In 1824 Elizabeth Heyrick published her pamphlet Immediate not Gradual Abolition. In her pamphlet Heyrick argued passionately in favour of the immediate emancipation of the slaves in the British colonies. This differed from the official policy of the Anti-Slavery Society that believed in gradual abolition. She called this "the very masterpiece of satanic policy" and called for a boycott of the sugar produced on slave plantations. (1)
In the pamphlet Heyrick attacked the "slow, cautious, accommodating measures" of the leaders. "The perpetuation of slavery in our West India colonies is not an abstract question, to be settled between the government and the planters; it is one in which we are all implicated, we are all guilty of supporting and perpetuating slavery. The West Indian planter and the people of this country stand in the same moral relation to each other as the thief and receiver of stolen goods". (2)
The leadership of the organisation attempted to suppress information about the existence of this pamphlet and William Wilberforce gave out instructions for leaders of the movement not to speak at women's anti-slavery societies. His biographer, William Hague, claims that Wilberforce was unable to adjust to the idea of women becoming involved in politics "occurring as this did nearly a century before women would be given the vote in Britain". (3)
Although women were allowed to be members they were virtually excluded from its leadership. Wilberforce disliked to militancy of the women and wrote to Thomas Babington protesting that "for ladies to meet, to publish, to go from house to house stirring up petitions - these appear to me proceedings unsuited to the female character as delineated in Scripture". (4)
However, George Stephen disagreed with Wilberforce on this issue and claimed that their energy was vital in the success of the movement: "Ladies Associations did everything... They circulated publications; they procured the money to publish; they talked, coaxed and lectured: they got up public meetings and filled our halls and platforms when the day arrived; they carried round petitions and enforced the duty of signing them... In a word they formed the cement of the whole anti-slavery building - without their aid we never should have kept standing." (5)
Thomas Clarkson, another leader of the ant-slavery movement, was much more sympathetic towards women. Unusually for a man of his day, he believed women deserved a full education and a role in public life and admired the way the Quakers allowed women to speak in their meetings. Clarkson told Elizabeth Heyrick's friend, Lucy Townsend, that he objected to the fact that "women are still weighed in a different scale from men... If homage be paid to their beauty, very little is paid to their opinions." (6)
Records show that about ten per cent of the financial supporters of the organisation were women. In some areas, such as Manchester, women made up over a quarter of all subscribers. Lucy Townsend asked Thomas Clarkson how she could contribute in the fight against slavery. He replied that it would be a good idea to establish a women's anti-slavery society. (7)
On 8th April, 1825, Lucy Townsend held a meeting at her home to discuss the issue of the role of women in the anti-slavery movement. Townsend, Elizabeth Heyrick, Mary Lloyd, Sarah Wedgwood, Sophia Sturge and the other women at the meeting decided to form the Birmingham Ladies Society for the Relief of Negro Slaves (later the group changed its name to the Female Society for Birmingham). (8) The group "promoted the sugar boycott, targeting shops as well as shoppers, visiting thousands of homes and distributing pamphlets, calling meetings and drawing petitions." (9)
The society which was, from its foundation, independent of both the national Anti-Slavery Society and of the local men's anti-slavery society. As Clare Midgley has pointed out: "It acted as the hub of a developing national network of female anti-slavery societies, rather than as a local auxiliary. It also had important international connections, and publicity on its activities in Benjamin Lundy's abolitionist periodical The Genius of Universal Emancipation influenced the formation of the first female anti-slavery societies in America". (10)
The formation of other independent women's groups soon followed the setting up of the Female Society for Birmingham. This included groups in Nottingham (Ann Taylor Gilbert), Sheffield (Mary Anne Rawson, Mary Roberts), Leicester (Elizabeth Heyrick, Susanna Watts), Glasgow (Jane Smeal), Norwich (Amelia Opie, Anna Gurney), London (Mary Anne Schimmelpenninck, Mary Foster), Darlington (Elizabeth Pease) and Chelmsford (Anne Knight). By 1831 there were seventy-three of these women's organisations campaigning against slavery. (11)
The Female Society for Birmingham played an important role in the propaganda campaign against slavery. Lucy Townsend, wrote the anti-slavery pamphlet To the Law and to the Testimony (1832). "Under Lucy Townsend's and Mary Lloyd's leadership the society developed the distinctive forms of female anti-slavery activity, involving an emphasis on the sufferings of women under slavery, systematic promotion of abstention from slave-grown sugar through door-to-door canvassing, and the production of innovative forms of propaganda, such as albums containing tracts, poems, and illustrations, embroidered anti-slavery workbags." (12)
In 1830, the Female Society for Birmingham submitted a resolution to the National Conference of the Anti-Slavery Society calling for the organisation to campaign for an immediate end to slavery in the British colonies. Elizabeth Heyrick, who was treasurer of the organisation suggested a new strategy to persuade the male leadership to change its mind on this issue. In April 1830 they decided that the group would only give their annual £50 donation to the national anti-slavery society only "when they are willing to give up the word 'gradual' in their title." At the national conference the following month, the Anti-Slavery Society agreed to drop the words "gradual abolition" from its title. It also agreed to support Female Society's plan for a new campaign to bring about immediate abolition. (13)
Sarah Wedgwood was an active member of the group. Her husband, Josiah Wedgwood had asked one of his craftsmen to design a seal for stamping the wax used to close envelopes. It showed a kneeling African in chains, lifting his hands and included the words: "Am I Not a Man and a Brother?" This image was "reproduced everywhere from books and leaflets to snuffboxes and cufflinks". (14)
Thomas Clarkson explained: "Some had them inlaid in gold on the lid of their snuff boxes. Of the ladies, several wore them in bracelets, and others had them fitted up in an ornamental manner as pins for their hair. At length the taste for wearing them became general, and this fashion, which usually confines itself to worthless things, was seen for once in the honourable office of promoting the cause of justice, humanity and freedom." (15)
