Antislavery: The Crusade for Freedom in America

By Dwight Lowell Dumond | Go to book overview

Chapter 33
WOMEN IN THE MOVEMENT

Women made a very positive contribution to the abolition of slavery, a contribution which was obscured by controversy over participation by women in public affairs and by the efforts of Garrison, Henry C. Wright, and others to promote women's rights at the expense of the antislavery effort.

Lucretia Mott of Philadelphia, a member of the Hicksite group of Friends, was present at the organization of the American Anti-Slavery Society. She spoke, on invitation of the president, Beriah Green, to the question of the Declaration of Sentiments. None of the women present, however, was invited to sign the declaration or to join the society. They were urged to form female antislavery societies.1 There was no dissent from this action, although it represented somewhat of an innovation with regard to participation by women in public activities.

Lucretia Mott had preached in Friends' meetings as early as 1818, but Sarah Grimké ran into trouble in her attempt to do so.2 Angelina Grimké then wrote her appeal to Southern women and Sarah Grimké her epistle to Southern clergymen and trouble began on all sides.3 The executive committee of the American Anti-Slavery Society was dubious about the propriety of women speaking, but Wright, Stanton, and Weld were too powerful for any adverse action, although the society never gave the two sisters any financial support.4 In its 1837 report to the society, the committee said: "The Committee cannot omit to mention... the important aid the cause has received from two sisters, from Charleston, S. C.... Let them hold on their course, till universal womanhood is rallied in behalf of the bleeding victims of wrong."5

The Grimké sisters had attended the agents' convention in New York City and had spoken to women's meetings there. They then went to Massachusetts by invitation of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, where Angelina lectured with such effectiveness that men poured into the meeting house in spite of the old taboo against women speaking to mixed audiences. Angelina, with the encouragement of Stanton, then spoke before the legislative committee on petitions, and ended her tour in triumph with a series of lectures at the Odeon in Boston.6 Sarah, writing to Weld, said: "A few words will tell all. The end crowned all, full of solemn pathos and deep feeling. I remembered what Jesus says -- 'If they hear not Moses and the Prophets neither will they hear tho one rise from the dead.' John Tappan was there. A lady told me he said a fire had been kindled which would never go out."7

Angelina, who had been married to Theodore Weld shortly before, made her last appearance as a public speaker at the second national convention of antislavery women, May 17, 1838. The convention met in Pennsylvania Hall, Philadelphia, and Angelina spoke as the mob gathered for the destruction of the recently dedicated building. The mob was not directed at her personally, nor did it represent particular hostility to women. It was, as we have seen, only one of the many acts of violence against antislavery people.8 Abby Kelly spoke before a mixed assembly of men and women

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