The "Woman Question"

Opposition to women’s prominent roles in reform movements led some women to reexamine their position in society at large. In the 1830s, when Angelina and Sarah Grimke challenged slavery and woman’s right to speak out, they found a home in the Garrisonian anti-slavery camp. But they were attacked by ministers and even some abolitionists. This reaction turned the Grimke’s attention to women’s condition. Their published writings opened the long war over the legal and social inequality of women. It was only a matter of time before women crossed the path from moral opposition to slavery to political activism on behalf of their own rights.

Woman’s rights coalesced as a movement in 1848, at Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s home in Seneca Falls, New York. The Woman’s Rights Convention was organized by Mrs. Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and Lucy Stone, and attracted 300 women and men. Their Declaration of Sentiments was an indictment of the injustices suffered by women. They were excluded from higher education, profitable employment, the trades and commerce, the pulpit, the professions, and the vote. They were denied property rights, and guardianship of their children. They were victimized by a double standard of moral codes.

Enthusiasm ran high at the convention. Only one resolution, women’s suffrage, failed to win unanimous support. But in the larger world, women’s rights advocates were slow to garner support, especially from men, who held most of the political and legal power. It was 72 years between this convention and the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, giving women the right to vote.

Source: Worcester in the Reform Era exhibit at Worcester Historical Museum, 2000