Hundreds of these images were produced. Benjamin Franklin suggested that the image was "equal to that of the best written pamphlet".Men displayed them as shirt pins and coat buttons. Whereas women used the image in bracelets, brooches and ornamental hairpins. In this way, women could show their anti-slavery opinions at a time when they were denied the vote. Sophia Sturge, a member of the Female Society for Birmingham group were responsible for designing their own medal, "Am I Not a Slave And A Sister?" (16)
Richard Reddie has argued that during this period women such as Lucy Townsend emerged "out of the shadows" after the retirement of William Wilberforce, to play an important role in the anti-slavery campaign. These women "clearly identified with the plight of disenfranchised Africans" and claimed that "African women largely bore the brunt of abuses throughout chattel enslavement - rape and other violations were common occurrences on slave ships and plantations". (17) Vron Ware, explained in her book, Beyond the Pale: White Women, Racism and History (1992), that women's abolitionist women's literature was often quite explicit about the "indecencies" that women slaves endured. (18)
In early 1833 Anne Knight joined forces with the London Female Anti-Slavery Society to organise a national women's petition against slavery. When it was presented to Parliament it was signed by 298,785 women. It was the largest single anti-slavery petition in the movement's history. (19)
The Slavery Abolition Act was passed on 28th August 1833. This act gave all slaves in the British Empire their freedom. The British government paid £20 million in compensation to the slave owners. The amount that the plantation owners received depended on the number of slaves that they had. For example, Henry Phillpotts, the Bishop of Exeter, received £12,700 for the 665 slaves he owned. (20)
Anne Knight attended the World Anti-Slavery Convention held at Exeter Hall in London, in June 1840 but as a woman was refused permission to speak. She did meet two American delegates Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. Stanton later recalled: "We resolved to hold a convention as soon as we returned home, and form a society to advocate the rights of women." (21) Mott described Knight as "a singular-looking woman - very pleasant and polite". (22)
She became aware that the artist, Benjamin Robert Haydon, had started a group portrait of those involved in the fight against slavery. She wrote a letter to Lucy Townsend complaining about the lack of women in the painting. "I am very anxious that the historical picture now in the hand of Haydon should not be performed without the chief lady of the history being there in justice to history and posterity the person who established (women's anti-slavery groups). You have as much right to be there as Thomas Clarkson himself, nay perhaps more, his achievement was in the slave trade; thine was slavery itself the pervading movement." (23)
When the painting was completed it did not include Lucy Townsend or most of the leading female campaigners against slavery. Clare Midgley, the author of Women Against Slavery (1995) points out that as well as Anne Knight and Lucretia Mott, it does feature Elizabeth Pease, Mary Anne Rawson, Amelia Opie and Annabella Byron: "Haydon's group portrait is exceptional in that it does record the existence of women campaigners. Most other memorials did not. There are no public monuments to women activists to complement those to William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson and other male leaders of the movement... In the written memoirs of these men, women tend to appear as helpful and inspirational wives, mothers and daughters rather than as activists in their own right." (24)
Marion Reid published A Plea for Women in 1843. Knight was grateful that she had stated the case for greater equality but thought that the author had unestimated the abilities of women. Knight wrote on her own copy of the book that it was "excellent with the exception of the great folly" where she said that women faced natural barriers. Knight complained that women did not have natural barriers "but those placed equally before men." (25)
The behaviour of the male leaders at the World Anti-Slavery Convention inspired Anne Knight to start a campaign advocating equal rights for women. (26) This included having gummed labels printed with feminist quotations that she attached to the outside of her letters. In 1847 she wrote a letter to Matilda Ashurst Biggs on the subject of gender equality. Later that year the letter was published and it is considered to be the first ever leaflet on women's suffrage. (27)
Knight wrote: "I wish the talented philanthropists in England would come forward in this critical juncture of our nation's affairs and insist on the right of suffrage for all men and women unstained with crime... in order that all may have a voice in the affairs of their country... Never will the nations of the earth be well governed until both sexes, as well as all parties, are fully represented, and have an influence, a voice, and a hand in the enactment and administration of the laws." (28)
Women such as Anne Knight, Sophia Sturge, Elizabeth Pease and Elizabeth Pease, who had all been involved in the campaign against the slave trade, joined the Chartist movement. Sturge was active in Birmingham, that have a very strong group of women Chartists in the late 1830s. (29)
Anne Knight became concerned about the way women campaigners were treated by some of the male leaders in the organisation. She criticised them for claiming "that the class struggle took precedence over that for women's rights". (30) Knight wrote "can a man be free, if a woman be a slave." (31) In a letter published in the Brighton Herald in 1850 she demanded that the Chartists should campaign for what she described as "true universal suffrage". (32)
Knight argued: "Never will the nations of the earth be well governed, until both sexes, as well as all parties, are fully represented and have an influence, a voice, and a hand in the enactment and administration of the laws". (33) At a conference on world peace held in 1849, Anne Knight met two of Britain's reformers, Henry Brougham and Richard Cobden. She was disappointed by their lack of enthusiasm for women's rights. For the next few months she sent them several letters arguing the case for women's suffrage. In one letter to Cobden she argued that it was only when women had the vote that the electorate would be able to pressurize politicians into achieving world peace. (34)
For ladies to meet, to publish, to go from house to house stirring up petitions - these appear to me proceedings unsuited to the female character as delineated in Scripture. I fear its tendency would be to mix them in all the multiform warfare of political life.
