Image of Elizabeth Cady Stanton from Women in Peace
Image of Lucretia Mott from the National Women’s History Museum
Since March is Women’s History Month, I’d like to offer some blogs about significant women of the nineteenth century.
Let’s start with two women who met at the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention: Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902).
In 1840, Elizabeth Cady was a well-educated young woman in her mid-twenties, having attended the Johnstown Academy (Johnstown, NY) and Emma Willard’s Troy Female Seminary (Troy, NY). Her father, Daniel Cady, was a respected lawyer and a state assemblyman. He tutored Elizabeth in the law by conversing with her and allowing her to listen in on conversations he had lawyers and other knowledgeable people (National Women’s History Museum, Stanton).
In 1840, Elizabeth married abolitionist Henry Stanton. The two took their honeymoon in London, where they attended the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention (National Women’s History Museum, Stanton). While there, something occurred that changed history and launched the First Wave of American Feminism.
The Convention was supposed to be for men only. But there was a controversy. When delegates turned up who happened to be women and attempted to take their seats, they were refused. After a long, nasty debate, only men were permitted to sit on the main floor and to speak or vote. The convention’s report put it this way: “The upper end and one side of the room were appropriated to ladies, of whom a considerable number were present, including several female abolitionists from the United States.” The women were, in effect, silenced and reduced to being observers (New York Historical Society Museum & Library).
Also present at the convention, was Lucretia Mott (1793-1880), “a well-known Quaker preacher and independent thinker” (Worcester Women’s History Project). Born Lucretia Coffin on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, she was one of five children. When Lucretia was ten years old, her father, a ship captain, eventually decided to relocate the family to Boston and become a merchant. The family were part of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and embraced the belief that God created all people and therefore all people were equal, so it is no surprise that Lucretia gravitated toward the abolition movement. In 1809, the Coffin family moved to Philadelphia. In 1811, Lucretia married James Mott, who was her father’s business partner. Their marriage produced six children (National Women’s History Museum, Mott).
Both Lucretia and her husband were outspoken abolitionists. As one of the founders of the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society (1833), Lucretia often was criticized for speaking in public to groups of men and women. (National Women’s History Museum, Mott). I suspect all would have been well had she spoken to closed groups of women. But Mott was a Quaker, and the Religious Society of Friends allowed both women and men to speak in Meeting. So, in a way, she was just doing what came naturally – and was not happy with the idea of being silenced.
I am going out on a limb here. I’m sure the resistance Mott encountered at the London Convention did not surprise her. However, it did make her angry, As a result, she kept a diary about the things that transpired in London (Worcester Women’s History Project).
So... what happens when two ticked off women get together? The birth of a revolution, that’s what. Cady Stanton and Mott came to see that the "woman problem" was an issue as significant as slavery.
After the first tempestuous meeting at the London Convention, Elizabeth and Lucretia ran into each other outside the hall. According to Cady Stanton, they “walked home, arm in arm, commenting on the incidents of the day, we resolved to hold a convention as soon as we returned home, and form a society to advocate the rights of women” (National Women’s History Museum, Stanton).
Regardless of their immediate resolve at the London Convention, the society they spoke of did not happen right away. Nor did the revolution.
To be continued on Friday.
National Women’s History Museum website. “Elizabeth Cady Stanton.”
National Women’s History Museum website. “Lucretia Mott.”
New York Historical Society Museum & Library. “Women and the American Story, Resource 15: 1840 London Anti-Slavery Convention.”
Worcester Women’s History Project website. Karen Board Moran, “World Anti-Slavery Convention & Lucretia Mott.”
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Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder