Chapter 4: American Transcendentalism
The Women's Rights Movement
The Women's Rights Movement
Source: Library of Congress - Seneca Falls Convention
Seneca Falls Woman's Rights Convention, July 19-20, 1848
"In July 1848, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott gathered together a group of women to plan the first women's rights convention to be held in Seneca Falls, New York. They modeled their agenda on antislavery and temperance conventions, and Stanton modeled her draft of The Declaration of Sentiments on the 1776 The Declaration of Independence. After discussion and amendments, the document received a hundred signatures from both women and men. Following the convention, the proceedings were ridiculed by clergy and in the press, and many of the women who had signed the declaration subsequently removed their names and their influence. In her autobiography, Eighty Years and More (1898), Stanton wrote, "If I had had the slightest premonition of all that was to follow that convention, I fear I should not have had the courage to risk it." The Declaration of Sentiments initiated Stanton's writing career on behalf of women's lives and women's rights, a career that would extend until her death in 1902." - Marjorie Pryse
| Top | The Women's Movement - A Brief Chronology (1836-1858)
Angelina Emily, the youngest of the Grimke sisters, wrote An Appeal to the Christian Women of the South. Her pamphlet was used for antislavery and later burned by postmasters. At a time when women were not allowed to speak in public, Angelina and her sister, Moor Grimke, gave volunteered speeches. In 1836, the sisters started speaking at private meetings for women only. Their place of worship denounced them as "women preachers" (Whitton 127). The sisters were stoned as they left different meeting places, with "rocks being thrown at their feet," however, they continued their fight against slavery (Whitton 127). In the meantime, the sisters took up issues of women's rights. Also, Angelina and Moor opened their own "liberal school," where they taught women, Blacks, and mulattos (Whitton 128).
Elizabeth Cady Stanton spoke out against slavery and in favor of women's right at the World"s Antislavery Convention, held in London. Stanton was one of five women who made up the Antislavery Society of Philadelphia. The women were all treated well and polite attention was given to their speeches; unfortunately, they were still unable to vote.
A Women's Call was issued from Seneca Falls. The call was organized by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. This meeting is known as the first official women's rights convention . At this convention a list of grievances were compiled in support of women's rights. Its platform followed closely the American Declaration of Independence of 1776. The 300 plus women who attended the gathering created their own independent contract of sorts. The document they created was called the "Declaration of Sentiments." This document stated: "We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men and women are created equal (Clarke 125)"!
Susan B. Anthony spoke at the Men's State Temperance Convention against slavery. She took up the call of women's rights after becoming friends with Elizabeth Stanton. Together they became a powerful force in the women's movement. Anthony voted and was arrested because of it. Yet, she was not deterred; each year she brought her list of demands to Congress, and every year Susan was silenced.
Lucy Stone was the first woman to earn a college degree. Stone studied at the Female Department of Oberlin, for the "elevation of female character and the benefit of the misguided and neglected sex" (Whitton 147). Lucy wore bloomers, also known as pants, and cut her hair shorter than what was considered socially acceptable. She kept her maiden name after marriage, a feat that was unheard of for her time, and served as the editor for the woman's journal, The Lily. This particular publication served as "the mouthpiece for suffrage" (Whitton 148). Also in 1850 Horace Greeley, the editor of the New York Tribune, hired Jane Grey Swisshelm, as a reporter; she reported from Washington and became the first woman to attain a reporter's desk at the Capitol.
Sojourner Truth, a former slave, was the forewoman at the women's convention. Sojourner has argued that even though "faced with ridicule and threats of violence" or serious hardship, she will continue to speak out against slavery and fight for the rights of women (Smith 136).
Clamence Sophia Harned Lozier became the first female surgeon. During the Civil War she was enlisted to help with the mounting medical needs. Sadly, the police had to protect her from angry mobs.
Fanny Fern's Fern Leaves sold more than 70,000 copies and became best seller. Fanny Fern was the pen name of Sara Willis Elderdge Parton. Men complained that her style was not "ladylike;" she was the first salaried columnist of American journalism (Whitton 120).
Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote an article vindicating Lord Bryon's wife, because of his incestuous affair with his half-sister, and brought to the forefront the need for society to acknowledge incest as a taboo, women's rights, and that women be given the right to choose divorce.
Clarke, Mary. Bloomers and Ballots. New York: Viking Press, 1972. 125.
