1850: First National Women’s Rights Convention Is Held
At the historic 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, more than 300 advocates for women’s equality—men and women—debated for two days before adopting a Declaration of Sentiments that, among other positions, called for women suffrage. The attendees also agreed that a series of annual national conventions should be held to further the cause of women’s rights, especially the right to vote and even hold political office. It would take two years to organize the first national convention, during which time smaller conventions were held in Indiana, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
On Oct. 23, 1850, the first National Women’s Rights Convention was held in Worcester, Massachusetts. More than 900 people attended this important event, including such famous feminists and abolitionists as Paulina Kellogg Wright Davis, Frederic Douglass, Abby Kelley Foster, William Lloyd Garrison, Lucretia Mott and Sojourner Truth. Eleven states were represented at that first national convention: California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont. Even though California had become the nation’s 31st state only the month before the convention, one delegate made that long journey to make sure the new state was represented.
During the two days the National Women’s Rights Convention met in Worcester’s Brinley Hall, important discussions took place, powerful speeches were given, and several impassioned letters were read from supporters who could not attend. A range of women’s issues were debated, including property rights, equal wages, marriage reform, and of course suffrage.
This convention gave great impetus to the women’s rights movement in this country, and during the course of 11 years 10 conventions were held, that string interrupted by the outbreak of the Civil War. After the war, two more National Women’s Rights Conventions were held, in 1866 and 1869. The work those dedicated women and men did during these 12 national conventions was carried on, culminating on Aug. 26, 1920, when the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ensuring women’s right to vote, was finally ratified.
These three newspaper articles are about the first National Women’s Rights Convention. The first article was published by Worcester’s own newspaper, the National Aegis, on the day the convention opened. The second article was published by a newspaper from one of the states represented at the convention: Ohio. The third article, from another representative state, New York, takes a sarcastic swipe at the convention and its attendees.
This article was published by the National Aegis (Worcester, Massachusetts) on Oct. 23, 1850:
The Convention Today
The Whigs, Democrats, Free-Democrats, Land Reformers, Come-Outers, Disunionists and Thusologists, having held their respective Conventions for the season, and most of them in this city, the only remaining organization takes effect in this place today. We refer to the one called “in favor or the rights of women.” The call is signed by about an equal proportion of men and women. Lucy Stone heads the Massachusetts list. The names of Wm. Lloyd Garrison, Abby Kelley Foster, Wendell Phillips, Gerritt Smith and Lucretia Mott, will show the character of the expected convention. The Providence Journal having been selected as the organ of publication, it thus describes its own adhesion to the cause:
“It will be seen by the programme, it is our intention to begin moderately. In respect to the very general prejudice which, however unjustly, assigns woman to the more retired pursuits and the more delicate employments of life, we do not at present propose that she shall command steamboats, fight Indians, or chew tobacco. These will come in due time, and, at the present rate of progress, may be expected very soon; but we do mean that they shall vote and sit in Congress, and dig gold in California, if she pleases, at once.
The position to which we shall assign the men, when we have our new system fully established, we have not fully decided. If they take the change kindly and submit with a good grace to their inevitable fate, we shall probably admit them to some sort of equality with the other sex. But if they make any resistance, if they manifest the least restlessness even, under the new order of things, we shall consign them to the same dependent servitude in which they have so long kept the sex that is now rising to the mastery, and condemn them to tend babies, make shirts, and wear petticoats.”
This article was published by the Daily Ohio Statesman (Columbus, Ohio) on Oct. 26, 1850:
Women’s Rights Convention
Philadelphia, Oct. 25, 1850.
Editor, Ohio Statesman:
The Women’s Rights Convention assembled at Worcester, Mass., on Wednesday morning. Ten States were represented, viz: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio [an 11th state, California, was represented by a single delegate—ed.].
Frederick Douglass was also in the meeting.
Several dark colored sisters were visible in the corners.
Garrison, Philips, Burleigh, and Foster were also present.
The Convention was organized as follows: Miss Paulina W. Davis, of Rhode Island, President; Vice Presidents, Rev. W. H. Channing, of New York, and Sarah Trindale, of Pa.; Secretaries, Hannah M. Darlington, of Pa., and James C. Matthaway, of New York.
Miss Davis, on taking the chair, read a very elaborate and philosophical address on the wrongs and rights of Woman, and her capacities. She presented the restraints under which women are bound down to slavery. In touching the matter, she asserted the equality of woman, by nature, and asserted that she was entitled to equality in politics, legislation, and everything else. Woman wanted an equal chance for unfolding her great capacities, and she was bound to have it. Society was in a state of barbarism while it denied equality of privileges—political, religious, and all other privileges.
