Clara Lemlich – A Lifetime of Organizing

Clara Lemlich in 1910

Clara Lemlich in 1910

I first heard of Clara Lemlich on the American Experience special “Triangle Fire” about the tragic fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory on March 25, 1911.  Prior to the fire, in the fall of 1909, garment workers in New York City went out on  a massive strike referred to as the Uprising of 20.000.  Clara Lemlich’s words prompted the final decision to strike.

Clara Lemlich was born in Gorodok, Ukraine on March 28, 1886. Her family was Jewish and primarily spoke Yiddish, but against her parent’s wishes Clara learned to read Russian and devoured as many books as she could get. She did sewing and wrote letters for illiterate neighbors in order to raise money for books. It was during this time that a neighbor introduced her to revolutionary literature and she became a socialist.

In 1903, after the Russian Orthodox celebration of Easter, a riot began against the Jews in Kishinev the capital of the Bessarabia province of the Russian Empire (now the capital of Moldova.) The pogrom continued without intervention of the police or military until the third day resulting in approximately 50 deaths, 600 wounded, and 700 houses and businesses looted and destroyed. After this pogrom and a second one in 1905, tens of thousands of Jews left the Russian Empire for the west. The Lemlich family was among them.

The pogram in 1903 captured the attention of the world. Theodore Roosevelt telling the tsar to stop oppressing the Jews.

The pogram in 1903 captured the attention of the world. Theodore Roosevelt telling the tsar to stop oppressing the Jews.

Clara immigrated with her family in 1903 to New York City and quickly found work in the garment industry. The conditions in the factories were terrible with low pay, long hours, lack of advancement, and often humiliating treatment from supervisors. The introduction of the sewing machine, rather than making the work easier, served to increase the required output for each day. Workers were often subcontracted and paid even less than those hired directly. Lemlich along with others rebelled against these conditions and joined the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. She quickly became a leader, organizing strikes and even returning to the picket line after being injured.

On November 22, 1909, a mass meeting was held at Cooper Union to rally support for striking workers at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company and the Leiserson Company. (Clara had been arrested 17 times while picketing outside the Leiserson factory, been beaten, and left bloody on the sidewalk with broken ribs in September.) Leaders in the labor movement and socialist movement spoke for a couple of hours and Clara grew impatient. Finally, she asked to be heard and was raised to the platform. I’ve read a couple of different versions of what Clara said that night. It could be because she spoke in Yiddish and the differences are in the translation, but basically she said that she was tired of talk. She had listened patiently to generalities, but they were there to make a decision, so she moved that they make the decision to strike. The crowd responded and voted for a general strike beginning the next day. Approximately 20,000 workers went out on strike the next day. It lasted until February 10, 1910, with union contracts at most shops. Sadly, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory held out and refused to make changes or allow the Union into their shop. Then on March 25, 1911, it became the site of a fire that took the lives of 146 people, mostly women and girls.

The fire department arrived quickly, but their ladders didn't reach to the floors where the workers were trapped.

The fire department arrived quickly, but their ladders didn’t reach to the floors where the workers were trapped.

After the Uprising, Lemlich was blacklisted from the garment industry and at odds with the more conservative leadership in the Union. She then took up the cause of women’s suffrage. She believed that suffrage was necessary to improve working women’s lives. Everyone around them in the workplace, the bosses, foremen, inspectors, and owners, were almost all men and they had a vote, but the working women had no vote. The primary suffrage organization, The National American Woman Suffrage Association, was oriented toward middle and upper class women, so she founded the Wage Earners League as a working woman’s alternative. The Wage Earners League, an alternative to the NAWSA was however, dependent on non-working class women for support. It soon passed out of existence and Clara continued her work for suffrage through the Women’s Trade Union League.

Her life took a different direction when Clara married Joe Shavelson in 1913. They moved to a working-class neighborhood and eventually to Brighten Beach. Clara had 3 children, Irving Charles Velson, Martha Shavelson Schaffer and Rita Shavelson Margules and didn’t return to work full-time for the next 30 years. She didn’t give up organizing however. While she devoted herself to raising her family she joined with other Jewish housewives to protest high prices and fight evictions through rent strikes. With Kate Gitlow, she organized the United Council of Working Class Housewives for this purpose and to raise money for relief for strikers.

