The Women’s Suffrage movement
Having the right to vote was critical if women were going to be able to secure other rights within American society. Women did not have access to the same education as men, the same jobs as men. The most prestigious schools only admitted men. When women were employed in the few occupations that were deemed appropriate such as teaching for example, they were paid less than their male counterparts. For unmarried women, they were able to own property, enter in legal contracts, sue and be sued. Once a woman married, she lost those rights. When women married, they promised to obey – her husband became a master of sorts. Susan B. Anthony never married as a result of that fact. Under the eyes of the law, women belonged to their husbands. Their property, inheritance, wages, went to their husbands. In 1848, NY passed the Married Women’s Property Act. This law allowed woman to own and control their property. Other states used this law to pass similar ones.
For women, their rights were few. If their husband gambled away his earnings she had little recourse. If he was violent and abusive, she had little recourse. In the eyes of the law she was the equivalent to a child. Even in cases of divorce which were not common, men tended to be given the children. Only very young children and daughters were ever given custody to women in cases of divorce.
In 1840, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton attempted to attend the World Anti- Slavery Convention in London. They were banned from entering because they were women. It is important to note that many people who were abolitionists supported Women’s Suffrage and many who were Suffragists were abolitionists. This alliance would continue until the debate over the wording and ultimate passage of the 15th Amendment in 1870. Many women suffragists argued that the word gender needed to be added to the amendment and when that was refused, many abolitionists felt betrayed by their female counterparts and the women’s movement felt betrayed by their abolitionist supporters.
Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton would go on to host a women’s right convention which eventually became known as The Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 after meeting again a Tea party. The Seneca Falls Convention was held in upstate New York over two days. The first day only women were allowed to attend and on the second day, the meeting was opened to men as well. This event is known as the beginning of the Women’s Suffrage Movement. At the Seneca Falls Convention, The Declaration of Sentiments which was read and signed by both male and female attendees. Written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the Declaration of Sentiments was modeled after the Declaration of Independence. Declaring that both men and women were equal. The document highlighted the areas within society were women were held as second class citizens and were unequal to men. Access to education, equal protection under the law, the right to enter into legal contracts, property ownership, and of course, the right to vote. They argued that the only time women were recognized by the government was in terms of taxes.
Today, in Seneca Falls, there is a wonderful museum. You can see the Wesleyan Chapel where 300 people attended the convention. Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s house where she raised her 7 children. And the home of Mary McClintock where the Declaration of Sentiments was written.
During the Civil War years, the movement for women’s suffrage and temperance were put on hold. Women focused on the war effort. In the years following the Civil War and Slavery was abolished and the 15th amendment stipulated that the right to vote could not be denied or abridged based on race or previous condition of servitude, the fight to extend the right to vote to women continued.
There were some states and territories that allowed women the right to vote. NJ for example, gave women the right to vote until 1807 when they took it away.
In 1869, Wyoming became the first state to give women the right to vote.
Many western states and territories granted women full citizenship and the right to vote if they were over the age of 21.
Jeannette Rankin was 1st woman elected to the US House of Representatives in Montana
Martha Hughes Cannon 1st woman elected to be a state senator. She was from Utah. A doctor with degrees in both Chemistry and Pharmacy. She was also the 4th wife of a Mormon Polygamist and had to step down after she gave birth to her 3rd child. The US government used the birth of a child to prove polygamous unions which they were trying to put an end to.
Susan B. Anthony is probably the most famous of the leaders of Women’s Suffrage movement. She comes from a family of activists. Raised a Quaker, she was guided by the belief that all people are equal in the eyes of God. She was also a supporter of The Abolitionist and Temperance Movement. She met Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1851 and they formed a lifelong bond. Often traveling around the country and giving speeches in support of suffrage. In 1872 she was arrested and fined $100 for voting illegally. Today, many women in particular will go to her gravesite on election day and place their I Voted stickers on her grave.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton doesn’t get the same praise as Susan B. Anthony but she should. She came from a wealthy family and like Anthony, also supported Abolition. After her marriage she moved to Seneca Falls and had 7 children. She would write the speeches and Susan B. Anthony who was unmarried and had no children, was able to travel around the country giving those speeches. She helped to author two books, one was a history of the suffrage movement and the other was called The Woman’s Bible which discussed the way women were portrayed throughout the Bible created a bias. Elizabeth Cady Stanton was seen as too radical as result of this book and her work in support of reproductive rights for women. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton couldn’t have led more different lives. Stanton’s role as wife and mother limited her ability to do as much as Susan B Anthony but I would go as far to say that without Elizabeth Cady Stanton, you don’t have Susan B. Anthony.
