Elizabeth Blackwell on the 1850 Women's Rights Convention

Editorial Note: This letter was first published in Pioneering Work in Opening the Medical Profession to Women: Autobiographical Sketches by Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell (London and New York: Longman, Green, 1895). It is particularly significant because opening educational opportunities to women, especially in medicine, was one of the central topics of the 1850 convention. In 1849 Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to gain a medical degree in the U.S. In 1850 she studied with Dr James Paget in London and the following year she opened the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children. She returned to England in 1869 where she helped found the London School of Medicine for Women. So her deep misgivings about the convention's overall approach suggests something of the difficulties the early women's rights activists faced in winning support.

December 24, 1850

. . . Your letter alludes to many topics of interest. First of all this 'Woman's Rights Convention,' held at Worcester, Mass. I have read through all the proceedings carefully. They show great energy, much right feeling, but not, to my judgment, a great amount of strong, clear thought. This last, of course, one ought not to expect in the beginning; but in my own mind I have settled it as a society to respect, to feel sympathy for, to help incidentally, but not -- for me -- to work with body and soul. I cannot sympathize fully with an anti-man movement. I have had too much kindness, aid, and just recognition from men to make such attitude of women otherwise than painful; and I think the true end of freedom may be gained better in another way. I was touched by the kind remembrance of W.H.C. [William H. Channing], which [sic] placed my name on the Industrial Committee; and if I were in America and called upon to attend I should certainly send them a note full of respect and sympathy; but I must keep my energy for what seems to me a deeper movement. But I think you did perfectly right to act on the Education Committee, and if I can send you any information I will gladly do so. But I feel a little perplexed by the main object of the Convention -- Woman's Rights. The great object of education has nothing to do with a woman's rights, or man's rights, but with the development of the human soul and body. But let me know how you mean to treat the subject, and I will render you what aid I can . . . . My head is full of the idea of organisation, but not the organisation of women in opposition to men. I have been lately meditating constantly on this idea, and seeking some principle of organisation which should be a constantly growing one, until it became adequate to meet the wants of the time . . . .