Striking Garment Workers

Striking Garment Workers

During this time Clara had become a member of the Communist Party, from which she launched the United Council of Working Class Women. This organization was very successful for a time with over 50 branches in NYC and branches in Philadelphia, Seattle, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Detroit. Although the Council recruited among Communist Party members, it didn’t identify with the Party or press members to join. It eventually was renamed the Progressive Women’s Councils which prompted the Party to withdraw support. Nevertheless in the early 1950s, the PWC was forced to shut down because of Communist Party affiliations.

Clara finally retired from garment work in 1954 and had to fight to get a pension. Over the following years, she was involved in various activities through the Emma Lazarus Federation of Jewish Women’s Clubs, which she helped to found. She protested nuclear weapons and the Vietnam War, and campaigned for ratification of the UN Convention on Genocide and Civil Rights reform.

After her second husband, Abe Goldman, died in 1967, Clara moved to California to be near her children. She moved into the Jewish Home for the Aged in Los Angeles, and even there she organized. She convinced the management to join with the United Farm Worker’s boycott of grapes and lettuce, and organized the workers at the Home. I think it’s safe to say that Clara Lemlich agitated and organized as long as she was physically able. She died on July 25, 1982 at the age of 96

Clara Lemlich 2

Resources
“One Woman Who Changed the Rules”, Dwyer, Jim (March 22, 2011) New York Times  (From this article you can click through to see a series of articles published about the Triangle Fire.)
Clara Lemlich” – Wikipedia
The 1911 Triangle Factory Fire – Cornell University website
“Remembering the Waistmakers General Strike, 1909″ (pdf)
The Labor Wars by Sidney Lens
A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn

Alice Paul – The Final Stretch for Women’s Suffrage

Alice Paul around 1901

During the second half of the 19th century, the two primary women’s suffrage organizations led by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (National Woman Suffrage Association), and Lucy Stone (American Woman Suffrage Association) were working on two different approaches: a Constitutional Amendment, and state-by-state legislation giving women the vote. There was little progress on either front by the time the two organizations joined in 1890 to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA.) By 1900, only four western states had given women full suffrage, and the Constitutional Amendment that Susan B. Anthony had championed was not the preferred approach of most of the women’s leaders. Introduced in 1872, it had only been brought up for a vote one time in 1878 in spite of the fact that Anthony and others addressed the House Committee every year. Although a few more states had given the women the vote when Alice Paul returned from her studies in England, she was convinced that the only way to proceed was to push for the Amendment, and she was determined to do her part.

Alice Stokes Paul was born January 11, 1885 to William and Tacie Paul. They were Hicksite Quakers who led simple lives and had a strong heritage of activism and education for women. William was the seventh generation descended from Philip Paul who fled religious persecution in England and established Paulsboro, New Jersey. Alice’s maternal great-grandfather, Charles Stokes, was active in politics and a supporter of abolitionist and women’s suffrage causes. Her maternal grandfather, William Parry, believing in educating women, established Swarthmore College as a co-educational experiment and Alice’s mother Tacie was one of its first female graduates.

Photograph. Britannica Online for Kids

William Paul was a banker and owned a modest working farm. Together they gave the family a comfortable life and provided Alice and her three siblings, Helen, Parry, and William, the opportunity for an excellent education. As a child, Alice read every book in the house as well as the school library, and when she entered Swarthmore in 1901, she studied biology because it was the one subject she hadn’t studied in school. Intellectual curiosity about a subject, however, didn’t make for a good major, so at the advice of a professor, she switched and graduated with a degree in social work.

Alice was definitely academically gifted and in spite of her family heritage, had no real intention of being an activist. No one else would have expected it of her either. On her return from England after getting involved with the British suffrage movement, her mother was quoted in the New York Times (Nov. 13, 1909) as saying, “I cannot understand how this all came about, Alice is such a mild-mannered girl.” But after graduation, Alice had taken a job in the New York College settlement house. She quickly came to the conclusion that she didn’t want to just work to alleviate the suffering of individuals; she wanted to work to change the conditions that led to their suffering. In order to work within the system and help change the social conditions that prevailed at the time, Alice decided to continue her academic career and enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania to study sociology.  She eventually received an MA and PhD through the University of Pennsylvania, and ultimately an LLB, LLM, and a Doctorate in Civil Law. But before completing these accomplishments, she took a “slight” detour into the real world of activism in England.

