How Did the Women’s Rights Movement of the 19th Century Emerge Out of the Abolition Activism?
During the 19th century, the US underwent a couple of significant social reforms. Two of the most important events are slavery abolition and granting of women’s rights. The first women’s meeting ever was held in 1848 at Seneca Falls. It is through the meeting that feminist activists came up with the Declaration of Sentiments, a document cataloguing a series of political, economic and social injustices, which made sure that women enjoyed lesser rights than their male counterparts. For example, they were unable to own property, attain reputable education or even get professional jobs. Spurred on by the Seneca Falls convention success, the activists later formed movements like the National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association. These movements played a crucial role in the enhancement of the role of women in society. This, however would not have been attainable without influence of the Abolition Movement. This paper discusses how the 19th Women’s Rights Movement emerged from abolition activism, as such, demonstrating how anti-slavery activism was a catalyst for the struggle of women’s rights.
How the Women’s Rights Movement Emerged from Abolition Movement
Long before the feminists started campaigning for their own independence and equality, majority of them were fighting prohibition of slavery. For instance, women like Antoinette Brown and Lucy Stone reflected themselves as more of abolitionists rather than feminists. Despite the fact they would play a pivotal role in the women’s rights movement, still they had long term commitment in fighting against slavery. Others like Elizabeth Cady Stanton believed gender based prejudice was largely rooted and more persistent than racial discrimination. However, though her abolition activism was secondary to the rights of women activism, she took part in abolitionist efforts for several decades. Through their involvement in abolition movement, the feminists experienced firsthand, the man was largely rooted and more persistent than racial discrimination. However, though her abolition activism was secondary to the rights of women activism, she took part in abolitionist efforts for several decades. Through their involvement in abolition movement, the feminists experienced firsthand, the manner in which a society dominated by male had a diminished view of them. This motivated them into fighting for their rights (Lecture 15). During the 1820s and 1830s, the number of associations dealing with antislavery grew considerably. Among the biggest was the American Anti-Slavery society (AASS). Though these groups permitted both female and make membership, still, the women were discriminated. For instance, in an initial AASS meeting that was held in 1833 December, no woman was listed as a participant or delegate. What is more, no single woman ever signed the meeting’s own declaration of sentiments. All this took place despite the fact a large number of women attended that meeting. One famous woman, Lucretia Mott, even presented a satisfactory address. Such obvious omission indicate the role played by women in the abolition movement was not appreciated. As a result, women who had sacrificed so much to take part in such meetings felt frustrated. It became apparent they had to organize their own meetings if ever their voices were to be heard in society (Lecture 14). As such, Mott and other original feminists created the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society (PFASS). Maternal associations, however, with non-feminist ideals were most common women organizations during that duration (Document 11 54).
Taking into consideration the gender bias, women had credible justifications in forming their own antislavery movement. Even long before the AASS meeting, they faced similar treatment in other abolitionist organizations. For instance, in 1832, residents of Chester County, Pennsylvania formed Clarkson Anti-Slavery Society (CASS). By forming the movement’s constitution, they categorically wrote everyone would be guarantee free membership regardless of their sex or color. This accordingly meant members of all genders could take part in the activities of the group without any prejudice. Essentially though, this was not the case. For example all the original office holders were men. This proved that women were prohibited in policy formulation. This considerably reduced their voices, as they were forced to follow what was decided by the men (Lecture 14).
Four years later, it was evident that gender prejudice was present in CASS. After receiving numerous members of the year, the leaders made the decision to form a statewide body that was called the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society (PASS). During the inaugural meeting, there was no female listed as having been a delegate or an organizer. For a movement that guaranteed full membership to all genders. The omission was quite remarkable. In that same breadth, earlier in that year, Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society members appointed 11 delegates to attend the inaugural PASS meeting. As such, what made them not to attend remained a mystery. On the other hand, it is suggested, just as what the AASS had done 4 years earlier, they had been omitted completely from the minutes reports (Lecture 14).
