A Progression of Freedom and Rights

How the American Abolitionist Movement and the Women’s Rights Movements are connected and intrinsic to one another.

At first glance, both the Abolitionist Movement and the Women’s Rights Movement seem altogether separate events. Oftentimes they are taught that way as well; slavery’s abolishment and the addressing of African-American rights occurred with the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation as well as the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments. These documents put the Abolitionist Movement around the 1860s in many people’s minds(and later on, the 1960s). As for the Women’s Rights Movement, that is often connected solely to the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment that gave women the right to vote, putting the topic of Women’s Rights right in 1920- almost 60 years after the Abolitionist Amendments. Yet, upon a closer study of these two topics, an interesting parallel occurs. The Women’s Rights Movement truly started when women began to be involved in the Abolitionist Movement.

“Can’t you just stand here side-by-side with us? Can you not see that women could do, and would do, a hundred times more for the slave if she were not shackled”(“The Abolitionist, Part 1”)? It is this very quote from activist Angelina Grimke that truly defines how the Women’s Rights Movement evolved out of the Abolitionist movement. Slavery was an integral part of American society, especially in the South; yet as the decades went by, more and more people began to protest against the reality of slavery. Slavery was seen as both a moral and religious sin to many as it caused much suffering, pain, and death to the slaves and made the slaveowners violent and angry. Slavery was a thing of sin and hell that many truly believed was ruining America’s soul. William Lloyd Garrison himself at first believed that these Southern men and women could be reasoned with; that they were merely ignorant to the sinful nature of slavery and, if told the truth, would repent of their ways. Yet, he soon found out that this was not the case and slowly fell into a more strict view towards the slaveowners, seeing slavery as “‘a covenant with death, and an agreement with Hell’”(“The Abolitionist, Part 1”).

Angelina Grimke herself started out with this very same religious view of slavery. She was not truly concerned with the well-being of the slaves, but more with how slavery added sin onto the slaveowner’s themselves. She was worried about the salvation of the slaveowner’s souls, seeing slavery as a blight that could truly damn them. This idea came from the Cult of True Womanhood’s belief that existed at this time where women were expected to be pious- to be religious and moral figures of the household. Angelina Grimke saw it as her religious duty to save the white souls from the stain of slavery. Over time, her view would change to a stronger focus on the slaves themselves and their suffering, but in the beginning this was her perspective. Many other women believed this as well, joining the Abolitionist Movement in order to bring about this duty. As women, they worked hard to get rid of slavery, but in getting involved in the Abolitionist Movement, they began to truly see just how limited they were in acting in comparison to what the men were able to do. That is the exact realization that is shown in Grimke’s quote that was mentioned before.

In 1840, there was the first world Anti-Slavery Convention in London that Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her husband went to. It was a gathering of men and women from all over as the Stanton’s saw. As they entered, though, it became clear that the women were not exactly wanted at the Convention. Instead they were made to sit in an enclosed part of the location and could neither speak or vote in the proceedings. Due to the outrage of Wendell Phillips and William Lloyd Garrison at the treatment of these women, the convention sent out a gallery of ministers to explain why women could not be a part of the proceedings. It was at this Anti-Slavery convention that the Women’s Rights Movement truly began. These women had went to the convention in solidarity, wanting to help find a way to end slavery’s existence in America as had been done a few years before in England. Yet, they were almost immediately blindsided by their own limited rights and abilities at this convention.

This led many to believe that it was not only just slavery that needed to be fought against but also the degradation of women that occurred in society. It was in confronting slavery and the shackles that it created that women began to realize that they too wore their own shackles as well. This realization would grow quickly and just eight years after this convention, there would be the first ever Women’s Convention located in Seneca Falls, New York. As for Elizabeth Cady Stanton, it was at that London Anti-Slavery Convention that she met an ally on this road of Women’s Rights: Lucretia Mott. These two strongly believed that they had no rights and that they needed to fix this fact. 

As for Susan B. Anthony, in the 1940s she was feeling trapped in the circumstances of society. It was at this time that she happened upon an Anti-Slavery and Temperance meeting that her father was hosting. It was through talking to the men at this meeting that she began to step out into her future as a reformer. Being a Quaker herself, Anthony had more freedom as a women than the Puritan women of this time did. She was able to continue her schooling and, in her religion, women were often seen as more equal to men than Puritan women were to Puritan men. Starting out with the Temperance Movement(wishing to limit or make alcohol illegal), a movement that many women saw as their religious and moral duty to fight against, she began to slowly ebb into fighting for reform as she soon turned to Abolition. Her beliefs about women’s rights began to bleed into these different movements as Temperance could help stop domestic violence and the wasting away of household incomes which women often had no say in. With Abolition, her focus on women was shown when, “…she shocked the women present by urging them to have as much sympathy for the slave women of the South as they had for the battered wives of drunkards”(“Not For Ourselves Alone”). This soon led her to join the Women’s Rights Movement.

Both Abolition and Temperance movements were pushing for the reformation of society and for the freedom of American citizens, but as many women began to be shut out of and ignored at the Anti-Slavery Meetings, they began to realize that they needed to fight for their own rights as well as the slaves. People such as Angelina Grimke believed that once the woman was as free as the white man was, that they could do even more to push along the abolishment of slavery. As abolitionists fought against this idea, the women set out to create their own movement based on gaining rights for women. They organized meetings and sent out petitions, fighting for the right to vote from the very start of the Seneca Falls Convention to the shock of many attendees. An important figure for this convention was writer and escaped slave Frederick Douglass, whose words in favor of the Women’s Movement added credibility to the Convention and the leader’s actions.

From this, they went on to fight for their rights by forming societies and writing to their legislature. They fought for “Temperance and divorce reform, co-education and married women’s property rights, dress reform and equal pay for equal work”(“Not For Ourselves Alone”). Stanton spent her days taking care of her children and writing for Anthony while Anthony spent days and weeks on the road, speaking and campaigning for the rights of women. Much of what they pushed for horrified the audiences that they spoke to; many came just to watch for entertainment, but also many that watched were captivated and began to fight for women’s rights themselves. 

Then, what started out as a push for the abolishment of slavery and soon evolved into a push for women’s rights, slowly became undone at the achievement of the first goal. For decades and decades these women would fight; even after being halted during the Civil War and their previous work being undone, they still continued on. Unfortunately for the Women’s Movement, when slavery was abolished, many began to turn away from their actions as they wanted the progress to be gradual or wanted to focus more on helping the former slaves with their new lives rather than push for the rights of women- many wanted a break from such radical change. This led to a rip in the Women’s rights movement between the more radical believers(Stanton and Anthony) and more moderate believers(Lucy Stone and Frances Harper) that damaged the movement itself. So while both movements were intertwined with one another, it was not until years after Stanton and Anthony’s deaths that women would gain the right to vote, fifty years after black men were given the vote. As for the topic of equality between black and white women in the Women’s Rights Movement; that is a topic for another day.

Works Cited

“The Abolitionist, Part 1.” The American Experience. Arlington, VA: Public Broadcast Service(PBS), 2013.

Ken Burns and Paul Barnes. “Not For Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony–A Film.” Infobase, 2009.