Her life-changing trip to England began in 1907 with a scholarship to Woodbrooke, a Friends institution in Birmingham. While there, she also became the first woman to enroll in the commerce department at the University of Birmingham to study economics. This is where she first heard Christabel Pankhurst speak about women’s suffrage. Christabel and her mother Emmeline Pankhurst weren’t in the business of asking men politely to give women the vote. For the previous two years, they had been agitating and getting arrested to raise awareness for the need for women’s suffrage. The press had dubbed them “suffragettes”, to distinguish them from the more “socially acceptable” suffragists, using the diminutive “ette” to insult them. Their motto was “Deeds, not Words” and they wore the suffragette badge with pride.

Alice was a petite, delicate even fragile looking woman. She said herself that she was “not very brave,” and had a fear of public speaking. Nevertheless, once she had been “converted to the cause” she met each fear and challenge. She began simply by marching with the women, but quickly took on other activities. She was a “newsie”, passing out the organization’s paper Votes for Women; she was promoted to street corner speaker; and she eventually was invited to participate in a march on the House of Commons. This invitation came with a warning that they might be arrested, and that she shouldn’t agree to participate unless she was willing to accept that consequence. She accepted.

The women in the Pankhurst organization, the WSPU (Women’s Social and Political Union), had been getting arrested for a couple of years at this point. They would ask to be treated as political prisoners. When this request was denied, they would often go on hunger strikes. This ultimately resulted in force feedings. It was a horrible procedure that consisted of being held or tied down and having a tube thrust into a nostril and down their throat. It was brutal and extremely painful.

When Alice was arrested and force fed, she asked her suffrage sisters not to release her name to the media, so as not to worry her mother, but the word got out and it served to greatly increase Tacie’s concern for her daughter. Eventually, Alice decided that she needed to return home, for the sake of her family and to finish her education. She may have underestimated her fame in the US. When she returned, she found that she was in great demand as a speaker, but she had other goals as well. She joined the National, as NAWSA was called, and became the chairman of its Congressional Committee.

Her first major task was to organize a parade in Washington, D.C. for March 3, 1913, the day before Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration as President. The parade was her idea and she was completely responsible for organizing and raising funds. She contacted Lucy Burns, an American woman she had met during the protests in England, and formed a small committee. This was a monumental undertaking that deserves its own narrative, but suffice it to say that the city had never seen anything like it. She negotiated many controversies, disagreements, obstruction from authorities, and the press. Ultimately, women from all over the country and from all walks of life were represented. Wilson had tried to avoid the issue, but was privately against women’s suffrage. The parade made the statement in a big way that the issue and the women, were not going away.

At first Alice believed that the radical methods used in Britain would not be needed in America, but little progress was being made and she wanted to increase the pressure. There were disagreements about tactics within NAWSA, whose conservative leaders had always been a little wary of Alice, so she finally broke from them in 1916 and formed the National Woman’s Party (NWP.) Through the NWP, she began introducing some of the methods used by the Pankhursts. One of their goals was to shame President Wilson into supporting the suffrage movement. They picketed the White House over the next two years in all types of weather, amusing, confounding and finally angering the authorities. The picketers, including Alice, were arrested, incarcerated in workhouses, and force fed. At one point Alice was confined to a psychiatric ward, but the doctor would not be complicit; his report stated that she was perfectly sane.

The pressure finally worked. In January of 1918, President Wilson spoke to Congress and urged them to pass the Nineteenth Amendment for women’s suffrage. The rest as they say is history. In June of 1919, the Amendment passed both houses of Congress, and finally in August of 1920, it was ratified by the 36th state and signed into law on August 26, 1920.

Many women considered the fight over and resumed their lives, but Alice had a broader vision. She went on to write and campaign for the Equal Rights Amendment. Unlike the people who originally wrote the suffrage amendment, Alice was alive to see the ERA pass the Congress in 1972. Unfortunately, only 35 of the required 38 states ratified the amendment before the deadline passed. After suffering a stroke in 1974, Alice Paul died in 1977. No other states ratified the ERA after her death.

I haven’t read all the sources about Alice Paul, but from what I have read, including reviews of other sources, not much has been said about her as a person, her personality, her leisure activities, etc. She doesn’t seem to have had close personal friends. There is an occasional mention of a male companion for dinner or a lecture, but no continuing relationships. Even her letters to and from Lucy Burns are started with “Miss Paul” and “Miss Burns.”  It could be that she was just very private about those aspects of her life, but I’m inclined to think that perhaps this quote from Alice herself explains it best.

“My feeling about our movement, you see, is that it is so pregnant with possibilities that it is worth sacrificing everything for, leisure, money, reputation and even our lives. I know that most people do not feel this way about it but since I do you can see that it cost me a pang to think of anyone abandoning suffrage for any other work.”
~ Alice Paul in a letter to someone preparing to leave the movement.