Lucretia Mott who helped to organize The Seneca Falls Convention with Elizabeth Cady Stanton was also a married woman and a mother to 6 children. She was a member of William Lloyd Garrison’s Anti-Slavery society and helped to found the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery society. I mentioned earlier that her and Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s inability to participate at the convention in London led them to organize the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 after another chance meeting at a tea party. She worked to further the movement for women’s equality and her speech titles a Discourse on Woman was published and widely read. In it she made the case for granting political rights for woman and how current conditions for married women and a lack of access to higher education led women to be considered inferior.
Not All women suffragists were white women. Many women of color where leaders within the movement and as a result of the race, were unable to vote in 1920 as white women were. There were so many and I hate to only highlight a few, but for times constraints I will talk about one known and two lesser known.
Sojourner Truth a former slave whose freedom was purchased by Abolitionist Family. Was also a wife and mother and had a number of her children sold as slaves to other people. An Abolitionist and a supporter of Women’s Suffrage. Influenced by the fiery preachers of The Second Great Awakening, she too became a preacher and changed her name from Isabella to Sojourner Truth. In 1851, she spoke at Women’s Suffrage Conference in Akron, Ohio. Her “Aint I a Woman” speech, attacked the notion that women were a weaker sex. You have to imagine the image of this woman was almost 6 feet tall giving this beautiful and impassioned speech, detailing the hard labor she was forced to do and violent punishments she suffered during her years as a slave.
“That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place!”
She had born 13 children and seen most sold into slavery and when she cried out in grief non but Jesus heard her. At the end of the speech, she thanks the audience for listening to her and end with “and Old Sojourner ain’t got nothing more to say. I mean, that’s a drop the mic moment if there ever was one.
Fannie Barrier Williams is lesser known that she should be. She was from Rochester, NY and was the 1st African American to earn a degree at the State Normal School. She became a teacher and worked in the South during the post-civil war or reconstruction era. She saw first-hand the horrific way Black Americans were treated in the south. She helped to create The National Association for Colored Women and helped WEB DuBois establish the NAACP. Her belief in advancing educational opportunities for women of color helped countless women of color.
In 1869, The National Women Suffrage Association was created by Lucy Stone, Henry Blackwell Mary Livermore and others.
Above the titles of wife and mother, which, although dear, are transitory and accidental, there is the title human being, which precedes and out-ranks every other.
The NWSA was More radical and created by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony (NWSA) they encouraged women to attempt to vote and when they were arrested, to use the court system to bring about change. Each group working to gain the right to vote on their own but, in 1890, these groups merged and became known as National American Women Suffrage Association (NAWSA) Susan B. Anthony was the first President and then Carrie Chapman Catt. The Progressive Era and WWI would both embolden the arguments for women to gain the right to vote. By 1912 and 1913, we start to see Suffrage Parades and in 1917, The National Women’s Party established by Alice Paul.
Catt’s focus on securing the right to vote in NY finally paid off in 1917.
began protesting in front of the White House. The Silent Sentinels as they were called stood in front of the white house holding banners quoting President Woodrow Wilson, or asking him, how long American women would have to wait for Liberty. Many thought that while Men were fighting oppression in Europe, it was unpatriotic for these women to protest in front of the White House. Unlike, during the civil war, women did not stop their fight for equality and the right to vote. Many of the silent sentinels including Alice Paul were continuously arrested. Their peaceful protests in front of the white house were often met with violence. Knowing the likelihood of arrest and violence did not deter women from showing up to protest the next day. A wonderful film to show on this Iron Jawed Angels. It does a wonderful job of showing the tireless dedication and even the hunger strikes many went on while in prison for trying to gain the right to vote. Another favorite of mine is the book “Jailed for Freedom” by Suffragist Doris Stevens who wrote a first-hand account of what she went through to secure liberty for women.
The 19th amendment was approved by the final state needed in August of 1920 by one vote. Representative Harry T Burns who changed his vote after receiving a telegram from his mother. Women gained the hard won right to vote with the passage of the 19th amendment but not all women would immediately benefit from it. For Asian women, the Chinese Exclusion Act banned Chinese women from voting until it was repealed in 1943. Jim Crow Laws would limit women of color for being able to exercise their right to vote in many states until the mid-1960s. Women getting the right to vote was an important stepping stone to equality that many of the activists we discussed, didn’t live to see. So much was needed to be done. Access to education, employment in a variety of fields would take decades more. Up to as recently as 1970, women needed to have their husband’s signature in order to be able to get a credit card. Women are still paid less in some industries as their male counterparts and white women are often paid more than women of color. The movement for women’s equality is still very much alive and well.
