The suffrage movement was still in its infancy and very much intertwined with abolition. Ideas kept being shared and spread and the tribe of suffrage supporters was growing. Between 1850 and 1860, there were ten National Women’s Rights Conferences and many more local and regional meetings.
During the 1800s most women could not have money or property of their own and were expected to take care of large households with children. Despite the hardships to get to the conferences, they kept attending in larger and larger numbers; they were very brave and risked a lot to go. Standard social norms of the time expected that all “proper” women belong in the private woman’s sphere of home and family, not in the man’s sphere of public speaking or politics. Any woman who cared about her social station and reputation was pressured to conform. Any indiscretion could lower a woman’s status in society and bring shame to her family to where a loved one who might agree with women’s suffrage in private, might not be supportive in order to “protect” a woman who wanted to be part of the movement. Being seen in public meetings of mixed company and entertaining such radical ideas as women voting and equality was viewed quite unfavorably by most of general society during the decade of 1850-1860. Newspapers continued to portray advocates as extremists especially those who spoke at conventions. Making fun of their looks, demeanors, and taking words out of context were the most common tactics. Even outspoken Abby Kelly had not intended to speak at the Second National Conference in 1851 because her militant speech from the previous year had drawn a lot of negative press. She wasn’t cowed by criticism because she was already an in-demand abolitionist speaker but didn’t want to draw fire to the convention or hurt the suffrage cause. She spoke anyway, but toned it down.
Finding like-minded friends and confidants—one’s tribe—was necessary to stay strong in the face of such opposition.
Susan B. Anthony did not attend the first few Women’s Conferences. She always believed in equality, especially equal pay, but wasn’t particularly interested in the right to vote or even wanting to vote. She was primarily involved in the temperance movement. However, when she attempted to speak at a temperance convention and was told that “The ladies have been invited to listen and learn and not to speak,” she became more interested in the burgeoning suffrage movement.
In the spring of 1851, Ms. Anthony stayed at the house of Amelia Bloomer (episode 11) in order to attend an anti-slavery conference in Seneca Falls. It was during this stay that she met Elizabeth Cady Stanton for the first time and their historic friendship began. Although this is the famous partnership most of us know from our history books, it was one friendship of many. It was actually Lucy Stone (episode 14) who influenced Susan. B. Anthony to take up the cause of suffrage.
In this tribe, there is a long list of suffrage leaders and supporters, some well-known, some unknown, but ALL of them were part of the path to victory.
This week’s song pick:
“Afterlife” by Ingrid Michaelson: https://youtu.be/uf_QhUZX3BM
Episode 15 Sources:
Abby Kelly Foster’s 1851 Speech