Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
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Friday, October 23, 2015

The First National Women's Rights Convention

The National Women's Rights Convention (23 and 24 October 1850)

Earlier this year, we looked at the two-day convention in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848. (If you missed those posts, click here and here.) Less well known is the first National Women's Rights Convention held in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1850.

Harriot Kezia Hunt
addressed the National
Women's Rights Convention
on the medical education
of women
About 300 people had attended the Seneca Falls Convention, which famously approved the Declaration of Sentiments. Two years later, there were 1,000 attendees for the first of what would eventually be twelve national conferences. (The tenth took place in 1860--the conventions were suspended during the years of the Civil War, the eleventh held in 1866. A gathering in Washington, D.C. was called the "twelfth National Convention" was held in January 1869.)

Many of the prominent organizers and speakers at the first convention--including Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott--were still active in the 1869 gathering. Over nearly two decades, the issues remained the same: equal wages, access to education, access to work and careers, property rights, marriage rights, and, always, voting rights. Susan B. Anthony would later say that it was reading the text of the speech given by Lucy Stone that drew her to the suffrage movement.

Speakers included the abolitionist and suffragist William Lloyd Garrison, Sojourner Truth, and Frederick Douglass. (You can see the entire program and read the speeches by clicking here.) Interestingly, however, while one of the major themes of this first convention was opening the medical profession to women, physician Elizabeth Blackwell, who, she says, has "read through all the proceedings carefully," had deep reservations--"I feel a little perplexed by the main object of the Convention--Woman's Rights."

While Blackwell does express "respect and sympathy" and says she is prepared to do what she can, she also is clear that her "energy" is reserved for other causes. There were certainly deeper criticism and outright mocking from members of the press and the public. I thought I'd include here a section from the New York Herald's convention coverage, the paper's summary of "the actual designs of that piebald assemblage called the Women's Rights Convention":
1. abolish the Bible;
2. abolish the constitution and the laws of the land;
3. reorganize society upon a social platform of perfect equality in all things, of sexes and colors;
4. establish the most free and miscellaneous amalgamation of sexes and colors;
5. elect Abby Kelley Foster President of the United States and Lucretia Mott Commander-in chief of the Army;
6. To cut throats ad libitum [at their pleasure];
7. To abolish the gallows.
What struck me about this list, so fearful of women's "designs," is how closely it resembles Pat Robertson's view of feminism, from a 1992 fundraising letter (he was running for President). The "feminist agenda," he claimed, was not about equal rights: "it is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians."

Those women! Always wanting stuff, like equal rights. 

Lucy Stone, with a quotation from the
speech she made at the 1850 convention

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