Resources
Sisters: The Lives of America’s Suffragists by Jean H. Baker
A Woman’s Crusade: Alice Paul and the Battle for the Ballot by Mary Walton

Visit the homepage of the Alice Paul Institute which was established in 1984 to “commemorate the centennial of Alice Paul’s 1885 birth and to further her legacy.” (Note: This does not imply any endorsement of me or my post by them, it’s just for your information.)

Frances Willard – Forgotten Feminist

Often when we think about the temperance movement it’s limited to Prohibition, mobsters, and the roaring twenties. Temperance was an idea that was tried and failed in the sense that it didn’t work well for the country resulting in the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment via the Twenty-first Amendment. Because it is an idea that came and went, it is easy to forget the individuals who made their mark in history through the temperance movement. One of these individuals is Frances Willard.

But Frances Willard was much more than a temperance worker. She was a feminist and an advocate for women’s rights in the broadest sense. Her motto: ‘Everything is not in the Temperance Movement, but the Temperance Movement should be in everything‘  was her way of rallying a large number of women all across the country to work for reform in many different areas, but always with temperance at the core.

The Temperance movement was born out of the Second Great Awakening of religious fervor in America in the early nineteenth century. One of the people who found a renewed spirituality and a call to serve was Josiah Willard. In 1841, in order to study for the ministry under Charles Finney, Josiah and his wife Mary took their two children, Oliver and two year old Frances, and moved to Oberlin Ohio. He and Mary both studied at Oberlin College for the next four years until Josiah’s health required a move to the country.

In 1846, the family moved to a farm outside Janesville, Wisconsin, where Oliver, Frances, and younger sister Mary, born in Oberlin, spent 13 happy years. Frances’s talents began to emerge during this time. Mary was more artistic; Oliver played “fort” and wanted to explore; but Frances wanted to play “city” and organize. Their mother taught them at home until public schools were available in the area and was aware of and promoted each of her children’s strengths. When Frances was 17 she went to the Milwaukee Seminary where her aunt taught. In 1858, the family moved to Evanston Illinois where Frances attended the Evanston College for Ladies and graduated valedictorian in 1859.

Between 1859 and 1868, Frances taught school at various places before returning to the Evanston College for Ladies as the President, making her the first woman college president in the United States. When the college merged with Northwestern University in 1871, she became the Dean of Women. This was an ideal position for Frances to use her considerable organizational skills, but it was short lived. She resigned in 1874 after having her influence and responsibilities greatly reduced by the President of Northwestern, Charles Fowler. These may have been typical university political struggles, but they were complicated by the fact that Frances had previously been engaged to Fowler and broken the engagement. This experience left Frances distraught and at a loss as to how to proceed in her life. She had no desire to go back to one small schoolhouse after the other teaching. She also believed that God would use her.

Willard with Anna Gordon and Mary Willard.

These years had been difficult for Frances in other ways as well. Both her father and her younger sister Mary died of tuberculosis and her brother Oliver began to drink heavily and gamble. She found herself without work and her mother’s sole source of support, so after leaving the University, she decided to go on the lecture tour for the cause of temperance. Frances was tireless, over the next ten years she averaged 30,000 miles and 400 lectures a year. Never domestically inclined, this suited the independent non-conformist side of Frances, but she was also ambitious.

In 1874, Frances became the corresponding secretary of the newly formed Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the President of the Chicago chapter, and head of the WCTU publications committee. During her lectures, Frances also began to speak in favor of women’s suffrage. Just as Lucy Stone and Susan B. Anthony found in the abolition society, this created a conflict with the leadership, in Frances’s case Annie Wittenmyer, the first WCTU president.

This is where Frances’s brilliance as a strategist began to show. As corresponding secretary, no problem or concern was too small to receive a letter from her. Through her travels and letter writing, with the help of long-time companion Anna Gordon, she made personal contacts all over the country. When the time was right, in 1879, Frances ran for president of the national WCTU, and won. She held this position until her death in 1898.

Many women in the WCTU were conservative and involved in the fight against alcohol because they believed that indulgence was sinful and because of the impact it had on the family. The fight for temperance was seen as fighting for the home, family, and motherhood thus an acceptable cause for women to work outside their homes, but many saw suffrage as too radical. Frances had the same values with regard to alcohol; she had seen its devastating effects in her brother’s life, but she also believed that the way for women to affect change in their domestic lives was to have the vote. She insisted that women not view themselves as the “weaker sex” and that they had a place in politics.

