Massachusetts in the woman suffrage movement. A general, political, legal and legislative history from 1774, to 1881
[Editorial Note: Harriet H. Robinson's Massachusetts in the woman suffrage movement is perhaps the first serious history of the woman's rights movement. She apparently got the inspiration for writing it at an 1880 Commemorative Convention, held in Worcester on the thirtieth anniversary of the first national woman's rights convention. In Appendix H, which describes this gathering, she thanked "Paulina Gerry (whose careful preservation of Woman's Rights documents has made the writing of this history possible)."]
Massachusetts in the woman suffrage movement. A general, political, legal and legislative history from 1774, to 1881. By Harriet H. Robinson
Second Edition. Boston: Roberts Brothers,1883; original ed., 1881.
In the administration of a State, neither a woman as a woman, nor a man as a man, has any special function, but the fits are equally diffused in the both sexes. * * * One woman has the gift of healing, another not; one is a musician, another not a musician; one woman is a philosopher, and another is an enemy to philosophy. * * The same education and opportunity for self-development which makes man a good guardian (or ruler) will make woman a good guardian (or ruler); for their original nature is the same.
Plato: Rep. Book V.
The woman's hour has struck.- "Warrington."
The Young Women Of Massachusetts
Who Enjoy The Fruits Of The Labors Of Those
Whose Names Are Recorded In These Pages
I Dedicate this Book
With The Hope That Since They Find The Path So
Well Opened To Them For Better Education,
Social, And Political Advantages, They
May Bear In Mind How Much
The Woman'S Rights Movement
Has Done To Clear The Way.
The writing of this book has been a labor of love; and I publish it in the hope that it may be found useful as a book of reference, and also, that it may help to keep the memory green of some of the earlier workers in the Woman's Rights Movement.
When writing upon certain phases of this question, I have often been very much hampered for want of authentic data upon which to base my statements. The cyclopedias say comparatively little, and there is no book of reference that enters into details on this subject. The need of such a book has no doubt been felt by others as well as by myself, and I sincerely hope that, so far as it goes, this work will supply that need.
In 1870, when I began to work for woman suffrage, I found in the ranks, many earnest men and women who had labored long in the weedy field of this reform. There were also, dim traditions of others whose names were half forgotten and the memory of whose services was fast becoming obliterated. A reformer is the Rip Van Winkle in the history of his time. If he leaves the procession, remains inactive for a period of years, or dies, he and his work are very soon forgotten. Already, the names of many of those who helped to lead the antislavery movement are to be found only in dusty reports or files of old newspapers. Without an authentic record of the woman suffrage movement, the coming generation might in a similar way forget its early workers.
In presenting the part Massachusetts has taken, I have its aspect as one who sees a landscape from a height-the general effect has been given, instead of minute details upon single points. I have not dwelt upon individual action, nor made a record of the work done by the leaders, since this is the province of the biographer rather than of the historian. I should gladly have devoted some space to the doctrine of woman's rights, as expounded by those whose names are found in these pages'; but within the limits of this book it would have been impossible to do justice to such authors or to such a theme.
My sources of information have been, carefully preserved reports of meetings; legislative documents and records; "Warrington's" letters and writings in the Springfield Republican, New York Tribune, and other newspapers; letters from friends of the cause from all parts of the country, and the personal reminiscences of old-time workers. To all the friends who have aided me in collecting material, I desire to express my thanks. I am especially grateful to Louisa M. Alcott and Wendell Phillips for their encouragement, and sympathy with my work; also to Frank B. Sanborn and Samuel E. Sewall, who have kindly helped me in the revision of my proofs, and thus secured for these pages technical and legal accuracy.
H. H. R.
Malden, Mass., Oct., 1881.
Introduction To The Second Edition.
second edition, now offered to the public, is carefully revised and corrected. In the Addenda will be found new matter, and also verifications of certain statements made in the first edition, which have been called in question by those who are as anxious as I am to have the history of the movement correct; but who have not, like myself, gone to the proper sources of information to substantiate them. In behalf of the book, I thank its friends for their cordial and substantial support, and also its critics for their timely and valuable suggestions.
Harriet H. Robinson.
Malden, Mass., Jan., 1883.
Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begun,
Each evening sees it close;
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night's repose.
- Longfellow. [The Village Blacksmith]
General History-Early Influences.