In the great question of emancipation, the interests of two parties are said to be involved, the interest of the slave and that of the planter. But it cannot for a moment be imagined that these two interests have an equal right to be consulted, without confounding all moral distinctions, all difference between real and pretended, between substantial and assumed claims. With the interest of the planters, the question of emancipation has (properly speaking) nothing to do. The right of the slave, and the interest of the planter, are distinct questions; they belong to separate departments, to different provinces of consideration. If the liberty of the slave can be secured not only without injury, but with advantage to the planter, so much the better, certainly; but still the liberation of the slave ought ever to be regarded as an independent object; and if it be deferred till the planter is sufficiently alive to his own interest to co-operate in the measure, we may for ever despair of its accomplishment. The cause of emancipation has been long and ably advocated. Reason and eloquence, persuasion and argument have been powerfully exerted; experiments have been fairly made, facts broadly stated in proof of the impolicy as well as iniquity of slavery, to little purpose; even the hope of its extinction, with the concurrence of the planter, or by any enactment of the colonial, or British legislature, is still seen in very remote perspective, so remote that the heart sickens at the cheerless prospect. All that zeal and talent could display in the way of argument, has been exerted in vain. All that an accumulated mass of indubitable evidence could effect in the way of conviction, has been brought to no effect.
It is high time, then, to resort to other measures, to ways and means more summary and effectual. Too much time has already been lost in declamation and argument, in petitions and remonstrances against British slavery. The cause of emancipation calls for something more decisive, more efficient than words. It calls upon the real friends of the poor degraded and oppressed African to bind themselves by a solemn engagement, an irrevocable vow, to participate no longer in the crime of keeping him in bondage...
The perpetuation of slavery in our West India colonies is not an abstract question, to be settled between the government and the planters; it is one in which we are all implicated, we are all guilty of supporting and perpetuating slavery. The West Indian planter and the people of this country stand in the same moral relation to each other as the thief and receiver of stolen goods.
The West Indian planters have occupied much too prominent a place in the discussion of this great question....The abolitionists have shown a great deal too much politeness and accommodation towards these gentlemen.... Why petition Parliament at all, to do that for us, which... we can do more speedily and effectually for ourselves?
Slavery is not exclusively a political, but pre-eminently a moral question; one, therefore, on which the humble-minded reader of the Bible, which enriches his cottage shelf, is immeasurably, a better politician than the statesman versed in the intrigues of Cabinets. We ought to obey God rather than man.
I am very anxious that the historical picture now in the hand of Haydon should not be performed without the chief lady of the history being there in justice to history and posterity the person who established (women's anti-slavery groups). You have as much right to be there as Thomas Clarkson himself, nay perhaps more, his achievement was in the slave trade; thine was slavery itself the pervading movement.
Haydon's group portrait is exceptional in that it does record the existence of women campaigners. In the written memoirs of these men, women tend to appear as helpful and inspirational wives, mothers and daughters rather than as activists in their own right.
Child Labour Simulation (Teacher Notes)
Richard Arkwright and the Factory System (Answer Commentary)
Robert Owen and New Lanark (Answer Commentary)
James Watt and Steam Power (Answer Commentary)
The Domestic System (Answer Commentary)
The Luddites: 1775-1825 (Answer Commentary)
The Plight of the Handloom Weavers (Answer Commentary)
Road Transport and the Industrial Revolution (Answer Commentary)
Early Development of the Railways (Answer Commentary)
(1) Stephen Tomkins, William Wilberforce (2007) page 206
(2) Elizabeth Heyrick, Immediate not Gradual Abolition (1824)
(3) William Hague, William Wilberforce: The Life of the Great Anti-Slave Trade Campaigner (2008) page 487
(4) William Wilberforce, letter to Thomas Babington (31st January, 1826)
(5) George Stephen, letter to Anne Knight (14th November, 1834)
(6) Ellen Gibson Wilson, Thomas Clarkson: A Biography (1989) page 91
(7) Thomas Clarkson, letter to Lucy Townsend (3rd August, 1825)
(8) Adam Hochschild, Bury the Chains: The British Struggle to Abolish Slavery (2005) page 326
(9) Stephen Tomkins, William Wilberforce (2007) page 208
(10) Clare Midgley, Lucy Townsend : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)
(11) Richard Reddie, Abolition! The Struggle to Abolish Slavery in the British Colonies (2007) page 214
(12) Clare Midgley, Lucy Townsend : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)
(13) Female Society for Birmingham, resolution passed at National Conference (8th April, 1830)
(14) Adam Hochschild, Bury the Chains: The British Struggle to Abolish Slavery (2005) page 128
(15) Thomas Clarkson, History of the Abolition of the African Slave Trade (1807) page 191
(16) Jenny Uglow, The Lunar Men (2002) page 412
(17) Richard Reddie, Abolition! The Struggle to Abolish Slavery in the British Colonies (2007) page 213
(18) Vron Ware, Beyond the Pale: White Women, Racism and History (1992) page 61
(19) Clare Midgley, Women Against Slavery (1995) page 58
(20) Jack Gratus, The Great White Lie (1973) page 240
(21) Crista Deluzio, Women's Rights: People and Perspectives (2009) page 58
(22) Elizabeth Crawford, The Women's Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866-1928 (2000) page 327
(23) Anne Knight, letter to Lucy Townsend (20th September, 1840)
(24) Clare Midgley, Women Against Slavery (1995) page 2
(25) Elizabeth Crawford, The Women's Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866-1928 (2000) page 327
(26) Elizabeth Crawford, The Women's Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866-1928 (2000) page 327
(27) Elizabeth J. Clapp, Women, Dissent and Anti-Slavery in Britain and America, 1790-1865 (2015) page 67
(28) Dale Spender, Women of Ideas (1982) page 398
(29) Anne Knight, letter to Matilda Ashurst Biggs (April 1847)
(30) Edward H. Milligan, Anne Knight : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)
(31) Elizabeth Crawford, The Women's Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866-1928 (2000) page 327
(32) Anne Knight, letter published in the Brighton Herald (9th February, 1850)
(33) Edward H. Milligan, Anne Knight : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)
(34) Ray Strachey, The Cause (1928) page 43
Secret history: the warrior women who fought their enslavers
G rowing up in New York in the 1970s Rebecca Hall craved heroes she could relate to – powerful women who could take care of themselves and protect others. But pickings were slim. The famed feminists of the time, Charlie’s Angels and The Bionic Woman, didn’t cut it for her.