Wittenmyer had insisted on uniformity among the chapters of the WCTU. Frances preferred a more liberal approach. As long as the chapters took the temperance pledge and paid their dues they had the flexibility to work for the causes appropriate to their location. “Do everything,” was her motto. This led to work in many different areas, such as free school lunches, 8 hour work days, anti-rape laws, protection for children against abuse, and work relief for the poor. Although some thought that too broad a focus would fracture the organization, Frances’s organizational skills, her intense travel schedule, and prolific correspondence prevented this from happening.

Frances Willard was the first woman to be represented in the Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol.

Frances Willard’s profound belief that she was called by God for this task, her excellent speaking skills, and even her feminine demeanor made her and her message acceptable to some who rejected the message of other suffragists of the time. At the time of her death in 1898, the WCTU had grown to approximately 150,000 women, making it the largest women’s organization in the world at the time, and making Frances one of the most famous women in the nation. She truly had an impact on the fight for women’s rights and should be remembered for her considerable contribution.

Frances was also a prolific writer. Some of her works were
Woman and temperance, or the work and workers of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, 1883
Glimpses of fifty years: the Autobiography of an American Woman, 1889
How to Win: A Book for Girls, 1886
Woman in the Pulpit, 1888
Do everything: a Handbook for the World’s White Ribboners, 1895
A Wheel within a Wheel: How I Learned to Ride the Bicycle, 1895

Resources
Sisters: The Lives of America’s Suffragists by Jean H. Baker
Glimpses of fifty years: the Autobiography of an American Woman, 1889
The Beautiful Life of Frances E. Willard by Anna Adams Gordon

Susan B Anthony – “Failure is Impossible”

“I never felt I could give up my life of freedom to become a man’s housekeeper.  When I was young, if a girl married poor she became a housekeeper and a drudge.  If she married wealthy, she became a pet and a doll.” ~Susan B. Anthony

When I first began reading about woman suffrage several years ago, I wondered why the only name I remembered from school was Susan B. Anthony. There were so many women involved in the movement that played major roles – Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucy Stone, two about whom I’ve already written– and that’s before you even begin to talk about the women who brought the movement home so to speak, such as Alice Paul and Lucy Burns. One reason is that women have often been slighted in history, but if you had to choose one woman to represent the movement, why Susan B Anthony?

Of course, I can’t be sure, but one reason I would choose her is because of the major players, Anthony was probably the most single minded and driven. She came to the movement late, but when she did, she never wavered, and when it was clear that the goal wouldn’t be reached in her lifetime, she spent considerable time mentoring younger women to carry on the fight. She was tireless. While Elizabeth Cady Stanton might be seen as the philosopher of the movement, Susan was the tactician, the organizer. She organized national women’s conventions almost every year after the Civil War, selecting places and speakers, raising money, organizing local women’s groups, traveling extensively to promote the cause and rally the troops. When others might have given up, she said “failure is impossible.”

Susan Brownell Anthony was the second of seven children born to Lucy Read and Daniel Anthony on February 15, 1820. While Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucy Stone grew up with the idea that it was a disadvantage to be a woman; that wasn’t the case with Susan. Daniel Anthony was a Quaker who instilled in his children a sense of their own self-worth and that of all human beings. Although women and men sat on opposite sides of the meeting house, Susan’s grandmother was an elder and her aunt preached freely when she was moved to do so. Her grandfather believed so strongly in education that he built a school on his own property for his children and the neighbors. Later when Susan’s teacher didn’t see the need to teach girls long division, Daniel Anthony did the same thing.

The Anthonys believed in education, self-determination and self-discipline. Daniel Anthony was a good Quaker, but he also had an independent streak. When he decided to marry Lucy Read a non-Quaker, his meeting disapproved, but he stood his ground. Lucy was not so sure about giving up her bright colors and dances, but gave in and they were married. As time went on they both became involved in the temperance and abolitionist movements, and they passed these values on to their children.

When Susan was young, the family was well off. Her father owned a successful cotton mill, but they didn’t live a life of leisure. Many of the mill workers boarded with the family, so Susan’s mother was constantly working and Susan helped out as soon as she was old enough. Her father started an evening school for the mill workers and as soon as Susan and her elder sister Guelma were old enough they began teaching in the home school or nearby villages.