On motion of Lucretia Mott, who considered the address too tame, the question of adoption was left open for debate.
On motion, all present, white and black, were invited to participate.
Letters were read, from which the following is extracted: Mr. Lucius Hine of Cincinnati, in a letter, maintaining the equality of women, in their right to all privileges assumed by man; the right to vote, hold office, and go to battle if necessary, leaving men to take their fair share of the duties of the kitchen and nursery.
Mrs. Elizabeth Wilson of Ohio put in a protest against the despotism of the men, especially that despotism that makes them [women] inferior beings in point of intellect, when it was no such thing. She thought Jenny Lind, in her public singing for the pleasure of these tyrants over her sex, was violating female delicacy. Speeches and resolutions of a similar purport were made and proposed.
The Convention adjourned to meet next morning.
This article was published by the Spectator (New York, New York) on Oct. 28, 1850:
A Change of Theme
We have had more to do recently with the turmoil and conflict of politics than exactly accords with our taste, and probably more than has been quite palatable to the majority of our readers. The times, however, seemed to demand full and earnest discussion of certain movements and of more than one agitated question, and we but met our responsibilities, as we fain would always do. Our Boston exchanges supply another and different theme. They bid us hear how the women talk, and with such a request we cannot be unwilling to comply. At Washington, at Syracuse, at Utica—not to mention sundry haunts of politicians in the Empire city—the men have been talk, talk, talking, a-talking all day through, and now from a quiet village in Massachusetts, embosomed amid forest-clad scenery, come up the voices of many women, assembled to describe their own excellences, modestly to proclaim their own virtues and womanfully—we had nearly written manfully—to assert their equality with (hinting very plainly at their superiority also) the sterner sex. Now we maintain there is not in America or Europe, in Iceland or Timbuctoo, a [news]paper holding woman in higher esteem, a journal more earnestly desirous that woman shall hold her right place in society, than our own; and we therefore claim the right of reviewing with perfect candor the proceedings of the “Women’s Rights Convention,” now in session in Worcester, Massachusetts.
“Business before pleasure,” is a good rule for the merchant or laborer; facts before sentiment, is an equally judicious motto for an editor. Acting upon it, we say briefly that this (for there have been others) “Women’s Rights Convention” commenced its session on Wednesday morning. Among the women present are to be included, according to the published reports, Parker Pillsbury, James M. Buffum, Wendell Phillips, C. C. Burleigh, W. H. Channing, Frederick Douglass, Joseph C. Hathaway, and other ladies of various ages, who were remarkable for wearing apparel different from that of others of the sex with whom they were associated. Perhaps, however, the most remarkable feature was the presence of “Nathaniel Barney and wife of Nantucket”—probably the only instance on record of a matrimonialized couple agreeing on this important question of women’s rights, or of husband and wife attending such a convention in concert. The fact is very properly and naturally made prominent in the report of the proceedings, and may by some be regarded as a forerunner of that exceedingly “good time” which is so unreasonably long in “coming”; when, abandoning the old metaphors of the lion and the lamb and the wolf and the kid, it shall be said that husbands and wives shall attend women’s rights conventions together. In addition to those ladies already named, as we need scarcely say, Lucretia Mott, Rebecca Plumley, and Abby K. Foster honored the convention with their presence and their speeches.
...And then again Mrs. Lucretia Mott “made some further remarks,” a thing she is in the habit of doing, wherever and whenever she can get a hearing. She was very combative over the words “love, honor and obey,” and said that “these words were put into the woman’s mouth by the priest, or rather, repeated by the priest, and not by the woman, though she reluctantly answered “yes”—in other words, that woman would even take that solemn oath of obedience rather than not be transferred to the husband, as Mrs. Rose hath it.
But enough of this. And now for our reason for noticing the proceedings of this convention. We will not mince the matter. We want the reader to remember how is has been the world’s proud boast—not a whit less the boast of men than of women—that the mother forms the character of the child. How many good and great and useful men have owed all their worth and greatness and usefulness to maternal training and education? Their name is legion. And now we ask in sober sadness: are women who spend their time in such idle disputation and utter such irreligious sentiments [as at the Women’s Rights Convention], the women to train up their children to goodness and greatness and usefulness? Are they bringing peace and happiness and virtue to their country now and hereafter? Ought not their proceedings to be frowned upon by every sensible reflecting man and woman? Is it on record, is it probable, that the men who have been renowned, good, great, useful and virtuous in the world’s history, were trained and educated by such mothers? We leave the question with the reader.
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