Smith, Betsy. Women Win the Vote. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Simon and Schuster, 1989. 136.
Whitton, Mary Ormsbee. These Were the Women. New York: Hastings House, 1954. 120, 127, 140, and 147.
| Top | THE DECLARATION OF SENTIMENTS
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.
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of those who suffer from it to refuse allegiance to it, and to insist upon the institution of a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they were accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their duty to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of the women under this government, and such is now the necessity which constrains them to demand the equal station to which they are entitled.
The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise.
He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice.
He has withheld from her rights which are given to the most ignorant and degraded men - both natives and foreigners.
Having deprived her of this first right of a citizen, the elective franchise, thereby leaving her without representation in the halls of legislation, he has oppressed her on all sides.
He has made her, if married, in the eye of the law, civilly dead.
He has taken from her all right in property, even to the wages she earns.
He has made her, morally, an irresponsible being, as she can commit many crimes with impunity, provided they be done in the presence of her husband. In the covenant of marriage, she is compelled to promise obedience to her husband, he becoming, to all intents and purposes, her master--the law giving him power to deprive her of her liberty, and to administer chastisement.
He has so framed the laws of divorce, as to what shall be the proper causes, and in case of separation, to whom the guardianship of the children shall be given, as to be wholly regardless of the happiness of women--the law, in all cases, going upon the false supposition of the supremacy of man, and giving all power into his hands.
After depriving her of all rights as a married woman, if single, and the owner of property, he has taxed her to support a government which recognizes her only when her property can be made profitable to it.
He has monopolized nearly all the profitable employments and from those she is permitted to follow, she receives but a scanty remuneration. He closes against her all the avenues to wealth and distinction which he considers most honorable to himself. As a teacher of theology, medicine, or law, she is not known.
He has denied her the facilities for obtaining a thorough education, all colleges being closed against her.
He allows her in Church, as well as State, but a subordinate position, claiming Apostolic authority for her exclusion from the ministry, and, with some exceptions, from any public participation in the affairs of the Church.
He has created a false public sentiment by giving to the world a different code of morals for men and women, by which moral delinquencies which exclude women from society, are not only tolerated, but deemed of little account in man.
He has usurped the prerogative of Jehovah himself, claiming it as his right to assign for her a sphere of action, when that belongs to her conscience and to her God.
He has endeavored, in every way that he could, to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life.
Now, in view of this entire disfranchisement of one-half the people of this country, their social and religious degradation--in view of the unjust laws above mentioned, and because women do feel themselves aggrieved, oppressed, and fraudulently deprived of their most sacred rights, we insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of the United States.
In entering upon the great work before us, we anticipate no small amount of misconception, misrepresentation, and ridicule; but we shall use every instrumentality within our power to effect our object. We shall employ agents, circulate tracts, petition the State and National legislatures, and endeavor to enlist the pulpit and the press in our behalf. We hope this Convention will be followed by a series of Conventions embracing every part of the country.
Resolutions: Whereas, The great precept of nature is conceded to be, that "man shall pursue his own true and substantial happiness." Blackstone in his Commentaries remarks, that this law of Nature being coeval with mankind, and dictated by God himself, is of course superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe, in all countries and at all times; no human laws are of any validity if contrary to this, and such of them as are valid, derive all their force, and all their validity, and all their authority, mediately and immediately, from this original; therefore,
| Top | Resolved, That such laws as conflict, in any way, with the true and substantial happiness of woman, are contrary to the great precept of nature and of no validity, for this is "superior in obligation to any other."
Resolved, That all laws which prevent woman from occupying such a state in society as her conscience shall dictate, or which place her in a position inferior to that of man, are contrary to the great precept of nature, and therefore of no force or authority.
Resolved, That woman is man's equal--was intended to be so by the Creator, and the highest good of the race demands that she should be recognized as such.
Resolved, That the women of this country ought to be enlightened in regard to the laws under which they live, that they may no longer publish their degradation by declaring themselves satisfied with their present position, nor their ignorance, by asserting that they have all the rights they want.
Resolved, That inasmuch as man, while claiming for himself intellectual superiority, does accord to woman moral superiority, it is pre-eminently his duty to encourage her to speak and teach, as she has an opportunity, in all religious assemblies.
Resolved, That the same amount of virtue, delicacy, and refinement of behavior that is required of woman in the social state, should also be required of man, and the same transgressions should be visited with equal severity on both man and woman.
