights are Human Rights Speeches

Guided Practice

  1. After students have read and discussed A Doll’s House, read aloud the Declaration of Sentiments. Then as a class activity, answer the questions.

  2. Next have students work in groups of 2-3 to find the passages from A Doll’s House that match the historical quotes from the Declaration of Sentiments.

  3. On the next day, play Hillary Clinton’s speech and have student complete the SOAPS activity either individually or in groups. Then have students in groups of 2-3 compare and contrast A Doll’s House, the Declaration of Sentiments, and Hillary Clinton’s speech using the Triple Venn Diagram.

  4. On the last day, introduce the Final Assessment project and give students an opportunity to work on it class to be finish outside of class.


  1. See Handout #3—Final Assessment


Alternative Assessments

  1. Have students find currents events on the plight of women in the 21st Century that relates to themes of A Doll’s House. Once students have found a current, then have students process/read the current using one reading strategies that they have utilized throughout the year. i.e. SOAPS, APPARTS, 3-2-1 etc. Next, have students write a narrative conveying the experiences of the woman in their current event.

Critical Vocabulary

  1. The following words are from The Declaration of Sentiments. Teachers may wish to provide additional exercises with a small number of the words.

    1. Impel (verb) to drive or urge forward; press on; incite or constrain to action

    2. Inalienable (adjective) not transferable to another or capable of being repudiated

    3. Instituted (verb) to set up; establish; organize

    4. Allegiance (noun) the loyalty of a citizen to his or her government or of a subject to his or her sovereign

    5. Prudence (noun) caution with regard to practical matters; discretion

    6. Usurpation (noun) wrongful or illegal encroachment, infringement, or seizure (usurp is the verb)

    7. Despotism (noun) the exercise of absolute authority (despot is the noun)

    8. Tyranny (noun) arbitrary or unrestrained exercise of power (tyrannical is the adjective)

    9. Candid (adjective) open and sincere

    10. Franchise (noun) the right to vote, especially for representatives in a legislative body; suffrage

    11. Impunity (noun) with no care or heed for such consequences

    12. Remuneration (noun) pay; recompense

    13. Apostolic (adjective) of or relating to the pope regarded as chief successor of the Apostles

    14. Prerogative (noun) an exclusive right, privilege, etc.

    15. Disfranchisement (noun) act of depriving a person of a right of citizenship (disfranchise is the verb)

    16. Degradation (noun) a decline to a low moral state or a decline in dignity


  1. PBS website on the women’s movement: Not for Ourselves Alone


  1. Glogster website for electronic bulletin boards


  1. Glogster Example


  1. Declaration of Independence and Declaration of Sentiments side by side http://www.library.csi.cuny.edu/dept/history/lavender/2decs.html

  2. CNN Video of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s speech


  1. Print version of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s speech


We hope teachers find this lesson plan useful in helping to meet several of the new Common Core Anchor Standards. Even if teachers do not intend to use this particular unit in whole or in part, we hope that it has served as a model or a catalyst for the creation of lesson plans on other works of literature, linking fiction texts to informational texts and primary source documents, especially seminal documents in U.S. History.

Author Info

Geoff Belcher teaches all three levels of senior English (Standard, Honors, and AP) at Wake Forest-Rolesville High School in Wake Forest, North Carolina. He has taught all 20 years of his career in the Wake County Public School System. He holds National Board Certification and was selected as a 2012 Kenan Fellow.

Marlin Jones teaches U. S. History (both levels) and AP Human Geography at Panther Creek High School in Cary, North Carolina. He has taught levels (Standard, Honors, and AP) and all high school grade levels in the last 13 years of teaching. He holds National Board Certification and was selected as a 2012 Kenan Fellow.

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