Alice Paul – The Final Stretch for Women’s Suffrage

Alice Paul around 1901 (source)

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.

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 Paul in 1913 (source)

Alice Paul in 1913 (source)

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.

Official program for the suffrage procession organized by Alice Paul (source)

Official program for the suffrage procession organized by Alice Paul (source)

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.

Picketing in front of the White House (source)

Picketing in front of the White House (source)

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

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

Susan B Anthony c. 1855 (source)

 

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 such as 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, providing a place where girls could learn the same subjects as boys.

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.

Parents of Susan B. Anthony (source)

Parents of Susan B. Anthony (source)

 

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.

Susan B Anthony age 28 (source)

Susan B Anthony age 28 (source)

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 Garrison’s Anti-Slavery Association in 1956, and started to experience the opposition directed at women such as the Sarah and Angelina Grimke, 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 house in Rochester, NY by Dmadeo at Wikimedia Commons (source)

Susan B Anthony house in Rochester, NY by Dmadeo at Wikimedia Commons (source)

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 (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)

Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention

“Father what is a Legislature?
A representative body elected by people of the state.
Are women people?
No my son, criminals, lunatics, and women are not people.
Do legislators legislate for nothing?
Oh no; they are paid a salary.
By whom?
By the people.
Are women people?
Of course, my son, just as much as men are.”
(Are Women People? by Alice Duer Miller)

The more I read about the women’s suffrage movement the more I stand in awe at what the many woman who went before us accomplished against great odds. They educated themselves and spoke out at a time when it was considered inappropriate at best and scandalous by many. They were arrested, went on hunger strikes, and in the case of Emily Davison died after being run over by a horse. Many had the support of fathers or husbands who agreed with them and supported them, but others opted not to be constrained by the bonds of marriage.

The women who fought for the right to vote in the United States and Great Britain were as varied as women are today. They were Atheists and Quakers, school teachers, writers, speakers, and housewives. Many of them were abolitionists. There were harsh disagreements between them about what the goals were and how they could be achieved. For many the original goal wasn’t even the right to vote, but simply the right to be seen as equal before the law in things such as property rights.

It is difficult to say when the women’s suffrage movement began. One landmark event, however, was the Woman’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, held July 19 – 20, 1848. According to Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s own account it was organized on short notice. Lucretia Mott and her husband were visiting the area and five women met for tea – Lucretia Mott, Mary Ann McClintock, Martha Coffin Wright, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Jane Hunt. Together they decided to hold a convention and placed an ad in the local newspaper the next day, July 14, 1848.

Lucretia and James Mott – Lucretia was an eloquent speaker at the convention. James presided over the second day.

Prior to the convention Stanton, with help from the other women, drafted a Declaration of Sentiments based on the Declaration of Independence, declaring that “all men and women are created equal.” Attached to this was a list of grievances. The Convention would take place over two days, the first of which would include only women where the Declaration of Sentiments would be discussed one paragraph at a time and modified as necessary. The second day, men were invited to attend. Ironically, Lucretia Mott’s husband, James, was asked to moderate the meeting on the second day because it was considered inappropriate for a woman to preside over a meeting with men in attendance.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton

During the discussion of the second day, the only resolution to cause much dissent was the ninth, added by Stanton.

Resolved, that it is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.

Even Lucretia Mott thought it shouldn’t be included. Most were concerned that it would detract from the other resolutions that they believed were more reasonable. The tide turned when Fredrick Douglass rose to speak. He was an eloquent speaker and convinced the crowd that the country would be better off if women were involved in the political sphere as well as social and religious affairs. The resolution passed.

In spite of the passage of all the resolutions, there were undercurrents of disagreement and discontent. Of the 300 attendees, only 100 signed the Declaration. Word got back to Stanton in the following days of the condemnation of the convention from various pulpits, even though the convention had been open to comments from the floor. Newspapers published opinions from both ends of the spectrum. As contentious as the feminist movement in recent times has been you can imagine the reaction they received in a time when women were in many ways considered the property of the men in their lives.