Resolved, That the objection of indelicacy and impropriety, which is so often brought against woman when she addresses a public audience, comes with a very ill-grace from those who encourage, by their attendance, her appearance on the stage, in the concert, or in feats of the circus.
Resolved, That woman has too long rested satisfied in the circumscribed limits which corrupt customs and a perverted application of the Scriptures have marked out for her, and that it is time she should move in the enlarged sphere which her great Creator has assigned her.
Resolved, That it is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.
Resolved, That the equality of human rights results necessarily from the fact of the identity of the race in capabilities and responsibilities.
Resolved, therefore, That, being invested by the Creator with the same capabilities, and the same consciousness of responsibility for their exercise, it is demonstrably the right and duty of woman, equally with man, to promote every righteous cause by every righteous means; and especially in regard to the great subjects of morals and religion, it is self-evidently her right to participate with her brother in teaching them, both in private and in public, by writing and by speaking, by any instrumentalities proper to be used, and in any assemblies proper to be held; and this being a self-evident truth growing out of the divinely implanted principles of human nature, any custom or authority adverse to it, whether modern or wearing the hoary sanction of antiquity, is to be regarded as a self-evident falsehood, and at war with mankind.
Resolved, That the speedy success of our cause depends upon the zealous and untiring efforts of both men and women, for the overthrow of the monopoly of the pulpit, and for the securing to woman an equal participation with men in the various trades, professions, and commerce.
| Top |Sojourner Truth (1797-1883): "Ain't I A Woman?" (Delivered 1851, Women's Convention, Akron, Ohio)
Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that 'twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what's all this here talking about? 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! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?
Then they talk about this thing in the head; what's this they call it? [member of audience whispers, "intellect"] That's it, honey. What's that got to do with women's rights or negroes' rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn't you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?
Then that little man in black there, he says women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him. If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.
Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain't got nothing more to say.
| Top | Selected Bibliography 1980-Present
Andolsen, Barbara. Racism and American Feminism. Macon: Mercer UP, 1986.
Atwater, Deborah F. African American Women's Rhetoric: The Search for Dignity, Personhood, and Honor. Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2009.
Bartlett, Elizabeth A. Liberty, Equality, Sorority: The Origins and Interpretation of American Feminist Thought: Frances Wright, Sarah Grimke, and Margaret Fuller. Brooklyn: Carlson, 1994.
Basch, Norma. In the Eyes of the Law: Women, Marriage, and Property in 19th Century New York. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1982.
Cooper, Valerie C. Word, Like Fire: Maria Stewart, the Bible, and the Rights of African Americans. Charlottesville: U of Virginia P, 2011.
Dubois, Ellen C., ed. The Elizabeth Cady Stanton - Susan B. Anthony Reader: Correspondence, Writings, Speeches. Boston: Northeastern UP, 1981.
---., and Vicki Rubiz. eds. Unequal Sisters: A Multicultural Reader in U.S. Women's History. NY: Routledge, 1990. HQ1410 .U54
Epstein, Barbara. The Politics of Domesticity: Women, Evangelism and Temperance in Nineteenth-Century America. Middletown: Wesleyan UP, 1981.
Felder, Deborah G. A Bookshelf of Our Own: Works That Changed Women's Lives. NY: Citadel, 2005.
Gilmore, Glenda E. Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North Carolina, 1896-1920. U of North Carolina P, 1996.
Lerner, Gerda. The Grimke Sisters from South Carolina: Pioneers for Woman's Rights and Abolition. NY: Schocken P, 1994.
Mills, Bruce. Culture Reformations: Lydia Maria Child and the Literature of Reform. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1994.
Pellauer, Mary D. Towards a Tradition of Feminist Theology: The Religious Thought of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Anna Howard Shaw. Brooklyn: Carlson, 1991.
Rosendale, Steven. ed. American Radical and Reform Writers: First Series. Detroit: Gale, 2005.
Sanchez-Eppler, Karen. Touching Liberty: Abolition, Feminism. and the Politics of the Body. Berkeley: U of California P, 1993.
Scott, Anne F. One Half the People : The Fight for Woman Suffrage. Urbana : University of Illinois Press, 1982. JK1896 .S36
Solomon, Martha, ed. A Voice of Their Own : The Woman Suffrage Press, 1840-1910. Tuscaloosa : University of Alabama Press, 1991. PN4888 .W65 V65
Washington, Margaret. Sojourner Truth's America. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 2009.
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