But every night when she went to sleep, her father would recount stories of her grandmother’s life. Harriet Thorpe was born into slavery 100 years earlier, in 1860, and was the “property”, she was told, of one Squire Sweeney in Howard County, Missouri.
Rebecca Hall. Photograph: Cat Palmer
“He told me about her struggles and how she still thrived in the face of them – she became a role model for me,” says Hall. “I wished I could go back in time and meet her.”
She couldn’t, but Hall was so inspired by Thorpe’s bravery that years later she found herself delving back in time, determined to uncover the untold stories of enslaved African women, just like Harriet, who fought their oppressors on slave ships, in plantations and across the Americas. The women warriors, she calls them, who had been written out of history. What began as a personal research project has culminated in a book, Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts, which is published next month unusually in the form of a graphic memoir.
Rebecca Hall’s grandmother, Harriet Thorpe, back row, left, with her sisters. She was born into slavery in 1860.
“It’s not like dumbing down. You look at the picture, the art, and you can see what’s happening,” Hall says.
The characters – including herself as narrator – are brought to comic-strip life with black and white illustrations and speech bubbles in the work of New Orleans artist Hugo Martínez. “The combination provides a way to look almost simultaneously into the past and the present, which was crucial for this story because it’s about haunting and the relationship between slavery, the United States and the current issues that we have today.
“It’s also about growing up in the wake of slavery – which is traumatic,” she says.
Hence the title of the book – Wake – which Hall says is intended to play on the meaning of a wake at a funeral, or the wake of a slave ship.
Before becoming a historian, Hall says her life was like living in that wake. Now 58, she worked as a tenants’ rights lawyer in Berkeley, California. But toward the end of the 1990s she became disillusioned. Racism and sexism were everywhere in the justice system, she says.
Sometimes she would walk into a courtroom and be directed to the defendant’s chair. “I’m not the defendant. I’m the attorney for the plaintiff,” she would bellow.
She felt the need to get to the root of what she saw as the racial issues “warping the world” – and made the life-changing decision to quit her job and dedicate herself to the study of chattel slavery. So it was back to college and Hall attained a PhD in 2004. “It was something I had to do – to understand my experience as a black woman in America today,” she says.
More than anything, having heard her grandmother’s story, Hall wanted to learn about female resistance to slavery – because so little was ever taught about it at school.
A slave family picking cotton near Savannah, Georgia, about 1860. It’s estimated 16 million Africans were brought to the Americas as enslaved people. Photograph: Bettmann Archive
“If you’re a black child, you learn about slavery but you don’t learn about slave resistance or slave revolt in America,” Hall says.
“But if you’re taught the history of resistance, that our people fought every step of the way, that is a recovery that is crucial to our pride in our humanity and our strength and struggle. So the issue of slave resistance is something I think everyone should know about.”
She drew a blank though. Every book about slave revolts said more or less the same thing, that men led the resistance while enslaved women took a back seat. “I was like, what’s going on, I don’t believe it’s true,” says Hall.
So she started the painstaking process of sifting through the captain’s logs of slave ships, old court records in London and New York, letters between colonial governors and the British monarchy, newspaper cuttings, even forensic examinations from the bones of enslaved women uncovered in Manhattan.
Much of it made for difficult reading – human beings described time and time again in documents and insurance books as “cargo” with footnotes describing “woman slave number one and woman slave number two”. “Seeing them writing about my people as objects – It was horrific,” she says.
She learned that Lloyd’s of London was at the centre of the insurance market at the time, providing cover for slave ships, a “shameful” legacy for which it apologised last year. “They were insuring against the insurrection of cargo – I think that completely sums it up. How can cargo insurrect?” asks Hall.
As hard as this was to digest, it started to open new windows into the past – and as Hall pieced the information together she began to find women warriors everywhere, not only resisting their enslavers but planning and leading slave revolts.
In one example, Hall discovered that four women were involved in the 1712 revolt in New York, an uprising by enslaved Africans who killed nine of their captors before being, in some cases, burned at the stake. One pregnant woman was kept alive until she gave birth and then put to death (the execution was delayed, says the report, because the baby was “someone’s property”). Until now, it was assumed only men took part in this revolt.
Details are sparse – and many of the female rebels are nameless in the reports, or referred to with derogatory terms such as “Negro Wench” or “Negro Fiend” – so Hall had to fill in the blanks for her book, reworking the scenes in two of the chapters using what she calls “methodical use of historical imagination”.
She created names for some of the characters, such as Adobo and Alele – who fought for freedom in the Middle Passage, the terrifying journey from African slave ports to the New World slave markets.
“It was a real challenge for me because all of my writing before was academic,” she says. “Learning how to write visual script for a graphic novel was such a steep learning curve but it’s not like making up a story. It’s all historically grounded.”
Artwork from Rebecca Hall’s book illustrates the chilling way people were stowed as ‘cargo’ in the slave ships. Photograph: Simon & Schuster
Hall discovered that out of the 35,000 slave ship voyages documented, there were revolts in a tenth of them. And when she analysed the difference between ships that had revolts and those that didn’t, she discovered there were more women on the ships with uprisings.
“Historians literally say that this must be a fluke as we know that women didn’t revolt,” she says.