Susan and Guelma were both able to go to Deborah Moulson’s Female Seminary, a boarding school in Philadelphia, but in the depression of 1837 their father’s business failed and they had to return home. At 17, Susan was well qualified to teach, so she did her part to support the family and work to pay off their debts. In this endeavor, she would encounter her first real disadvantage being a woman, when she realized that she was paid ¼ the salary of men doing the same job, even when she was more qualified. This experience would prompt her to advocate for equal pay for equal work during most of her women’s rights work.

After several years of hard work, in 1845 when Susan was 25, she moved with her parents and two siblings to their new home on a small farm near Rochester, NY. The farm was purchased by Lucy’s brother with money which had been left to her by her father. If the money or the farm had been put in Lucy’s name it would legally belong to Daniel and could then be seized by his creditors. The Quaker’s of Rochester welcomed the Anthony family and introduced them to a very active anti-slavery community. Here Susan learned about the Underground Railroad and began reading The Liberator, William Lloyd Garrison’s anti-slavery paper.

Susan soon left the farm to accept a teaching position at the Canajoharie Academy, where her uncle James Read was a trustee. It was here that Susan made her first public speech. In both the temperance and abolitionist movements there was disagreement, sometimes violent disagreement, about whether or not to allow women to speak to “promiscuous” meetings, meetings including both men and women. In Canajoharie, the Sons of Temperance refused to allow women to speak, so the women formed the Daughters of Temperance. Most of the women were uneasy at the idea of speaking in public, but Susan, raised in Quaker meeting where women were welcome to speak, thought nothing of it. Her speech at their first meeting, attended by approximately 200 men and women, was a success.

Because of the distance to Rochester, she spent her vacations with Guelma and Hannah and their families or with Lydia Mott, one of her former teachers at Deborah Moulson’s school and cousin of Lucretia Mott. From Lydia, she learned more about the abolitionist movement. It was during this time, in 1948, that the Seneca Falls Woman Rights Convention was held, and attended by Daniel and Lucy Anthony and Susan’s younger sister Mary. All three were very impressed with the speakers, especially Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, and signed the Declaration of Sentiments, the statement of resolutions for women’s rights that resulted from the convention. When Susan heard about this, she wasn’t opposed, but she found it surprising and somewhat amusing. After all, she hadn’t experienced the opposition that many women faced.

Although she didn’t embrace the women’s movement immediately, she was very intrigued by what her family was telling her about the women involved, so she welcomed the opportunity to get to know Elizabeth Cady Stanton when she met her in Seneca Falls in 1851. It was the beginning of a friendship that would last a lifetime and would be the foundation of the women’s suffrage movement in the United States.

In 1852, Susan attended her first women’s rights convention in Syracuse, while at the same time becoming more and more active in the abolitionist movement. She began lecturing for William Lloyd Garrisons Anti-Slavery Association in 1956, and started to experience the opposition directed at women such as the Grimke sisters, Abby Kelly, and Lucy Stone when they lectured. By the time of the Civil War, Susan was convinced of the need for women’s rights reform and suffrage, and was working closely with Elizabeth Cady Stanton to bring it about.

Although, she had received a couple of offers of marriage, Susan chose to remain single. She didn’t see the need to tie her self to a man and thereby restrict her own actions and work. She was often impatient with the women who did, even with Elizabeth and Lucy, and was critical of their divided loyalties. After the Civil War, Elizabeth and Susan worked very closely. While Elizabeth still had children at home, Susan did much of the traveling to spread their message. She organized annual women’s rights conventions, doing most of the logistical work while Elizabeth did most of the writing, including many of Susan’s speeches. Together they published The Revolution, a newspaper devoted to women’s issues. Elizabeth was the editor, and Susan was the publisher and business manager. Elizabeth always had a very broad even radical view of what was needed and should be fought for; Susan felt that if suffrage was achieved all the rest would follow.

Several major strategies were used during those years to approach the suffrage question. One, championed initially by Victoria Woodhull, was that women already had the vote by virtue of the 14th Amendment and should just do it. Women were citizens and therefore couldn’t be denied one of the rights of citizenship – voting. In preparation for the 1872 presidential election, Susan organized women to register to vote. Many were turned away, but Susan and a group of women were successful at registering and later casting their votes for president. Two weeks later, she was arrested and eventually tried and convicted for “knowingly casting an illegal vote in a federal election.” She was fined $100, which she refused to pay. The result was probably a public relations victory on her side. No attempt was ever made to make her pay the fine and she arranged for the trial transcripts to be printed and distributed, promoting her cause.