The Abolition Movement
Now in terms in some content and information, we are going to go more in depth on some of the individuals and topics on future podcasts on causes of the civil war and the Civil War and Reconstruction podcasts that will be coming out in a few weeks.
Calls to end the institution of Slavery began very early on. When people think of slavery in the United States, they tend to think of it as something that happened in the Southern States. Now, while the Southern States developed a society fully dependent on the institution of slavery. It existed in the North and western territories as well. While states like Vermont and Massachusetts were the first states to ban slavery, there was no immediate emancipation. States would free children born after a certain date, many states kept them as apprentices working for free up to a certain age. When Pennsylvania served as our country’s second capital, it had banned slavery, but President George Washington argues that he could bring his slaves with him because technically he was a resident of Virginia where it was legal there. It’s important to understand just how much slavery was present throughout the country. Even after any Northern states worked to gradually bring an end to it by the early 1800s, the northern states still continued to benefit from it. With many northern states’ trading ports acting as a hub of the International slave trade before it was banned, eventually with the rise of northern factories, where were those raw materials coming from to keep the textile mills running? They were coming from Southern Plantations. So while many in the North sought an end to Slavery, they were very much intertwined in the institution themselves.
The formal abolition movement began around the 1830s. An abolitionist was an individual who sought to bring an end to slavery. The movement was inspired by the religious revivals of the second great awakening. Abolitionists looked at slavery through both a moral and religious lens. Slaves were not considered people; they were considered property. Things to be purchased and sold, things to be treated any way their master wished. In the South where slavery was most common, it’s important to have a general understanding of who lived in the south. When some talk of the south they think it was two groups. Wealthy white plantation owners and slaves. That’s not the full picture. For white southerners, yes you have your wealthy planter class which were those who owned 20 or more slaves, had lavish homes and acted as nobility. Within this class was also where the political power of southern society rested. The majority of white southerners were either small farmers or landless tenant farmers. Small farmers had a handful of slaves and tended to work alongside of them. Now don’t take this to mean that the slaves in this category had better treatment or lived lives that were less harsh. At the bottom of white southern society, you had poor whites who worked as tenant farmers. For the Southern Black community, you have slaves and you have freed blacks. Freed blacks could have won their independence in the American revolution, been descendants of those who won their freedom in the revolution and thus were always free or those who purchased their freedom or were granted their freedom upon the death of their owners. If a slave had runaway to the North or west and been freed, they didn’t return to the south. There was typically a bounty on your head and your owner wanted you back. Abolitionists worked to bring awareness to the evils of slavery, to write stories and show pictures of the treatment and conditions of the people forced to be slaves. There were many famous abolitionists. Each making their mark and helping to pave the way for freedom.
Slave resistance and revolts:
Slowdowns, runaways, and slave revolts which were the ultimate forms of resistance. Slave Codes were passed which limited the ability and opportunities for the enslaved to plan revolts and combined acts of resistance. These laws were designed to prevent runaways and rebellions. For example, illegal for the enslaved to read and write, to be out after dark, couldn’t assemble or own weapons. While illegal to learn how to read and write some were taught by their owners.
Yet even with these restrictions, you do see rebellions and slave revolts.
Denmark Vesey was a freed black and planned a slave revolt in Charleston, South Carolina in 1822. His plan was to seize weapons from the town arsenal and horses and liberate as many slaves in the area and then sail to Haiti. The plot was uncovered and Vesey along with dozens of others were arrested and executed for their involvement in the plot.
Nat Turner’s revolt in Virginia in 1831. He along with 4 other enslaved men, killed their owners and moved from plantation to plantation attempting to free others who were enslaved and killed more than 50 southern whites. Turner was captured and hanged, it terrified slave owners and led to even more restrictive rules.
John Brown in 1859, a white abolitionist attempted to seize a federal weapons arsenal in Harpers Ferry VA. His goal was to arm local slaves which would lead to a rebellion and end to slavery. He was captured and his plot was unsuccessful. We will talk more about John Brown and Harper’s Ferry in a future podcast on causes of The Civil War.
William Lloyd Garrison began his weekly newspaper “The Liberator” in 1831 and continued through the civil war. He was considered radical for his belief and support in immediate emancipation. For 35 years, week after week the stories and images helped to spread awareness of the evils of slavery and promote the movement throughout the North.