But closer examination of slave ship records showed key new facts.
There were procedures for running these ships, Hall explains – and right at the top was the instruction to keep everyone below deck and chained while you were on the coast of Africa.
“But once you got into the Atlantic, you unchained the women and children and brought them on deck,” she says.
That’s when Hall began to find stories of women accessing the weapons chests and finding ways to unchain the men below. “They used their mobility and access,” she says.
Graphic artist Hugo Martínez.
The conservative estimate is that 16 million Africans were brought to the Americas as enslaved people and while we don’t know exactly how many were women, we do know there were huge numbers, Hall says.
She hopes, now, that people will begin to realise how important these women were to resistance.
For graphic artist Martínez – who specialises in issues of struggle and resistance – illustrating the stories was particularly painful.
He highlights the image of the Brookes slave ship as the most “emotionally charged” he had to draw. It’s a sketch depicting how enslaved Africans were transported to the Americas – with 454 people crammed into the hold. “There are lots of moments that are intense but there’s something about that picture where you can maybe feel the weight of what it is to be a human who’s been turned into cargo,” he says. “It was extremely difficult for me to draw”
Anti-Slavery conventions had been held for years prior to the first female convention. These conventions, though not necessarily only attended by men, were ran for and by men. In 1837 the Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women was held in New York City. This convention was groundbreaking in that it was one of the first times women had met and spoke publicly at this scale. There were representatives from New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maine, Connecticut, Ohio, and South Carolina (1). The convention included white and African American women. Just as with other anti-slavery conventions, delegates were chosen and specially invited to attend. The topic of race was once again an issue among the abolitionists. Many, specifically Angelina Grimke, wanted to ensure that African American women were attending. Grimke is quoted as saying, "It is all important that we begin right and I know no way as likely to destory the cruel prejudices that exist as to bring our sisters in contact with those who shrink from such intercourse" (2).
As with every decision, the convention was controversial. Many believed that women should focus on becoming active members of men's socities and conventions. This would allow women access to already established conventions and ability to enact real change. Others felt that a convention of their own would give them more opprotunities to speak and actually be involved in decision making(3). The number of African American women in attentence continued to decrease. They faced difficulties making the trip due to discrimination and economic difficulties. White women also face extreme difficulties with their travel to the conventions, thanks to the ever prevalent Panic of 1837 and ongoing harassment(4). This convention would go on to be a yearly event until 1840, taking place in different cities each year(5.) Below is an article from the abolistionist newspaper The Liberator on the 1838 convention that was to be held in Philadelphia. While conventions were a means to meet face-to-face and share ideas, they were not only positive events. Backlash from the communities they were held led to lower and lower attendence.
Salerno, Beth A. 2005. Sister societies: women's antislavery organizations in antebellum America. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press. pg.54-55.
Women and the Anti-Slavery Movement - History
Lucretia Coffin Mott was an early feminist activist and strong advocate for ending slavery. A powerful orator, she dedicated her life to speaking out against racial and gender injustice.
Born on January 3, 1793 on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, Mott was the second of Thomas Coffin Jr.’s and Anna Folger Mott’s five children. Her father’s work as a ship’s captain kept him away from his family for long stretches and could be hazardous — so much so that he moved his family to Boston and became a merchant when Lucretia was 10 years old.
Mott was raised a Quaker, a religion that stressed equality of all people under God, and attended a Quaker boarding school in upstate New York. In 1809, the family moved to Philadelphia, and two years later, Mott married her father’s business partner, James Mott, with whom she would have six children. In 1815, her father died, saddling her mother with a mountain of debt, and Mott, her husband, and her mother joined forces to become solvent again. Mott taught school, her mother went back to running a shop, and her husband operated a textile business.
Mott, along with her supportive husband, argued ardently for the abolitionist cause as members of William Lloyd Garrison’s American Anti-Slavery Society in the 1830s. Garrison, who encouraged women’s participation as writers and speakers in the anti-slavery movement embraced Mott’s commitment. Mott was one of the founders of the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society in 1833. Not everyone supported women’s public speaking. In fact, Mott was constantly criticized for behaving in ways not acceptable for women of her sex, but it did not deter her.
Mott’s stymied participation at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840 brought her into contact with Elizabeth Cady Stanton with whom she formed a long and prolific collaboration. It also led Mott into the cause of women’s rights. As women, the pair were blocked from participating in the proceedings, which not only angered them, but led them to promise to hold a women’s rights convention when they returned to the United States. Eight years later, in 1848, they organized the Seneca Fall Convention, attended by hundreds of people including noted abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Stanton presented a “Declaration of Sentiments” at the meeting, which demanded rights for women by inserting the word “woman” into the language of the Declaration of Independence and included a list of 18 woman-specific demands. These included divorce, property and custody rights, as well as the right to vote. The latter fueled the launching of the woman suffrage movement. Mott explained that she grew up “so thoroughly imbued with women’s rights that it was the most important question” of her life. Following the convention Mott continued her crusade for women’s equality by speaking at ensuing annual women’s rights conventions and publishing Discourse on Women, a reasoned account of the history of women’s repression.
Her devotion to women’s rights did not deter her from fighting for an end to slavery. She and her husband protested the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and helped an enslaved person escape bondage a few years later. In 1866, Mott became the first president of the American Equal Rights Association. Mott joined with Stanton and Anthony in decrying the 14 th and 15 th amendments to the Constitution for granting the vote to black men but not to women. Mott was also involved with efforts to establish Swarthmore College and was instrumental in ensuring it was coeducational. Dedicated to all forms of human freedom, Mott argued as ardently for women’s rights as for black rights, including suffrage, education, and economic aid. Mott played a major role in the woman suffrage movement through her life.
