The hastily planned Seneca Falls meeting is considered to be the first convention solely focused on women’s rights but the 1850 National Woman’s Rights Convention held in Worcester, MA (pronounced “Wuss-TAH”) took the idea to a whole new level—national. Talk of women’s rights had been slowly percolating through society. There were more and more small region meetings, but if there was a national convention, would anyone even show up? They should not have worried…more than 1000 people came. Delegates came from 11 states including one from California!
Such a response brought great energy and excitement. Overall, the speeches and discussions were emotional, fiery, and intense but the ideas came from a sound a logical place of asking for simple equality so that a woman was able to earn her own way in the world without artificial hindrances.
Other than the “Massachusetts Spy” newspaper whose editor was the husband of a suffrage supporter, the majority of the press coverage was intentionally negative—feeding into the general public’s fears of change to the status quo. After all, most people, men and women, except for those in reform circles, felt that everything was in the “natural order” according to God. Those unfeminine, demanding women and their traitorous male helpers were going to overthrow the entire social order! Gross mischaracterizations of the speeches—especially the impassioned ones--made everyone look like extremists.
Compare two newspaper articles below:
Massachusetts Spy, October 30, 1850:
…The Hall was crowded, even in the morning session, and great interest was manifested in the proceedings throughout. We have known no convention or other public meeting held in this city, where all the exercises were conducted with more decorum or in better spirit, or where the whole of the speaking has been more uniformly able and unobjectionable. We confess ourselves agreeably disappointed in this respect, for we had not looked for such a display of forensic talent as we witnessed in the female speakers especially. We presume that some of the addresses will be published, and we regret that there was not a good phonographic reporter present, for some of the speeches which were the most effect, because entirely impromptus, and called forth by the incidents of the moment, were well worthy of being reported, and no abridged sketch can do justice to them.
New York Herald, October 28, 1850:
“That motley gathering of fanatical mongrels, of old grannies, male and female, of fugitive slaves and fugitive lunatics, called the Woman's Rights Convention, after two day's discussion of the most horrible trash, has put forth its platform and adjourned. The sentiments and doctrines avowed, and the social revolution projected, involve all the most monstrous and disgusting principles of socialism, abolition, amalgamation, and infidelity. The full consummation of their diabolical projects would reduce society to the most beastly and promiscuous confusion — the most disgusting barbarism that could be devised; and the most revolting familiarities of equality and licentiousness between whites and blacks, of both sexes, that lunatics and demons could invent. Doctrines like these contemplating the overthrow of society, law, religion, and decency, might occasion some alarm, but for the notoriously vagabond character of the leaders in the movement; and the fanatical and crazy mongrels, in breeches and petticoats, who make up the rank and file. . . . There is not a lunatic asylum in the country, wherein, if the inmates were called together in sit in convention, they would not exhibit more sense, reason, decency and delicacy, and less of lunacy, blasphemy, and horrible sentiments, than this hybrid, mongrel, pie-bald, crack-brained, pitiful, disgusting and ridiculous assemblage. And there we drop them, and may God have mercy on their miserable souls. Amen.”
Bad press and outrage sold a lot more papers; however, it also spread the news of women’s rights conventions. All the articles about the “insurrection of petticoats” just brought more attention to the idea of equality and got people talking.
This week’s song pick:
“Soy Yo” (I am) by Bomba Estéreo https://youtu.be/bxWxXncl53U
Episode 12 Sources