We want powder, but by the blessing of Heaven we fear them not. . . Abigail Adams, in 1774.
In this brief history of the Woman Suffrage Movement in Massachusetts, will be found a record of the distant and surrounding causes which brought the reform into successful existence, with some mention of the names of those men and women who, long before the date of the first Woman's Rights Convention, listened and responded to this new cry for life.
The earliest voice heard was that of Abigail Adams, wife of our first President Adams, who, in a letter written to her husband, in 1774, at the time the First Continental Congress met in Philadelphia, said: "In the new code of laws * * I desire you would remember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power in the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation." Was not this a prophetic word? and though spoken half playfully by one who, perhaps, would not have confessed how serious the matter was with her, to-day, after an interval of more than a century, it contains the gist of the whole Woman's Rights Movement.
After the Constitution was framed, the women who had done and sacrificed so much for the country, in the War of Independence, having been left out, Mrs. Adams wrote again to her husband in gentle warning words: "I cannot say that I think you are very generous to the ladies, for, while you are proclaiming peace and good will to all men, emancipating all nations, you insist upon retaining absolute power over wives. But you must remember, that absolute power, like most other things which are very bad, is most likely to be broken." Our first President Adams, in his attitude towards this subject, is an example of the sort of statesman, or legislator, described by his wife in one of her later letters: "He who is most strenuous for the rights of the people, when vested with power, is as eager after the prerogatives of government."
Mercy Otis Warren, sister of the fiery patriot, James Otis, was a staunch advocate of the "inherent rights" of all the citizens of the new republic. She was the first woman to make use of this celebrated phrase, and to assert that "inherent rights belonged to all mankind, and had been conferred on all by the God of nations." In 1818, Hannah Mather Crocker, grand-daughter of Cotton Mather, published a book, called "Observations on the Rights of Women." * After this date, and until 1828, there is no record to be found, of any public expression here upon this subject.
In 1828 Frances Wright, an educated Scotch-woman, came to this country to lecture upon the "Moral and Political Questions of the Day, including Woman's Rights." This gifted lady was an able exponent of the doctrines of her eminent country-woman, Mary Wollstonecraft, as set forth in her celebrated book, the "Vindication of the Rights of Woman." Ernestine L. Rose, a beautiful Polish lady, lectured in 1836, in New York and other States, upon the Equal Rights of Women. In 1837, Mary S. Gove spoke upon the same subject, especially upon woman's right to a thorough medical education. About this time Sarah and Angelina Grimké, daughters of a wealthy planter in South Carolina, emancipated their slaves, and came North to live, and they lectured on the evils of slavery.
In 1838, Abby Kelly, a young Quakeress, made her first appearance upon the anti-slavery platform. She was the first Massachusetts woman who spoke to mixed audiences of men and women in the State. As agent of the American Anti-Slavery Society, Abby Kelly followed in the footsteps of Angelina Grimké; speaking to the people, in school houses churches, upon the horrors of slavery. The churches were alarmed at such an innovation, and both men and women were expelled from their body for going to hear them, especially on Sunday!1 Had not St. Paul said that women were to keep silent in the churches? It unsexed them, the church dignitaries had said in a Pastoral Letter, written by the General Association of Congregational Ministers in Massachusetts (in 1837), and it was unnatural that woman should assume the place and tone of man as a public reformer.
This "Clerical Bull," as it was called, was ably answered by Sarah Grimké, in a series of letters to Mary S. Parker (President of the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society), and in spite of its interdict, Abby Kelly, and Sarah and Angelina Grimké continued to speak in public, and bring the rights of their sex more and more into the Anti-Slavery Conventions. In the annual report of the American Anti-Slavery Society, for 1839, the question of woman's right to speak upon the platform was endorsed by an "immense majority" in spite of an attempt on the part of some members to "strike out so much as related to the subject." Though women were members of this society, and were permitted to aid in raising money, and in doing a large proportion of the work, they had never been permitted to vote in the conventions, or serve upon its committees.
In the same year a resolution was passed at the annual Convention of the New England Anti-Slavery Society, inviting all persons, whether men or women, who agreed in sentiment on the subject of slavery, to become members and participate in the proceedings. A protest against this resolution was offered, containing reasons why women should not be permitted to speak and vote in Conventions; one of which was, that such an "irrelevant innovation" would be "injurious to the cause of the slave." By a strange anomaly, one of the seven signers of this "Protest" against personal liberty was Charles T. Torrey2, who was afterwards a martyr to the cause of negro emancipation.
