Make Haste Slowly
THE LIMITS OF EQUALITY
Josephine Griffing was one of the woman suffragists whose imagination had been fired by the December 1866 Senate debate over women’s voting rights in the capital. Weeks after black men voted for the first time in Washington, Griffing traveled to New York for the annual meeting of the American Equal Rights Association, the woman suffrage movement’s national organization. There she urged delegates to focus their energies on the District of Columbia. Griffing, who had been an abolitionist and women’s rights activist before the war, placed the drive for women’s enfranchisement in the context of the recent history of slave emancipation. The question had arisen “from the great fact that at the South there were four millions of people unrepresented,” she argued. “The fact of woman’s being also unrepresented is now becoming slowly understood.” The timing was perfect for an organized effort to demand voting rights in the capital. “It is easier now to talk and act upon [the] subject in the District of Columbia than ever before, or than it will be again,” Griffing insisted.1 That summer, Griffing and other Washington activists founded a local Universal Franchise Association to press for women’s enfranchisement in the capital.
Woman suffragists like Griffing saw the debates about equality that ensued at slavery’s end as an opportunity to demand equal rights for women and, in particular, the right to vote. The ascendant Republican discourse of individual rights, they recognized, opened spaces for women to claim that they, too, should be recognized as individuals. Thus, Griffing and many others in her cohort did not challenge the Republican Party’s decision to make black men’s enfranchisement a policy priority, nor did they see black men’s enfranchisement as an insult to women. Instead, they emphasized that the logic might lead