Despite these frustrations, many women still took part in the abolition movement. They carried on attending meetings though their output was not acknowledged as much as it was supposed to. For feminists, participating and attending the abolitionist movements gave them crucial insights into how they could fight for the rights of women and slaves. Other events of abolition would play a pivotal role in motivation of the feminists. For example, they learn how to hold public gatherings as well as carry out petition campaigns. Influential women like Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Stanton, also used the platform for purposes of honing their public speaking skills. The bias they faced as a result of their activism is what made it possible for them to develop a philosophy role and place in their society (Lecture 16).
Since the abolitionist movement gained its momentum in the start of 19th century, feminists has not considered seriously forming a movement that would fight for the rights of women. Majority of them had to juggle activism with religious and household responsibilities (Document 12 15). Faced with the predicament of a society that was dominated by makes, they were forced into accepting their position. This was however about to change in 1840. It was during that year that Elizabeth Stanton and her husband, Henry Stanton travelled to London, UK, to attend the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention. In the US, Elizabeth was used to being discriminated against on account she was female. As such, she might have assumed the situation would be different in the UK; she was wrong. In the course of the antislavery meeting, it was evident sex-based bias was thriving. Women attending the convention were now allowed to share their views (Among other kinds of active participation) by being duty-bound to sit at the back of the gallery. To make matters worse, they were forced to sit behind a curtain. What this meant is that all they could do was to listen to the proceedings. To her disbelief, she came to the realization that the English believed women were barred (by religious scriptures) from sharing equal dignity and authority with men in all kinds of reform organizations (Wright 219).
The consequences of the open prejudice against women during the convention were far-reaching, not only to abolitionist movements but to feminism as well. For the first time probably, women were conscious of their diminished view in the global society. Some men as well, became aware of the bias. William Lloyd, for instance, made the decision to boycott the convention and sit behind the curtain as a sign of solidarity with women attendees. The majority of men, however in attendance including Henry Stanton, did not follow his lead. Upon returning to the US, Elizabeth noted the treatment of women during the convention quickly became the hot topic of discussion both in public and private. A large number of the women were hurt deeply by the treatment. Beforehand, they would have brushed it aside and accepted their fate (Lecture 14). However, what they did is gain some new found sense of awareness. The sentiments sparked embers of the women’s rights movement.
Stanton’s experience of inequality firsthand, in a land far from home is what prompted her into taking action. She was especially stung at the low position that women in society were given though they had received assurances to be treated equally. Following that convention, she made the vow to convene a meeting that would rally women into fighting for their position in society. It is this reason that transformed her abolitionist crusade into women suffrage. In this regard, she was not alone. Lucretia Mott as well was disheartened by such turn of events. Together with Stanton, they came to the realization they could never make lasting impact on the campaign for gender and racial equality if they were unable to rally women together. The women’s rights movement therefore was born around that time. However, for several years, it did not gain any ground. Majority of women appeared preoccupied with being good wives and mothers (Document 11 54).
Between 1840 and 1848, Elizabeth Stanton, Susan B Anthony, Lucretia Mott, Mary Gove as well as other influential feminists dedicated a large part of their life towards encouraging the remainder of the US on the necessity of giving women equal rights. After a couple of years of activism, they begun to solely focus on women suffrage. Stanton was viewed as the chief philosopher and publicist of the young women’s rights movement. She wrote several speeches that other feminists used in order to attract more support for the movement. For 8 years, these women took part in many lectures and women events. The organizational skills they gained from their participation in the abolition movement came in handy during that duration (Document 14 54).
The women’s rights movement made the first ever breakthrough in 1848. In July that same year, a group of women held a meeting at a private Waterloo residence, New York. In attendance were Martha coffin Wright, Elizabeth Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Jane Hunt and Mary Ann M’ Clintock among others. The meeting’s agenda was how the convention for women rights would proceed (Lecture 15).