In 1840, woman's right to serve on the board of officers of anti-slavery was established, Abby Kelley being put on the business committee of the American Anti-Slavery Society, with the full right to speak and vote upon all questions. This was in the annual Convention, and some of the members were so exasperated, that a portion of them left the meeting. Of their number were eight clergymen of the same denomination [Congregational] as that which had fulminated the "Clerical Bull." By this even the American Anti-Slavery Society was divided from centre to circumference. But the "Garrisonian wing," as it came afterwards to be called, stood on the right side of the questions, and firmly espoused the equal rights of all American citizens, irrespective of sex. At the World's Anti-Slavery Convention, held in 1840, a similar scene was enacted. The women delegates from America were refused seats in the Convention, and this "insane innovation, this woman-intruding delusion," was severely rebuked by the leading English Anti-Slavery members. Some of the men delegates from America sided with the women; George Bradburn, Wendell Phillips, James Mott, William Adam, Isaac Winslow, J. P Miller, Henry B. Stanton and others, openly protested. Mr. [William Lloyd] Garrison, who arrived late, refused to take his seat unless all delegates, women as well as men, could be admitted to their rightful privilege.
These and similar experiences, taught some of the Anti-Slavery people that there was still another class of human beings, besides the black men, who had rights a "white man was bound to respect"3; and from that time began the real work for the equal rights of woman. Lydia Maria Child (the first woman journalist in the country), through her able articles in the Anti-Slavery Standard, which she edited, began to infuse into the public mind a little leaven of this doctrine.
Abby Kelley never failed, in her speeches upon the Anti-Slavery platform, to make a tacit appeal for the rights of her sex. It was said of her: "She acted like a gentle hero, with her mild decision, and womanly calmness," Angelina and Sarah Grimké, the one with her voice, the other with her pen, eloquently pleaded; and in the "Garrisonian wing" were many men who helped to sow the seeds of this reform. It is enough to say, that the leaders in the Anti-Slavery movement in Massachusetts were also leaders in the early Woman's Rights movement, and that their voices, if still heard upon the earth, have continued to be identified with the cause.
There were two social influences at work in Massachusetts, in 1840, creating public sentiment concerning this new reform. Leading writers of the time, who belonged to what was then called the Transcendental School, took up the theme. Notable among these was Massachusetts Fuller, who, in her article entitled "The Great Lawsuit," (The Dial, 1844) struck the key-note of the whole question. She wrote: "We would have every arbitrary barrier thrown down. We would have every path laid open to woman as freely as to man. * * We would have women lay aside all thoughts such as she habitually cherishes, of being taught and led by men. * * Man cannot by right lay even well-meant restrictions on woman." In her "Woman in the Nineteenth Century," printed two years later, Miss Fuller had advanced to a more practical consideration of the subject. Then she wrote, that man ought to give woman every privilege acquired for himself: elective franchise, tenure of property, liberty to speak in public assemblies, and equal opportunities for education. Theodore Parker, that man of a century; the great Unitarian, Dr. Channing; Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Henry Channing, and A. Bronson Alcott, accepted Miss Fuller's ideas upon this subject.
During the same years in which the Dial was published (1840-44), another magazine of a very different literary character, was publishing in a little city not far from Boston. This was the Lowell Offering, edited by Harriet F. Curtis and Harriet Farley. Not only was this publication edited, but all its contributions were written by young women, actively employed in the Lowell cotton mills. This was without doubt the first magazine in the country conducted solely by women. It reached a very different class of readers from those of the Dial, but it also advocated woman's right to independence of thought and of action. Its influence in Massachusetts and in New England was wide-spread. It found its way into lonely villages and farm-houses, and set the women to thinking, and thus it added its little leaven of progressive thought, to the times in which it lived.
Says Taine4: "In order to be developed, an idea must be in harmony with surrounding civilization, and the whole age must co-operate with it." It was necessary that the preceding influences, so briefly mentioned, should be at work, in order that the idea of woman's equality with man could become enough developed to demand some public expression on the subject. It had been three quarters of a century since the first Massachusetts woman had dared offer a gentle plea for the rights of her sex. The time had come when the voices of many women, in her own and in other states, were to be heard to declare themselves no longer willing to be "bound by any laws in which they had no voice, or representation."
