WeWalk: Behind the Scenes of Opening the Way

Opening the Way is a walking tour celebrating women's history in downtown Manhattan. It is a multifaceted new project developed by the award-winning nonprofit organization Women's eNews. The walk honors the achievements of women such as Margaret Sanger, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Ida B. Wells -- 21 women in all. This blog has been created to update fans of the walk on its exciting developments and expansion. Please join us in revitalizing history that has been ignored or forgotten!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Shared Oppressions: Abolitionism and Women's Suffrage in the Nineteenth Century

On this day in 1865, the House of Representatives voted to pass the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery in the United States following Senate’s approval of the amendment in April 1864. The 13th Amendment came to full fruition after years of activism by abolitionists, including many women who later set into motion the women’s rights movement and often sacrificed the cause of women’s suffrage in order to attain the African American male vote more quickly.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the wife of prominent abolitionist Harry Stanton, met the Quaker preacher and abolitionist Lucretia Mott at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in England in 1840, after they were ordered to sit separately from men. They held the first Woman’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, NY eight years later. Frederick Douglass, a former slave and one of a small number of men in attendance there, persuaded the Seneca Falls audience to accept a controversial resolution demanding that women work to attain the right to vote.

In the later anthology History of Woman’s Suffrage, Elizabeth Cady Stanton dedicates a section to examining the effect of women’s participation in abolitionism on their future mindsets. She writes:
“In the early Anti-Slavery conventions, the broad principles of human rights were so exhaustively discussed, justice, liberty, and equality, so clearly taught, that the women who crowded to listen readily learned the lesson of freedom for themselves, and early began to take part in the debates and business affairs of all associations. Women not only felt every pulsation of man's heart for freedom, and by her enthusiasm inspired the glowing eloquence that maintained him through the struggle, but earnestly advocated with her own lips human freedom and equality.”
Other American women suffragists also contributed to the anti-slavery cause. Susan B. Anthony was the principal leader of the New York chapter of the American Anti-Slavery Society and petitioned for the freedom of slaves during the Civil War era. Anna Dickinson was considered one of the greatest orators in America during her lifetime, and began her involvement in abolitionism as early as 13 years old, when she wrote for William Lloyd Garrison’s respected newspaper The Liberator.
Frederick Douglass

When the women’s rights movement split into two major associations after years of disagreement, Lucy Stone led the American Woman Suffrage Association, which prioritized the rights of black men before those of women. Ida B. Wells, a founder of the NAACP, worked for both women’s and civil rights by exposing in her newspaper the vast number of white men who raped black women, as well as dispelling the myth that black men raped white women. The praised leader of the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman, also worked often with her good friend Susan B. Anthony to secure women’s rights. Finally, the former slave Sojourner Truth worked all her life for both women’s rights and the rights of black men. “I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman?” she said in her most famous speech.

The 13th Amendment was the first of several Reconstruction amendments immediately following the Civil War, but equal rights for the African American community de jure did not culminate until the Civil Rights Act of 1964. To this day, the commonality among seemingly different oppressions continues, and as a result, feminists frequently combine their activism with efforts against racism, homophobia, classism, and ableism in order to address root causes of inequality. Contemporary writers such as bell hooks address the invisibility of black women within the history and discourse of both the civil rights and feminist movements. Different movements continue to learn organizing tactics from each other, and as such, it is likely that equality for all people will finally be achieved only when all minority groups recognize the intersection of their oppression.

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