Over the next seventy years, there would be many disagreements between the women and men involved in this fight. The fight to achieve the vote for African-American men after the Civil War, would cause division, some feeling that the two causes must be separated or risk losing the right for black men. When it became clear that the resistance in Congress to women’s suffrage was too strong, the issues were separated and the Fifteenth Amendment passed giving African-American men the right to vote. Another major disagreement would be over the approach, fighting for the right one state at a time or pushing for a constitutional amendment. Ultimately, each of these things occurred.

Some consider the Seneca Falls convention a minor event in the history of suffrage. Women had been working in small local groups for women’s rights for years. Two years later, in 1850, the National Women’s Rights Convention organized by Paulina Wright Davis and Lucy Stone would draw women from across the country. Seneca Falls may only be symbolic, but regardless the movement was on its way.

There are many women who contributed to women’s rights in general and suffrage in particular over the years. Most of the women at Seneca Falls wouldn’t live to see the Nineteenth Amendment pass. In future posts I want to look at women in this earlier generation, but also at some of the women who brought the dream to fruition here in the US and also in Great Britain.

To see the entire Declaration of Sentiments click here.
Read more about the suffrage movement here.

Resources
Are Women People? A Book of Rhymes for Suffrage Times by Alice Duer Miller
A People’s History of the United States
by Howard Zinn
Eight Years and More by Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism, and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull by Barbara Goldsmith

Bicycles and Women’s Emancipation

“Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel.”

Susan B. Anthony, 1896

For a little fun today, let’s look at something simple that made a big impact of the freedom of women – the bicycle! By the 1890s, bicycling had become very popular in the United States as well as in Europe, and women weren’t going to be left out of the fun. Bicycles allowed women more freedom of movement out of their own neighborhoods and into the world at large. They could go farther in less time and it was much cheaper to maintain than a horse!

Susan B. Anthony said in an interview with the New York World in 1896, that the bicycle “has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.” Francis Willard, president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, even wrote a book about how she learned to ride a bicycle later in life.

But, for a woman to be truly comfortable on a bicycle, not to mention safe, their clothing needed to be modified. In the 1970s when bell-bottoms became popular, we used to put rubber bands around our ankles to keep our pants legs from getting tangled up in the gears. I can’t imagine trying to ride with long skirts.

“Her miserable style of dress is a consequence of her present vassalage not its cause. Woman must become ennobled, in the quality of her being. When she is so, . . . she will be able, unquestioned, to dictate the style of her dress.”  Lucy Stone

So in the 1890s, “Bloomers”, or Turkish trousers, which had come and gone from fashion in the 1850s, made a comeback. This was an outfit that included full trousers gathered at the ankle with a short dress over them. (Although not developed by Amelia Bloomer, she advocated them in her magazine The Lily.)

Around the same time there was a movement toward more rational dress for women, due in part to the unhealthy nature (not to mention extreme discomfort) of corsets. Bloomers were soon displaced by an even more “radical” getup – rationals.

“Woman will never hold her true position, until, by a firm muscle and a steady nerve, she can maintain the RIGHTS she claims . . . but she cannot make the first move . . . until she casts away her swaddling clothes.” Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Were increased freedom of women on bicycles and the corresponding change in dress in part responsible for a move toward women’s liberation, or were they the result of it? It’s an interesting question, but there will always be those who, even when they accept a new found freedom will try to control it. Women were cautioned not to develop the “bicycle face” and warned that their vocal chords were changing because of bicycle riding, making women loud talkers with harsh voices.  Check out this long list of don’t’s for women cyclists at Brainpickings.org, including such things as the following:

“Don’t chew gum. Exercise your jaws in private.”

“Don’t try to ride in your brother’s clothes ‘to see how it feels.’”

“Don’t scream if you meet a cow. If she sees you first, she will run.”

Sigh. . . Enjoy your freedom ladies. It was hard fought for and not every woman in the world has the same freedoms today. The fight isn’t over!