The first Convention to discuss woman's rights and duties was planned by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, and was held at Seneca Falls, New York, on the 19th and 20th of July, 1848. The members of this Convention based the claims of woman on the Declaration of Independence, demanded equal rights, and published their sentiments over their own names. There were present sixty-eight women and thirty-eight men. At the head of the list were the names of James and Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Frederick Douglass (not yet emancipated), Martha C. Wright, and Amy Post. Near the close of the meeting, the members finding that there was still a great deal to be said upon the subject, adjourned for two weeks, and held a similar Convention, in Rochester, New York, on the second of August.
In May, 1850, a third Woman's Rights Convention was held in Salem, Ohio. It was quit well attended and its proceedings were discussed in the columns of the New York Tribune.
The first National Woman's Rights Convention was held in Worcester, Massachusetts, October 23 and 24, 1850. This is the fourth convention in order held in the United States to discuss the question of woman's right to equality before the law, to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
General History Continued. Ten Great
"If there be a word of truth in history, women have been always and still are, over the greater part of the globe, humble companions, playthings, captives, menials and beasts of burden." .......... Macaulay.
At an Anti-Slavery meeting held in Boston in 1850, an invitations was given from the speaker's desk, to all those who felt interested in a plan for a National Woman's Rights Convention, to meet in the ante-room. Nine solitary women responded, and went into the dark and dingy room to consult together. Out of their number a committee of seven was chosen to call a Convention in Massachusetts. The names of this committee were Harriet K. Hunt, Eliza J. Kenney, Lucy Stone, Abby Kelley Foster, Paulina Wright Davis, Dora Taft (Father Taylor's daughter)5, and Eliza J. Taft. The call was issued, signed by the names of prominent men and women from Massachusetts and different parts of the United States.
It had been hoped that Margaret Fuller could be prevailed upon the preside at this Convention, and a letter had been written to her, asking her to become a leader in the movement, but
"The unplumb'd, salt, estranging sea"
had carried her far beyond the reach of all earthly voices. The Convention was held in Brinley Hall, Worcester, Oct. 23 and 24, 1850, and was called to order by Sarah H. Earle of Worcester, and presided over by Paulina Wright Davis of Rhode Island. Representative men and women were present from the different states, but of the two hundred and sixty-eight names of those who signed themselves members, one hundred and eighty-six were from Massachusetts.
Conspicuous among the speakers were the old Anti-Slavery leaders, Wendell Phillips, William Lloyd Garrison, C.C. Burleigh, W.H. Channing and Stephen S. Foster. Among the women who spoke were Abby Kelley Foster, Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, Antoinette L. Brown (whom the newspapers called a "beautiful orthodox Oberlin priestess"), Abby H. Price (the first of those large-hearted women to speak in public on the social question [I.e., prostitution]), Harriet K. Hunt (the first Massachusetts woman to protest in public against "taxation without representation"), Eliza J. Kenney (the first woman whose name had led a petition to the Massachusetts Legislature, asking for the equal rights of her sex), and last but not least, Lucy Stone. This eloquent advocate of woman's rights made her first speech on the subject in 1847. The newspapers of that date said of her: "She is young, has a silvery voice, and a heart warm with enthusiasm." Letters addressed to the Convention were read from Samuel J. May, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Gerrit Smith and many others.
In the rank and file of the members were also found Anti-Slavery workers, and many others who had come long distances to listen, or be converted to the new doctrine of woman's rights and duties. What sacrifices, domestic and social, did not some of these devoted souls make, that they might show the faith that was in them! Many of them are forgotten, and their names have travelled "the way to dusty death," but the flame they helped to kindle, like a "Candlestick set in a low place, has given light as faithfully, where it was needed, as that upon the hill." It is well to keep the "memory green" of those who thus early took up the cross when it was a cross, in this weak, and as it was then often called, ridiculous movement. Their voices sounded the notes of preparation, for the woman's hour that was to be.
Tidings of this and of the Ohio Convention travelled across the ocean, and their deliberations were ably discussed by Harriet Taylor, in the Westminster Review, and great attention was aroused thereby as to the importance of the subject. It is not too much to say, that the whole Woman's Rights agitation in Old England, as well as in Massachusetts, and in New England, may be dated from these conventions of 1850.