In 1833, Garrison helped to establish the American Anti-Slavery Society. Garrison and the members of this society, quickly drew up its manifesto which declared its goal of working to bring about immediate emancipation, the belief that no one had the right to enslave another or deny education, slave owners were undeserving of compensation for freeing their slaves and that the issue of slavery could not be left up to individual states. It was the federal government that should and has the right to abolish slavery. The American Anti-Slavery society had many notable members: Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, Lucy Stone and Frederick Douglas just to name a few.
Frederick Douglass was born into slavery and spent 20 years as a slave before finally being able to run away to freedom. He moved to Massachusetts after he was married and it was while attending local abolitionist meetings, where he met William Lloyd Garrison. He was often a guest speaker at meetings, detailing his life and gave first-hand accounts of the evils of slavery. He then wrote his first autobiography
Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American slave. He went on to travel throughout Europe giving speeches where his audience was so moved by his story, they wrote to his former owner and purchased his freedom. Gilda Lehrman has great resources on this. You can get transcripts of many the letters that led to his freedom. After that, Frederick Douglass was no longer considered a fugitive slave but a free man in the eyes of the law. Like Garrison, Douglass published an abolitionist newsletter known as The North Star. He would go on to write more books, become an advisor to President Lincoln, an ambassador to Haiti, and was appointed Marshall of the District of Columbia during the Presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes.
Sojourner Truth, who like Frederick Douglass was born into slavery and was owned by a slave holding family in New York. She was owned by a number of different families and eventually ran away and found refuge with a family who were abolitionists and purchased her freedom. A supporter of abolition and feminism until her death. Her speeches detailing her experiences as a slave helped to further the abolitionist movement.
Harriet Tubman was born into slavery and was able to runway to the North by using the Underground Railroad. She became one of the most famous conductors on the underground railroad, putting her life and freedom at risk numerous times she helped to about 70 people from slavery. She became known as Moses for all of the people she saved. Tubman whose body was scarred from the brutal whippings she received as a slave was an abolitionist and also supported the women’s suffrage movement.
The Underground Railroad was a made up of abolitionists and safe houses that helped to bring people to the northern United States and Canada to freedom. Conductors would be at various stops to guide the passenger onto the next stop or hide them until it was safe to continue on the journey. Often times, the Ohio River served as the first glimpse of freedom. Once in the Northern states, runaway slaves could then be more easily helped abolitionists. Runaways traveled at night and risked being caught, beaten or killed. In 1850 when the Fugitive Slave Act was passed, simply getting to Northern States no lingered guaranteed freedom and for many people had to continue north to Canada where the British Government had already abolished slavery.
The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center has great resources. I highly recommend going to freedomcenter.org and taking a look at them. Great resources in teaching connections to today with resources on implicit bias and modern day slavery.
Unlike the other movements we discussed in this two-part episode, the Abolition movement alone wouldn’t bring about freedom. It would take the Civil War to do that. With the Emancipation Proclamation which went into effect of Jan. 1, 1863 – the war became not just a political war to preserve the union but a moral war to end slavery. With the passage of the 13th amendment which abolished slavery, 14th amendment which granted citizenship and the 15th amendment which stipulated that the right to vote couldn’t be denied or bridged on the basis of race or previous conditions of servitude the goals of the abolition movement were realized. Slavery was abolished but the road to true freedom and equality was still one laden with obstacles. The Civil Rights movement would bring an end to Jim Crow
Laws and segregation that became the status quo after the Civil War ended. Even today the fight for equality and inclusiveness continues.
Abolitionseminar.org which is NEH funded is a great resource and has a number of lesson plan activities.
Slavery still exists around the world. People, especially women and young girls are trafficked and forced into prostitution. In the US hundreds of thousands of young children are at risk for being sexually exploited. In countries around the world people are sold and forced to do hard labor.
Race relations in the United States. Schools throughout the United States are still not fully integrated, you have neighborhoods that are predominately white and predominately minority communities. You have a huge difference to how people with black and brown skin are treated when protesting and when white people are protesting. You have the BLM movement looking to bring awareness to the inequality that exists within American society and the work that is being done to bring an end to systemic racism and allow for true equality. Many of these movements that are still alive and well today can trace their roots back to these original movements. Think of how much society could be improved if we all took it as our responsibility to end injustices that exist within our communities. No longer look at them as someone else’s job to fix but our own responsibility to improve.