Susan lectured and campaigned in every state promoting local and state suffrage for women, but she always believed that the solution was a federal amendment to the Constitution. In 1878, she finally succeeded in getting a proposed amendment introduced into Congress. Proposing it as the sixteenth amendment, it was introduced every year until 1919 when it finally passed as the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

As with most of the original suffragists, Susan wouldn’t live to see the passage of the amendment she had worked tirelessly to bring about. Her last appearance before the Senate’s Select Committee on Woman’s Suffrage was in 1902 because of failing health, but she made one last speech in 1906 on her 86th birthday one month before she died. Surveying the women who had joined the movement, many of whom she had mentored, she declared that “ with such women consecrating their lives – Failure is Impossible.”

Susan B. Anthony Birthplace: 67 East Rd, Adams, MA.
Photograph by James Parrish

Resources
History of Woman Suffrage by Elizabeth Cady Stanton  et. al.
The Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony
by Ida Husted Harper
Sisters: The Lives of America’s Suffragists
by Jean H. Baker
Susan B. Anthony by Alma Lutz

Trial Homepage – nice write up of her registration, vote, and the events leading up to the trial as well as links to the trial transcript.
Lucy Stone – Abolitionist and Suffragist
Elizabeth Cady Stanton – Suffragist and Women’s Rights Activist

Lucy Stone (1818 – 1893) – Abolitionist and Suffragist

Lucy Stone c. 1850, Library of Congress (source)

Lucy Stone c. 1850, Library of Congress (source)

Common causes often draw people together, but it’s not always sufficient to keep them together. Lucy Stone, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony are often called the “triumvirate” of the women’s suffrage movement. All three were ardent abolitionists, and all three began speaking for women’s suffrage early in the movement. In many ways that’s where the similarities end.

Lucy Stone was born in 1818, the eighth of nine children to Francis and Hannah Matthews Stone. Unlike Stanton, she was not born into a family of means. Francis Stone owned a small farm in Massachusetts where everyone in the family had to contribute to survive. The boys fished and hunted; the girls made cheese and did piecework to help make ends meet. Francis was also a drinking man and one that believed firmly in a “woman’s place.” He was physically and verbally abusive and Hannah often had to beg him for money to get things for the girls. Where Stanton’s father wished she were a boy because he wanted a boy, Lucy’s mother wished she and her sisters were boys because “a woman’s life is so hard.”

Around the age of twelve Lucy took on much of the housework because of her mother’s ill health, yet she still managed to do well in school. In 1837, at the age of 16, she started to teach. Her dream was to go to Oberlin College. Her father paid for the boys to go to boarding school and then college, but he didn’t believe it was necessary for a woman. At this point, Lucy had probably begun to be a trial for her father. She saw her mother’s position as a trap in which she didn’t want to be caught. They were members of their local Congregationalist church which reinforced many of her father’s ideas. In 1838, the officials of the church condemned the use of the pulpit for abolitionist speeches particularly by women. The Grimke sisters from South Carolina and Abby Kelley had begun to speak against slavery to mixed groups of men and women. The church viewed this as a violation of what they saw as the Bible’s prohibition against women teaching men. Lucy decided two things then: that she would study Greek and Hebrew to better understand the Biblical passages and that if she ever had anything to speak about in public that she would do it.

Between 1838 and 1843, she continued to teach and study when she could. Two of her sisters died during this time and she helped with the children, supporting her mother. One thing that she did learn from her family was her hatred for slavery. She kept up with the fight by reading The Liberator, William Lloyd Garrison’s anti-slavery newspaper, with particular interest in the divisions in the American Anti-Slavery Society caused by women speaking out. She wrote to her brother that some in the Society wanted to “crush Garrison and the women. While it pretends to endeavor to remove the yoke of bondage on account of color, it is actually summoning all its energies to rivet more and more firmly the chains that have always been fastened upon the neck of woman.” Later when she began to speak publicly for the abolitionist cause, she was criticized for injecting women’s rights issues into her speeches.

In 1843, Lucy had finally saved enough money for her first year at Oberlin. She continued to work and study and was able to graduate in 1847 with honors. (Her father also insisted that she compensate him for the money that she was denying the household by being away at college, which she did.) Although Oberlin was ahead of it’s time in many ways (they admitted both African American students and women), they were still constrained by the society in others. The student body selected Lucy to write a speech for the graduation ceremony. The catch was that she would not be able to deliver the speech because she was a woman and the audience would contain both men and women. After much thought, although she had decided to pursue a career as a public speaker, she chose not to write the speech rather than compromise her principles.