The newspapers of our own State did not follow the lead of the great English Quarterly in its treatment of the new movement, but found this "Hen Convention," as they jocosely called it, a fruitful theme for ridicule. They even went so far as to say that some of the women had voices that sounded like the cackling of hens! So far as known, only four newspapers in Massachusetts treated the subject with sympathy or respect. These were the Lynn Pioneer, edited by George Bradburn; the Liberator , edited by William Lloyd Garrison; the Carpet Bag, a humorous Boston newspaper, whose writers treated the matter sportively but in a kindly spirit, and the Lowell American, a little Free Soil newspaper edited and published by William S. Robinson, afterwards so well known in journalism under the nom de plume of "Warrington."
Many well-remembered anecdotes might be related, to show the drift of opinion of the time, as to the real meaning of this new departure for women. With crude minds the hen or rooster argument was considered even more conclusive or convincing, than the sphere reasoning is to-day.
The central idea of the Woman's Rights movement was supposed to be a desire on the part of some women to wear men's clothes, and learn to crow; but whether like men, or like barn-yard bipeds, was never clearly defined. When Lucy Stone went to Malden (a suburban town near Boston) to speak for the Anti-Slavery cause, a certain clergyman announced the proposed meeting from his pulpit, in these words: "This evening, at the Town Hall, a hen will attempt to crow!" This was thought to be a huge joke!
A second Convention was held in Worcester, in the same hall as before, on Oct. 15 and 16, 1851. Mrs. Davis again presided, and many of the speakers and members of the Convention of 1850 were present. The new speakers were Elizabeth Oakes Smith of New York, Dr. O. Martin, Mehitable Haskell, Charles List and Sarah Redlon of Massachusetts, Mrs. C. I. H. Nichols of Vermont, Emma R. Coe of Ohio, Dr. Lougshore of Philadelphia, and Rebecca Spring of Brooklyn. Letters were received from Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Ward Beecher, Horace Mann, Angelina Grimké Weld, Oliver Johnson, Frances D. Gage and others.
Among the letters received from over the ocean was one sent by Jeanne Deroine and Pauline Roland, two French Socialists, from their prison in St. Lazare, where they were held in captivity because of their republican principles concerning universal suffrage. Harriet Martineau also sent a long letter, in which she gave an account of the interest excited in England by the Worcester Convention of 1850, and she also expressed her profound sympathy with the new movement. With other reforms, Pauline Roland advocated the doctrine that marriage should never be tolerated, unless the man as well as the woman, could be compelled to keep the law of chastity.
It was at this Convention of 1851, that Abby Kelly Foster made the speech containing the little sentence so long and lovingly remembered. She had been urging upon the women their duties, as wives, mothers, and as citizens, and then, in reference to something said by another speaker in disparagement of the Anti-Slavery platform, she, who knew so well, what had been done by those pioneer workers in order that such a gathering of women could be possible, said, in her inspiring tones: "I do not rise to make a speech; my life has been my speech. For fourteen years, I have advocated this cause by my daily life. Bloody feet, sisters, have worn smooth the paths by which you come up hither."
A third National Convention was held at Syracuse, New York, in September, 1852. The call was signed by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Paulina W. Davis, William H. Channing, Lucy Stone and Samuel J. May. Lucretia Mott presided. The most notable Massachusetts woman who appeared as speaker at this Convention, was Susan B. Anthony. She had been lecturing since 1847, as agent for the temperance cause, but she made her debut on the Woman's Rights platform at the Syracuse Convention of 1852. Susan B. Anthony's name, with that of Lucy Stone, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, is known in connection with the Woman's Rights Movement wherever the English language is spoken or interpreted. For some unexplainable reason, it has been the fortune of these ladies, more than of any other leaders, to bear the obloquy incident to the movement, and to be considered the typical Woman's Rights advocates as illustrated in the burlesque drama, or in caricature. "Susan B." is par excellence the martyr to the cause of Woman Suffrage, since she has been arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to be imprisoned, on the charge of "voting contrary to law."