The Women’s Rights Convention was held at Seneca Falls on July 19th-20th. This proved to be the first, major breakthrough of the women’s rights movement. The meeting, which ran for two days became a matter of national attention. More importantly, it raised awareness of the plight of the American woman in the 19th century. Feminists of that time used the platform for purpose of arguing for the granting of equal rights to both genders. They drew from popular philosophy as a demonstration of how women were continuously denied their natural rights. Targeting the continued oppression of women, they alluded how the British used the same tactics to justify colonialism. In essence, they managed to show attendees how they were being colonized by men. The message resonated across the board, men included. In order to draw support from different quarters, the organizers had invited abolitionist crusaders, enlightened men as well as understanding husbands. For 2 days, the convention ran on and it received great attention from the public (Lecture 15).
The outcome of the Seneca Falls Convention was Declaration of Sentiments. The document was modeled in form of the Declaration of Independence, as such, symbolically underpinning their argument women oppression was something akin to colonialism. Additionally, it demonstrated the resolve to fight for gender acceptance and equality as full citizens. They made the argument they were created equally and were bestowed with inalienable rights by the Creator. This was inclusive of the right to life, pursuit of liberty and happiness. The declaration virtually address all areas of inequality like education, job opportunities as well as earnings. Also, it explained double standards that existed between men and women (Lecture 15).
Organizers of the meeting as well criticized denial of women’s voting rights. Stanton had always believed it was the right key towards granting both genders equal rights. However, it was not till the 20th century that the right was granted. Still, the convention proved to be a resounding success for the women’s rights movement (Lecture 15). Over the next decade, more such meetings would be held.
The American Civil War significantly derailed activities of the women’s rights movement. As a result of its onset, the national women’s rights conventions was not held. Second, intensification of the war also meant its conclusion was a far more pressing concern. Factors such as these caused the momentum the women’s rights movement had acquired to come to a stop. Majority of the activists refocused their energies on abolishment of the movement. For example, Lucy Stone and Susan B Anthony proposed formation of an organization where African Americans and the women could work as one towards fighting universal suffrage (Lecture 14). The proposal was received with plenty of approval from a large percentage of feminists. This also led to formation of the American Equal Rights Association. Founders of the association were Susan B Anthony, Fredrick Douglas, Lucy Stone and Elizabeth Stanton.
The women suffrage movement was born out of the abolitionist movement. As such, it appeared fit that the two movements would enjoy success in bringing universal rights when combined. However, this was never achieved (Lecture 14). Once the civil war came to an end, the 15th Amendment was passed by the legislature granting former African American slaves the right to vote. Some members of the combined movement were happy as they believed things were moving in the proper direction yet, others were unhappy as women were accorded equal rights to vote. Such opinion split led to a rift in the organization; which soon after, collapsed.
The women’s rights movement arose from the abolitionist movement. While the women were excited about taking part in antislavery events, they were discriminated against openly. For a long time, they preserved and it appeared as if they accepted their fate. This, was however to change in the 1840 World’s Anti-Slavery Convention. Women, in an open show of prejudice were forced to sit behind a curtain to listen to what men had to say. It is such shocking turn of events that forced them into reconsidering their involvement in the abolitionist movement. After a couple of years, they left the movement altogether for purposes of fighting for women equality. Their achievement highlight was the Seneca Falls convention. The meeting however would not have been a success if they had not learn the art of organizing meetings, public speaking and making petitions from their early abolitionist activism.
Document 11: Excerpts from “Maternal Associations,” Advocate of Moral Reform, 1 April 1840, p. 54.
Document 12: Excerpt from “Hints to Young Ladies on an Important Subject,” Advocate of Moral Reform, 1 August 1840, p. 115.
Document 14: Excerpt from “Important Lectures to Females,” Editorial, Advocate of Moral Reform, 1 March 1839, p. 44.
Wright, Francis. Excerpt from “Letter XXIII: Condition of Women,” (March 1820) in Views of Society and Manners in America (London: Longman, 1821; reprinted in Views of Society and Manners in America (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1963), pp. 217-22.