By 1890, national leaders, united in a large suffrage organization called the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), realized that to achieve all this they would have to bring in the South. They were all too aware, however, that this might be hard to do. Many white southerners were hostile to the movement because it was an outgrowth of the antebellum movement to end slavery. They opposed it also because of regional pride in women remaining in their traditional role as southern ladies which meant staying outside of politics except to encourage men to rule wisely for their sakes. Yet, a growing number of women in the South were eager to have the vote, both to improve the legal, educational, and employment opportunities for women and to promote reforms especially those that would benefit women and children. But they were getting nowhere.
Then Mississippi attracted the attention of the nation and accidentally affected the course of America's woman suffrage movement when delegates to the 1890 Mississippi Constitutional Convention seriously considered giving the vote to women. They were responding to the suggestion of suffrage advocate and former anti-slavery activist Henry Blackwell of Massachusetts. Blackwell suggested that through giving the vote to women, white southerners might regain control of southern politics without taking the vote away from black men and therefore getting into trouble with Congress. The proposal died in committee by just one vote. National suffrage leaders concluded that since one of the most conservative states in the nation had given serious consideration to enfranchising women in order to restore white supremacy in politics, suffrage leaders might use the race issue to persuade the South to lead the way for woman suffrage. White suffrage leaders seemed desperate to find an argument to persuade politicians to adopt woman suffrage, and therefore were willing to play the race card to get the vote for themselves in a time when most southerners wanted neither black men nor black women to vote.
While individuals expressed their dissatisfaction with the social role of women during the early years of the United States, a more widespread effort in support of women’s rights began to emerge in the 1830s. Women and men joined the antislavery movement in order to free enslaved Africans. While men led antislavery organizations and lectured, women were not allowed to hold these positions. When women defied these rules and spoke out against slavery in public, they were mocked.
For example, in 1829 British-born reformer Frances Wright toured the United States and lectured against slavery. The same year, an artist published this cartoon making fun of Wright. The cartoon depicts Wright standing near a table and giving a lecture, but she has the head of a goose. The title says Wright “deserves to be hissed.” According to this artist and many others, women should not speak in public, and the public should not care what she has to say.
Frances Wright was one of many women—including sisters Sarah and Angelina Grimké (who were from a slave-owning Southern family) and Lucretia Mott—who lectured against slavery. Even as women became more active in the cause, many of their fellow antislavery activists continued to disapprove of these female speakers. In 1840, for instance, the World Anti-Slavery Convention refused to seat female delegates.
In contrast, in the late 1830s, abolitionists (who called for an immediate end to slavery rather than a gradual one) began to advocate for women’s rights as well. Women gained experience as leaders, organizers, writers, and lecturers as part of this radical wing of the movement. The discrimination they continued to face eventually prompted them to band together to promote a new, separate women’s rights movement.
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&ldquoThe Book That Made This Great War&rdquo
Harriet Beecher Stowe's Mighty Pen
Harriet Beecher Stowe is best remembered as the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, her first novel, published as a serial in 1851 and then in book form in 1852. This book infuriated Southerners. It focused on the cruelties of slavery&mdashparticularly the separation of family members&mdashand brought instant acclaim to Stowe. After its publication, Stowe traveled throughout the United States and Europe speaking against slavery. She reported that upon meeting President Lincoln, he remarked, &ldquoSo you're the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war.&rdquo
Harriet Beecher Stowe. Copyprint. Published by Johnson, Fry & Co., 1872, after Alonzo Chappel. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-10476 (3&ndash18)
Bookmark this item: //www.loc.gov/exhibits/african-american-odyssey/abolition.html#obj20
Uncle Tom's Cabin&mdashTheatrical Productions
This poster for a production of Uncle Tom's Cabin features the Garden City Quartette under the direction of Tom Dailey and George W. Goodhart. Many stage productions of Harriet Beecher Stowe's famous novel have been performed in various parts of the country since Uncle Tom's Cabin was first published as a serial in 1851. Although the major actors were usually white, people of color were sometimes part of the cast. African American performers were often allowed only stereotypical roles&mdashif any&mdashin productions by major companies.
The Connection Between Women’s Rights and Abolition
In “Chapter 20: War, Slavery, and the American 1848” of The Rise of American Democracy, Wilentz briefly discusses the roots of the women’s rights movement and its connection to abolitionism. The Seneca Convention, which was held in July 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York, was the first major American convention devoted to women’s suffrage. Led by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Stanton, the Seneca Convention issued a declaration that affirmed that “all men and women are created equal”—an alteration to the original United States’ Declaration of Independence. Wilentz argues that the Seneca Convention was not merely concerned with women’s suffrage, but was an extension of the growing anti-slavery contingency. According to Wilentz, the Seneca Convention was “a logical extension of the fight for liberty, equality, and independence being waged by the antislavery forces” (334). While I agree with Wilentz’s assessment that a definitive relationship existed between the struggle for women’s rights and abolition, he failed to acknowledge how this association negatively impacted the short-term successes of the women’s rights movement.
When the Civil War erupted, the leading women’s rights’ activists decided to put the anti-slavery movement to the forefront, in hopes that the abolition of slavery would pave the way for women’s suffrage to occur shortly thereafter. The women believed that dedication to the Northern, anti-slavery cause would draw attention to the necessity for constitutional equality on the basis of race and gender. Unfortunately, the end of the Civil War did not introduce increased attention to women’s rights—the 14 th Amendment uses the word “male” three times in its definition of citizenship, thus exemplifying Congress’s dedication to a male-dominated social and political hierarchy in America.