The new speakers, not heretofore mentioned, were Gerrit Smith, Mr. Howlett, Lydia S. Fowler, Matilda E. J. Gage, Jane Elizabeth Jones, B. S. Jones, Catherine Stebbins, Ernestine L. Rose, James Mott, Martha C. Wright, and perhaps others. Letters of sympathy were read from Rev. S. J. May, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Horace Greeley, Mrs. Hugo Reid of England, Rev. William H. Channing, John Neal of Maine, Rev. A. D. Mayo, William Lloyd Garrison, Margaret H. Andrews, Angelina G. Weld, and Sarah D. Fisk. Mr. C. A. Hammond, of New York State Committee of the Liberty Party, offered resolutions of endorsement of the movement.
In 1853 a Woman's Rights Convention was held at Broadway. Tabernacle in New York. Lucretia Mott presided. Conspicuous among the new names of speakers and workers were those of Rev. John Pierpont, Caroline M. Severance and John C. Cluer. Madame Anneke, a German lady, editor of a German Woman's Rights paper, addressed the Convention in her own tongue, Mrs. E. L. Rose translating her remarks into English as she spoke.
This Convention is notable from the fact that it witnessed the public confession of one Boston editor, Isaac C. Pray, who, in a spirit of repentance, publicly acknowledged himself converted to the doctrine he had hitherto ridiculed. He said: "This cause has been the butt of all the ridicule I could command. There is not a lady on this platform whom my pen has not assailed; and now I come to make all the reparation in my power, by thus raising my voice in behalf of them and the cause committed to their hands." A praiseworthy example to all Boston editors! This is the only Convention at which any particular disturbance occurred. According to the records it broke up in confusion. Whether the Boston editor's confession had anything to do with it does not appear.
A letter was read from the Woman's Rights Association of Illinois, showing the gratifying progress of public opinion on this question in that State. In 1851-52, Indiana, Pennsylvania and others of the States, had begun to follow the good example of New York, Ohio, and Massachusetts, in agitating the new reform.
In October, 1853, a Fourth National Woman's Rights Convention was held in Cleveland, Ohio. Lucretia Mott, the former President of the association, called the meeting to order, Frances D. Gage of Missouri was chosen President, and a fervent prayer was offered by Rev. Antoinette Brown. Massachusetts was represented by Stephen S. and Abby Kelly Foster, Lucy Stone and Wm. Lloyd Garrison. Ernestine L. Rose was chairman of the Business Committee, and Susan B. Anthony of the Finance Committee. William H. Channing, in a letter proposed a Woman's Declaration of Rights, which, with a similar one passed at Seneca Falls, was referred to a committee for final action.
This is not the first time an attempt was made to form a Woman's Declaration of Independence. In a letter from Mr. Francis Cogswell, of Bedford, to E. R. Hoar, President of the Concord (Mass) celebration of 1850, may be found the following: "In the recent Female Declaration of Independence, framed and signed by the immortal thirty-two ladies of Cambridge, may be found the following significant language: We offer, say the fair rebels, as an apology for this our first manifesto, the fact that we have too long been regarded as political ciphers, and that we have sacredly resolved to make the year 1850, memorable as the commencement of a new era in politics." This letter was written in April of the same year that the first Woman's Rights Convention was held in Massachusetts. Who the "immortal thirty-two ladies," who framed this document were, has not yet been discovered.
The notable persons who first appeared at the 1853 Woman's Rights Convention, were Joshua R. Giddings ("Old Gid") the great Ohio Free Soil leader, and Henry B. Blackwell. This latter gentleman made a memorable speech upon woman's right to freedom, personal and political. After enumerating the many causes, which led to woman's degradation, he said that even her dress, was characteristic of her social condition. And he advised any gentleman present, who did not agree with him as to the cramped condition in which woman was placed, even in the matter of clothing, to try to live one day in her habiliments. In the social position of woman, she found herself still more bound and restrained. Was it any wonder that woman suffered thus fettered and confined from the cradle to the grave? For himself he would not accept life on such conditions.
