The National Women’s Rights Convention, Worcester Massachusetts
In October 1850 more than 1,000 women’s rights advocates from 11 states gathered at Brinley Hall in Worcester Massachusetts. Calling the meeting the first National Women’s Rights Convention was the suggestion of William Lloyd Garrison and leading suffragists Lucy Stone, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony all endorsed the convention and attended. One attendee, Massachusetts native Abby Kelley, asserted at the convention that a woman “was just as well qualified to be President as a man”, leading the New York Herald to opine that the women’s movement intended to abolish the Constitution as well as the Bible.
Though the women’s movement originated largely in churches and the abolitionist movement, it found in many pulpits one of its most powerful enemies. The Bible was held up as the source of authority relegating women to roles of subservience and service. The women’s movement which demanded equality was scorned as being a violation of the laws of nature and the divine design established by God. Women who were thus supportive of the movement were not only inciting insurrection against the law of the land but were likewise immoral and impious. Resistance to their demands was demanded by the invocation of scripture from many ministers, priests, and newspapers.
Most of the speakers at the National Convention were women, though a few men did address the assemblage, including Ralph Waldo Emerson. The intent of the organizers was to raise awareness of inequality and create a single national group to address the issues of women’s rights as one unified voice. Abby Price addressed the convention on the need to secure access to the trades and professions on an equal footing with men. The convention was informed that women had taken an equal role with men when the nation was founded. Lucy Stone argued that women should be allowed to own property on the same basis as men.
A few newspapers reported on the convention favorably, but most did not. Headlines expressed outright alarm, the New York Herald called it a “piebald assemblage” (piebald meaning black and white) seeking, among other things, the appointment of Lucretia Mott as Commander in Chief of the Army. The general attitude among most newspaper reports of the convention was that the attendees betrayed their femininity, were dangerous radicals in opposition to natural laws, and in many cases were threats to the Christian morals which shaped the nations society and laws. Those at the convention who refuted scriptural calls for women’s subservience were called infidels.
The convention aligned the women’s movement with the abolitionist movement by passing a resolution which called for the same rights they demanded for themselves being extended to the enslaved women of the South. The resolution was introduced and passed after Sojourner Truth addressed the convention on its second day. The reports of the convention in Southern newspapers were overwhelmingly negative and served to add further incentive to the growing demands there for secession. The publicity generated by the convention added some to the cause of women’s rights, but overall did little else to change societal attitudes towards voting rights for women.