One thing that helped Lucy make her decision to pursue public speaking was her experience in a debate club that she founded while at school. During her time there, she met Antoinette Brown, a young woman who was studying to be a minister. While studying rhetoric, they were not allowed to debate in the class, you guessed it, because they were women and the class contained men. They were expected to watch the men debate and keep silent. So they started their own debate club off campus. Then in October of 1847, Lucy gave her first public speech called The Province of Women and her career began.

In 1848, Lucy was hired by William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Philips as a lecturer and organizer for the Boston Anti-Slavery Society. In 1850, she worked with Paulina Kellogg Wright Davis and others to organize a national convention on women’s rights. At the convention her speech met with wide acclaim. She continued her speaking engagements and organizing activities for the next ten years, until the start of the Civil War when most of the women put their activities on hold to assist in the war effort.

Henry Blackwell c. 1850, Blackwell Family Paper at the Library of Congress (source)

Henry Blackwell c. 1850, Blackwell Family Paper at the Library of Congress (source)

Like Susan B. Anthony, Lucy had decided early in her life that she didn’t want to submit herself to the constraints of marriage. Unlike Anthony, she changed her mind. Henry Blackwell noticed Lucy during one of her speeches. He was immediately smitten and began to woo her, a process which took several years. If anyone could have won Lucy over it was Henry. He was raised in a family which strongly supported both the abolition of slavery and women’s rights. His one brother Samuel Blackwell had married Antoinette Brown, Lucy’s friend, who had become a minister as well as a prominent abolitionist and suffragist in her own right, and Henry’s five sisters had all opted to remain single and pursue careers of their own, the most prominent being Elizabeth Blackwell the first female doctor in the United States. Lucy and Henry were married in 1855. As part of the ceremony they read a “Marriage Protest” where they protested the laws which gave a husband control over a wife’s person and sole control and guardianship of the children. Needless to say the word “obey” was left out of the ceremony. Lucy continued her career as a speaker and continued to use her maiden name. She did take time off the lecture circuit when she gave birth to Alice Stone Blackwell in 1857 and throughout the years of the war.

Lucy with her daughter Alice, Library of Congress (source)

Lucy with her daughter Alice, Library of Congress (source)

After the war, the differences between some of the primary leaders within the women’s movement began to emerge. The issues are multi-faceted and I may write a future post on them, but for now, there was a split within the movement in 1869. The argument arose primarily over whether or not to fight for suffrage for black men and women at the same time within one amendment, or to work toward the vote for all men and once that was achieved return to the issue of suffrage for women. The 15th Amendment had passed in Congress in February ensuring that no citizen could be denied the right to vote based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Stanton was incensed that it didn’t include the word sex and resorted to racist language that alienated many in the group. She refused to support ratification whereas the majority wanted to support ratification and propose an additional amendment for the suffrage of women. The final result was Stanton and Anthony’s withdrawal and formation of the National Woman Suffrage Association. Lucy Stone responded by creating another organization – the American Woman Suffrage Association.

Over the next 20 years Lucy and the AWSA continued to work for women’s suffrage focusing primarily on individual states. In 1870, she founded the Woman’s Journal, a newspaper that she would write for and publish for the rest of her life. At some point she realized that she was not going to see the women’s vote become a reality in her lifetime, but she had raised Alice to have the same values and knew that she would carry on the fight. She also spent time with Carrie Chapman Catt for the same purpose, preparing her to take up the mantle.

In 1890, the NWSA and the AWSA were finally reconciled, and in 1892, Lucy spoke before the House Judiciary Committee with Stanton and Anthony in support of women’s suffrage. Her last speech was in 1893 at the World’s Congress of Representative Women in Chicago where women from over 27 countries spoke to an audience of over 150,000 people in favor of women’s rights. She died later that year.

When Stanton and Anthony began their History of Woman Suffrage, Lucy was still in disagreement with them and chose not to send a biographical sketch for inclusion. For this reason she is not represented to the degree that she probably should be. But in recent years, her tremendous contributions to the advancement of women’s rights have received more attention. She was truly one of the founders of the women’s rights movement in the United States.

Resources
History of Woman Suffrage by Elizabeth Cady Stanton  et. al. (6 volume work)
Sisters: The Lives of America’s Suffragists
by Jean H. Baker
Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815 – 1902)
Susan B. Anthony (1820 – 1906)

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