The Bloomer costume, as it was called, had appeared a few years before, and several leading women-Lucy Stone among them-had adopted the fashion. The credit of originating this costume, afterwards made so famous, belongs to Mrs. E. S. Miller, a daughter of Gerrit Smith of New York. She lived in the country near her father's home, and was in the habit of going every day, in all weather, to visit him. Her long dresses were so much of an inconvenience, in walking over the country roads to his residence, that she determined to adopt a costume she had seen Mrs. Fanny Kemble wear on some mountain excursions. She at once proceeded to cut off one of her long dresses just below the knee and with the material thus gained, she made Turkish trowsers, and this, with the addition of a short sack, completed the suit. Afterwards, by one of the caprices of history, this dress, so originated, was named for Mrs. Amelia Bloomer, a lady who also adopted it.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Mrs. Miller's cousin, was the second lady to adopt this fashion. Attempts were made to introduce the reform dress generally, among women. Conventions and parlor meetings were held, to discuss the project, and the "Bloomerites" in one city at least, (Lowell), appeared in public, as a part of the Fourth of July procession of 1851, dressed in their unique and striking costume. They were nearly two hundred in number, fair young working girls, from the Lowell Cotton Mills, and if they did not look like "liveried angels," (as they were said to have looked on a similar occasion, when dressed in white, with gay parasols, they walked in procession in honor of Andrew Jackson,) they were a pretty sight, and made a choice subject for the illustrated newspapers of the time. Even the London Punch thought the "American Bloomerites" worthy the attention of its artist. The reform dress though worn several years by leading and progressive women, was finally done to death like many a better fashion, by the ridicule of the newspapers and the boys in the streets.
To return. In Mr. Blackwell's speech, after he had finished his remarks upon the subject of woman's dress, he endorsed the Bloomer costume and spoke of its peculiarities as follows: "When I first heard about it, it commended itself to my reason, but when I first saw it, I confess my taste recoiled from the novelty. I felt a shock, in spite of myself, as a figure, which seemed neither man nor woman, approached me." "But," he continued earnestly, "I feel so no longer." History must tell that he soon passed beyond the enduring stage in his conversion, and that a certain little rosy cheeked reformer who wore the "short dress," soon after became to him the dearest woman in the world.
Two years later (1855), Henry B. Blackwell and his wife, Lucy Stone, made their protest against the marriage laws, as then existing, and enunciated their belief, that though married, they were still individuals, with distinct and separate rights; that woman, as wife, could not be absorbed in the husband, or extinguished by the marriage ceremony, and that she should still continue to hold her own property, and keep her own name as before marriage. For twenty-five years Lucy Stone and her husband have maintained these opinions.
In 1879, desiring to vote under the new law allowing women to vote for school committees, she applied for registration under her own name, of Lucy Stone. The Registrar of voters gave the opinion that as her married name was Blackwell, her request could not be granted, and the matter being referred to the City Solicitor of Boston, he confirmed this view of the subject. Not willing to make this concession of principle to an old tradition, Lucy Stone has not yet become a voter.6
T. W. [Thomas Wentworth] Higginson of Massachusetts wrote memorable letters to the 1853 Conventions.
The first Woman's Rights Convention ever held in Boston, was in 1854, at Horticultural Hall, the same day upon which Anthony Burns was carried back into slavery. Though many of the friends staid away to witness this sad surrender, the hall was crowded with earnest men and women, whom a deep interest in the movement had drawn together. The speakers were Lucy Stone, James Freeman Clarke, Harriet K. Hunt, Mr. Phillips, Mr. Garrison, Abby Kelley Foster, William I. Bowditch and many others. Sarah H. Earle of Worcester, presided, and Ellen M. Tarr of Boston, was secretary.
September 19th and 20th, 1855, a New England meeting convened at the Meionaon to consider the laws of the different New England States in relation to women. Harriet K. Hunt presided, and delivered the opening address. Paulina Wright Davis was permanent chairman. Caroline H. Dall reported on the laws of Massachusetts, Mrs. Davis reported from Rhode Island, (this document was drawn up by Dunbar Harris), Ann E. Brown from Vermont, Ellen M. Tarr from New Hampshire, and Francis Gillette from Connecticut. Susan B. Anthony, Wendell Phillips, Antoinette Brown, T. W. Higginson and Lucy Stone were among the speakers. Ralph Waldo Emerson delivered the closing lecture and Elizabeth Oakes Smith read a poem.
In 1856 the Seventh National Woman's Rights Convention was held in Broadway Tabernacle, New York. Martha C. Wright called the meeting to order; Lucy Stone presided, and made an eloquent opening address. Massachusetts was represented in letters and speakers by Rev. Samuel Johnson, Francis Jackson, T. W. Higginson, A. Bronson Alcott, Susan B. Anthony, N. H. Whiting and Wendell Phillips. Horace Greeley again gave his assurance of sympathy with the cause. He wrote: "If the women of this, or any other country believe their rights would be better secured, and their happiness promoted by the assumption on their part, of the political franchises and responsibilities of men, I, a republican in principle from conviction, shall certainly interpose no objection." Frances D. Gage, Ernestine L. Rose and Lucretia Mott also spoke; and Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote an able letter on woman's rights in the marriage relation.
