Slavery And "The Woman Question"

Lucretia Mott's Diary of Her Visit to Great Britain to Attend the World's Anti-Slavery Convention of 1840

Edited by Frederick B. Tolles, Ph.D., supplement No. 23 to the Journal of the Friends' Historical Society (Haverford, PA and London: Friends' Historical Association and Friends Historical Society, 1952)

[Editorial Note: Historians, following the lead of Elizabeth Cady Stanton et al., have seen in the decision of the World Anti-Slavery Conference, held in London in 1840, to exclude women from serving as delegates the beginnings of the woman's rights movement in the United States. Lucretia Mott's Diary of her trip to London and of the controversies swirling around the convention's decision is, as a result, of more than a little interest. According to "Sketches of the Anti-Slavery Convention, No. VIII: Lucretia Mott" (reprinted from the Dublin Weekly Herald in The Liberator (October 23, 1840), Mott was "the Lioness of the Convention," even though she was not allowed to participate in its deliberations. Mott's diary contains a number of references to Elisabeth [Mott's spelling] Stanton but no account of the conversations recorded in Stanton's History of the Suffrage Movement in the course of which, Stanton claimed, she and Mott first discussed the possibility of a woman's rights movement modelled upon the Anti-Slavery movement.]

P.28: 5th day [June] 11th. William Boultbee breakfasted with us -- also William E. Foster who gave us an interesting account of his uncle T. F. Buxton's plan of colonization et cetera in Africa. -- Met again about our [i.e., women's] exclusion -- William Boultbee wished to have our decision -talked much with him, liked him--agreed on the following Protest:

The American Women Delegates from Pennsylvania to the World's Convention would present to the Committee of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society their grateful acknowledgements for the kind attentions received by them since their arrival in London. But while as individuals they return thanks for these favors, as delegates from the bodies appointing them, they deeply regret to learn by a series of resolutions passed at a Meeting of your Committee, bearing reference to credentials from the Mass. Society, that it is contemplated to exclude women from a seat in the convention, as co-equals in the advocacy of Universal Liberty. The Delegates will duly communicate to their constituents, the intimation which these resolutions convey: in the mean time they stand prepared to co-operate to any extent, and in any form, consistent with their instructions, in promoting the just objects of the Convention, to whom it is presumed will belong the power of determining the validity of any claim to a seat in that body.

On behalf of the Delegates
very respectfully
Sarah Pugh
6 Mo. 11th. 40
. . . .

P.29: Evening. Several sent to us to persuade us not to offer ourselves to the Convention--Colver [Rev. Nathaniel Colver, pastor of the First Free baptist Church in Boston and a delegate of the National Baptist Anti Slavery Convention] rather bold in his suggestions--answered and of course offended him. W. Morgan and Scales informed us "it wasn't designed as a World Convention--that was mere Poetical license," and that all power would rest with the "London Committee of Arrangements." Prescod of Jamaica (colored) thought it would lower the dignity of the Convention and bring ridicule on the whole thing if ladies were admitted--he was told that similar reasons were urged in Philadelphia for the exclusion of colored people from our meetings--but had we yielded on such flimsy arguments, we might as well have abandoned our enterprise. Colver thought Women constitutionally unfit for public or business meetings--he was told that the colored man too was said to be constitutionally unfit to mingle with the white man. He left the room angry.

6th day 6 mo. 12th. the World's Convention--alias the "conference of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society," with such guests as they chose to invite, assembled. We were kindly admitted behind the bar--politely conducted to our seats and introduced to many, whom we had not before met . . . .