While my classmates have not yet commented on chapters 17-20 of Wilentz, Kurt noted in his blog post from last Thursday that Wilentz does an effective job identifying the roots behind the loss of Democratic support in the South. In regard to the foundations of the women’s rights movement, I agree with Kurt that Wilentz introduces the subject to his readers in an effective way, as he links different historical issues into the greater context of American history. Similar to Kurt’s critique that Wilentz left out necessary details to strengthen his argument concerning the leadership dynamics within the Whig party, I wish he had discussed the implications of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery on women’s rights. Specifically, I think it is very interesting that the leaders of the women’s rights movement split into two separate factions during Reconstruction. Elizabeth Stanton and Susan B. Anthony formed the National Suffrage Association, and racist references dominated the rhetoric of their cause. In contrast, Lucy Stone’s American Suffrage Association supported the 15 th Amendment and did not consider black suffrage a threat to the eventual success of gender equality. While I recognize that the women’s rights movement was not central to Wilentz’s argument, I believe that the interesting dynamics between the two movements should have been addressed in greater detail.
Women and the Anti-Slavery Movement - History
A new group of women reformers emerged in nineteenth-century America. These educated women set out to solve social and economic problems caused by injustice and inequity. They discovered that without political power, they could not effect the changes necessary to fulfill the American promise. Gradually these women from different perspectives arrived at the same conclusion: in order to solve problems. women needed a political identity. They needed the vote.
Lucretia Mott (January 3, 1793 – November 11, 1880)
United States | National Women's History Museum
Lucretia Mott, who was a Quaker, believed slavery was evil, and she traveled the country to preach against it. Her transition into a women's rights advocate was complete after she was refused a seat at the 1840 World's Anti-Slavery Convention because of her gender. Undaunted by injustice, she and Elizabeth Cady Stanton formed a decades-long collaboration that established a direction and tone for the the fight for women's suffrage.
Manuscript, Lucretia Mott
United States | National Women's History Museum
As a young teacher, Mott was struck by the unfairness of women receiving half the pay of male teachers. In this manuscript, Mott argues for women’s equality within the family and society.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton (November 12, 1815 - October 26, 1902)
United States | National Women's History Museum
Elizabeth Cady Stanton formulated an agenda for the women’s rights movement that continues to be relevant today. Her “Declaration of Sentiments” demanded a complete revision of women's status in society, including access to education, legal standing, political power, and economic autonomy. Women’s right to vote was fundamental to her vision. Her intellectual and organizational partnership with Susan B. Anthony dominated the women’s movement for over half a century.
Letter, Lucy Stone to Payson E. Tucker Esq. (Mar. 15)
Lucy Stone | Boston, MA | National Women's History Museum
Lucy Stone learned as child that women’s opportunities were different than those of men. She grew up in a large family that enforced rigid gender roles and discouraged her from an education. Challenging conformity, Stone worked part-time to support herself as a student at Oberlin College, the first co-educational institution in the country. In spite of its progressive ideals, Oberlin did not allow female students to participate in the debating society. Stone and her fellow female students formed a secret society, meeting at night to practice oration. Shortly after graduation, Stone secured a paid position as a lecturer for the American Anti-Slavery Association. She became nationally known as a powerful speaker for African American and women’s rights. In 1850, Stone led the way in convening the first National Women’s Rights Convention. She and her husband, Henry Blackwell, founded The Woman’s Journal newspaper in 1869, which gained the reputation as the “voice of the woman’s movement.”
“We ask only for justice and equal rights—the right to vote, the right to our own earnings, equality before the law”
- Lucy Stone
For Lucy Stone, the path to suffrage was enactment by state legislatures. In this letter, Stone appeals to Payson E. Tucker, of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, to support women’s suffrage.
Sojourner Truth c1864 (1797-1883)
Library of Congress | National Women's History Museum
Abolitionist, women’s rights activist, and former slave Sojourner Truth (born Isabella) joined the religious revivals occurring in New York State in the early 19th century and became a powerful and charismatic speaker. In 1843, she had a spiritual breakthrough and declared that the Spirit called on her to preach the truth and gave her a new name, Sojourner Truth. Truth’s journey brought her in contact with abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglas, and she gained exposure to women’s rights activists like Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. In 1851, Truth went on a nation-wide lecture tour and gave her most famous speech, “Ain’t I a Woman?” at a woman’s rights conference in Akron, Ohio, where all of the other speakers were men. In her speech, she criticized the idea of women being the “weaker sex” and urged men not to fear rights for women. It became a classic speech of the women's rights movement.
Susan B. Anthony (February 15,1820 - March 13, 1906)
Photograph | United States | National Women's History Museum
Susan B. Anthony campaigned for all-encompassing social change. Her first cause was temperance, but because of her gender, she was not allowed to speak at rallies. Her experiences convinced her that the only way for women to influence public affairs was through the vote. Her strengths were discipline, energy, and organization, and she traveled the U.S. to persuade people to support her causes. Her radical approach included courting arrest for illegally casting a ballot. In 1869 she founded the National Woman Suffrage Association, the radical wing of the suffrage movement that pushed for a constitutional amendment. She remained active in the woman's movement until her death in 1906, fourteen years before the 19th Amendment’s passage.
Mary Livermore (December 19, 1820 - May 23, 1905)
Photography Mary Livermore | United States | National Women's History Museum
Journalist, abolitionist, and women’s rights activist Mary Livermore became a member of the early abolitionist movement after a first-hand experience as a governess on a slave-holding, Virginia plantation. When the Civil War began, Livermore volunteered with the Chicago Sanitary Commission, raising funds to support medical care and services for Union soldiers. Livermore organized the Sanitary Fair of October 1863, which raised an astonishing $70,000 in a few weeks. Livermore’s female volunteers saved the lives of thousands of men who would have died without their vital supplies. Convinced of the need for women's suffrage as a prerequisite for important social reforms, Livermore became the founding president of the Illinois Suffrage Association in 1868, and in 1869, she helped to form the American Woman Suffrage Association.