The 1856 Convention was held just after the election of President Buchanan, a time when the issue of the Anti-Slavery question was the most absorbing thought in the public mind. Fremont had been the candidate of the Republican party, (or "the Party of Freedom,") and the name of Jessie Benton Fremont, had been made a rallying cry of the campaign. The Convention, taking advantage of this fact, made an appeal in its resolutions to both the Democratic and Republican parties to do justice "to both halves of the human race." To the Republican party it said: "Resolved: That the Republican party, appealing constantly, through its orators, to female sympathy, and using for its most popular rallying cry a female name, is peculiarly pledged by consistency, to do justice hereafter in those states where it holds control." It need hardly be added that no notice was taken of this appeal by those to whom it was addressed. And yet the Republican party was fast coming into power, made up of men who were old Anti-Slavery and Free Soil political leaders, whose motto was Emancipation, Free Speech and a Free World!
After Fremont was defeated it seemed to those who had labored so long for the black man's freedom, and for the rights of woman, as if both causes were lost. The Woman Movement was silent for a period of three years, and there is no record of a National or other convention, in which Massachusetts had a part.
A Woman's Rights meeting, the third of the kind in Boston, was held at Mercantile Hall, May 27, 1859, the report of which was published by S. R. Urbino. It was called by Caroline M. Severance and Caroline H. Dall. Mrs. Severance presided and made the address of welcome. Harriet K. Hunt spoke on "Woman: 1st, Restricted in Education; 2d, Deprived of Suffrage; 3d, Taxed without Representation. Rev. James Freeman Clarke, Rev. John T. Sargent, Rev. Charles G. Ames and Wendell Phillips were the speakers. Mrs. Dall made an able report showing what had been the gain to the movement since 1855, in Europe as well as in America. The Ninth National Convention was held in New York May 12, 1859. A number of the Massachusetts leaders whose names have been mentioned were present, and a committee was appointed to petition the Legislatures of the several states. Their names were, Wendell Phillips, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Caroline H. Dall, Caroline M. Severance, Ernestine L. Rose, Antoinette B. [Brown] Blackwell, Thomas W. Higginson and Susan B. Anthony. The Tenth National Convention was held in New York city in 1860, and here nearly the same names are found as workers and speakers.
It will be seen that the National Conventions, up to this date, though not often held in the State, were partly organized by Massachusetts reformers who had learned so well how to manage them through their Anti-Slavery experience. Hence, some record of the proceedings of the Conventions mentioned, is necessary, in order to make complete the history of the inception of the Woman's Rights Movement in Massachusetts. The hands of her chieftains can plainly be traced holding the leading strings of this great reform. A newspaper correspondent, in the Springfield Republican, writing of this matter, said: If Boston reformers have not absolutely turned the crank of the Universe for the last thirty years, they have taken a spell at it, perhaps oftener than any other men and women in the country, and deserve to have credit given them accordingly."
1 Poor old Abby Folsom deserves some mention, as a martyr to woman's right to speak in public. She was notorious as a "woman's righter," and the boys followed and hooted her along the street. She was one of the first women to speak in anti-slavery meetings. Emerson called her the "Flea of Conventions." But for this impaling on the pen of his genius, her name would have been long ago lost in her forgotten grave. [Robinson note]
2 Charles Turner Torrey was a white minister and abolitionist who was convicted in Maryland of assisting a fugitive slave and who died in prison.
3 A reference to Chief Justice Roger B. Taney's decision in the Dred Scott Case. He wrote that the founding fathers regarded African Americans "as beings of an inferior order" who "had no rights which the white man was bound to respect."
4 Hippolyte Adolphe Taine (1828-1893), French historian who wrote a History of English Literature (1864).
5 Edward Thompson Taylor, pastor of the (Methodist) Seaman's Bethel Chapel in Boston, was a renowned preacher. Whitman called him an "essentially perfect orator." Emerson called him the "Shakespeare of the American pulpit."
6 Yet she could not have been registered as Mrs. Henry B. Blackwell! The question seems to be, which of her husband's names did she marry? [Robinson note]