The Mind of Frederick Douglass

By Waldo E. Martin Jr. | Go to book overview

6. Feminism, Race, and Social Reform

The contributions of black and white women to the antislavery cause were indispensable. They not only spoke and wrote effectively on behalf of the slave, but they also conducted annual antislavery fairs that helped to finance the movement. Similarly, they assisted the petition campaign against slavery by signing and circulating petitions. Through their participation in the antislavery cause, many of these women gained a deeper comprehension of the comparable, though different, oppression of slaves and women. Quite a few of the pioneering nineteenth-century American women who espoused feminism -- the doctrine of equality between the sexes, of woman's need for selfdefinition and self-determination, and the struggle to realize these goals -- first spoke out publicly as antislavery advocates. These included Maria W. Stewart, Sojourner Truth, Maria Weston Chapman, Lydia Maria Child, Lucretia Mott, and Angelina and Sarah Grimké.

The emancipation struggles of slaves and women became increasingly symbiotic as the tactics and ideology of antislavery began to function as a primary basis for those of women's rights. Moral suasion, political action, speeches, appeals, conventions, petitions, on one hand, and natural rights, egalitarian, and humanistic concepts, on the other, served the causes of slave and woman. 1 The argument for woman's emancipation, like that for the slave's emancipation, constituted an integral component of the larger struggles for human rights and a truly democratic and republican America. Both abolitionism and women's rights took root and flowered in the reformist ethos of nineteenth-century America.

Commitment to women's rights constituted an article of faith among orthodox Garrisonians as well as other radical social reformers. The 1840 split between the moral suasionist wing of abolitionism, the American Anti-Slavery Society, and the political wing, the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, derived in part from a difference over the "Woman Question." The former accepted women as equal participants in the organization with the right to positions of leadership, while the latter did not and preferred that women work through auxiliary societies. 2 The difference over the comparative merits of moral suasion and political action as abolitionist tactics, however, was the major cause of the split.

Around the time of this historic split, Elizabeth Cady Stanton converted Frederick Douglass to feminism. Stanton was recently married and just back

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The Mind of Frederick Douglass
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Part One - The Shape of a Life 1
  • 1 - The Formative Years and Beyond 3
  • 2 - Abolitionism: the Travail of a "Great Life's Work" 18
  • 3 - The Politics of a Race Leader 55
  • 4 - Humanism, Race, and Leadership 92
  • Part Two - Social Reform 107
  • 5 - The Ideology of White Supremacy 109
  • 6 - Feminism, Race, and Social Reform 136
  • 7 - The Philosophy and Pursuit of Social Reform 165
  • Part Three - National Identity, Culture, and Science 195
  • 8 - A Composite American Nationality 197
  • 9 - Ethnology and Equality 225
  • Part Four - The Autobiographical Douglass 251
  • 10 - Self-Made Man, Self-Conscious Hero 253
  • Epilogue 281
  • Notes 285
  • Bibliography 309
  • Index 317
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