Letter, Mary Livermore to Miss Field. Recto 1883
Melrose, MA | National Women's History Museum
A talented and persuasive orator, Mary Livermore made an excellent living on the 19th-century lyceum circuit for more than 20 years. Livermore often couched her appeals in terms of women’s special responsibilities as caregivers at home and to the nation. In the speech “The Boy of To-Day” Livermore argues that mothers are crucial to shaping men of character:
“If the ranks of manly men can be increased among us, and then be supplemented by large numbers of womanly women. . . we need not fear for the future of the nation.”
Lydia Maria Child
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Julia Ward Howe
Engraving, Lydia Maria Child (February 11, 1802 - October 20, 1880)
Melrose, MA | National Women's History Museum
Lydia Maria Child advocated for the rights of marginalized groups. Influenced by her friend and fellow abolitionist, William Lloyd Garrison, Child’s popular novels challenged social and cultural paradigms of male dominance and white supremacy, something that often drew controversy and damaged her literary career. Her acclaimed anti-slavery tract, “Correspondence between Lydia Maria Child and Gov. Wise and Mrs. Mason of Virginia”, argued that compromise over the slavery issue was not possible between the North and South. Child eventually broke from the women’s movement over the question of the 15th Amendment, which granted black male suffrage with no mention of the same for women. She believed that women’s suffrage would follow African American men’s.
Letter from Lydia Maria Child to unknown recipient
United States | National Women's History Museum
Lydia Maria Child calls for a more civil society and discourse in this sentiment.
Harriet Beecher Stowe (June 14,1811 - July 1, 1896)
United States | National Women's History Museum
Harriet Beecher Stowe made her living by writing on a range of subjects from homemaking to religion, and she staunchly opposed slavery. After the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, which required that runaway slaves to be returned to their masters upon capture, she took a public stand against the institution when she published her famous anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, in 1852. The novel realistically portrayed slavery and helped to galvanize the abolitionist cause in the 1850s, intensifying the conflict between the North and the South, which led to the Civil War.
Scenes from Uncle Tom's Cabin, No.2, First Meeting of.
Thomas W. Strong | National Women's History Museum
First Meeting of Uncle Tom and Eva from “Uncle Tom's Cabin” by Harriet Beecher Stowe
Julia Ward Howe (May 27,1819 - October 17, 1910)
United States | National Women's History Museum
Though best known today for writing the Civil War anthem, “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” Julia Ward Howe was a well-known literary figure in her time. Ward Howe envisioned a literary career from youth, and struggled within the confines of a difficult marriage to accomplish her goals. Her husband, Samuel Gridley Howe, objected to his wife’s publishing, adding tension to their relationship. The couple shared a strong abolitionist point-of-view, and they co-edited a short-lived anti-slavery newspaper. Though they both advocated for abolitionist causes, they grew progressively distant. Ward Howe became increasingly active in the women’s suffrage movement as her national reputation grew, joining Lucy Stone’s The Woman’s Journal as an editor and co-founding the American Woman Suffrage Association.
Ida B. Wells-Barnett
Ida B. Wells 1891
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washionton, DC | National Women's History Museum
Ida B. Wells-Barnett challenged racial and gender discrimination through the power of the pen. In 1887, she bought part-ownership in a newspaper and later was the sole proprietor of “Memphis Free Speech,” where she created an editorial voice of resistance that railed against racial discrimination of African Americans. Using the pen name “Iola,” she led a crusade against lynching and other horrific injustices. Her work in the women’s rights movement included founding the first black woman suffrage organization – the Alpha Suffrage Club of Chicago in 1913. The organization worked exclusively to gain suffrage for women.
Clara Barton (December 25, 1821 - April 12, 1912)
Copyright Underwood & Underwood | Meadville, PA | National Women's History Museum
Clara Barton began her lifelong commitment to aiding the ill and wounded as a young girl. Throughout her life, Barton viewed social reform as a necessity and her service during the Civil War provided a public space to herald women’s rights, rights for African Americans, and later, women's suffrage. Following her time as a Civil War nurse aiding wounded soldiers on both sides of the conflict, Barton saw a need for disaster relief response in the U.S. and founded the American Red Cross in 1881.
Letter, Clara Barton to Dr. Wayland 1882
Clara Barton | Washington DC | National Women's History Museum
Following the Civil War, Barton worked with the International Red Cross to provide aid during the Franco-Prussian War. Exhausted by her experience, Barton recuperated at Dr. Jackson’s health institute in Dansville, New York. Barton repeatedly returned to Dansville for rest and relaxation over the next decade. Dansville citizens chartered the first local chapter of the American Red Cross on August 22, 1881, a year before this letter was written.
Hull House in the early 20th century
V.O. Hammon Publishing Company | National Women's History Museum
Jane Addams was one of the most prominent reformers during the Progressive Era of American history. In 1889, she co-founded Chicago's Hull-House, a home and gathering place for reformers who “settled” in the neighborhoods they served, and provided social services to immigrants and the urban poor. A suffrage supporter, Addams became Vice President of the NAWSA in 1911, and wrote and spoke widely about the importance of suffrage, including her paper “Why Women Should Vote.” The legacy of Addam’s work continues to influence social, political and economic reform in the U.S.
Letter, Jane Addams to unknown recipient Jan 15
Jane Addams | Chicago, IL | National Women's History Museum
Jane Addams, with her friend Ellen Gates Starr, founded Hull-House Settlement as a place for impoverished, recent immigrants to gather for education and fellowship with the goal of integrating them into American society. The Miss Culver referenced in this letter is Helen Culver, Hull-House’s original and on-going benefactor. Culver managed and later inherited her cousin’s, Charles Hull, real estate investment firm. She granted Hull-House the original lease and facilitated its expansion into what became a 13-building complex.