Section 4: Organized Women’s Rights Groups in Northern States

Nationally, participation in the Anti-Slavery Movement was an awakening for many women, who were working to give rights to one group of people while feeling repressed themselves. This led to the Seneca Falls Convention (1848) and its Declaration of Sentiments. However, the Declaration argued from the perspective of wealthy, married, white women and did not include points of view from working-class or Black women. As a result, a division began to emerge in the suffrage movement. Black suffragists typically worked toward the expansion of the Black vote–both men and women–whereas their white counterparts sought the expansion of voting for women alone.

The Women’s Rights Movement—when viewed as an organized effort—can be traced to the Seneca Falls Convention in July 1848. Lucretia Mott (1793–1880) and Elizabeth Cady  Stanton (1815–1902), indignant that an anti-slavery convention in London refused their participation on grounds of their gender, organized a women’s rights event in New York. Stanton later called it the “greatest rebellion the world has ever seen.” 

Three hundred people attended, and over two days, they delivered impassioned speeches, discussed women’s roles in society, and voted on the Declaration of Sentiments, which called for women’s equality in politics, employment, education, family, and religion.

The Sentiment that caused disagreement? “Resolved, That it is the sacred duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise [right to vote].” 

Woman suffrage was a radical proposal, and many participants believed it threatened the broader agenda by discrediting the movement. Only after Frederick Douglass (c.1817/18-1895), former slave and celebrated abolitionist leader, spoke in support of the resolution did it pass.

The Seneca Falls Convention brought national attention to woman suffrage and piqued the interest of individuals whose leadership would become critical in future years.

Tennessee Woman Suffrage Trivia:

Who of the following was NOT at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848? Was it Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, or Lucretia Mott?

Answer: Susan B. Anthony

“Rediscovering the Woman Suffrage Movement in America”

by by Marjorie J. Spruill, Ph.D., | recorded on March 18, 2018

Dr. Marjorie J. Spruill traces the history of the Woman Suffrage Movement from its early roots to the 1920 passage of the 19th Amendment through which women gained universal suffrage in the United States. A Distinguished Professor Emerita from the University of South Carolina, Dr. Spruill is well known for her work on women and politics, from the woman suffrage movement to the present and on the history of the American South. Her books on the subject include New Women of the New South: The Woman Suffrage Movement in the Southern States, named by the Wall Street Journal as one of the five most important books about woman suffrage, and an anthology, One Woman, One Vote: Rediscovering the Woman Suffrage Movement, a companion volume to the PBS documentary, One Woman, One Vote, in which she appeared