“The Anti-Slavery Movement and the Birth of Women’s Rights.” Chapter 2 in Women, Race and Class by Angela Davis (1983)

“The Anti-Slavery Movement and the Birth of Women’s Rights.” Chapter 2 in Women, Race and Class by Angela Davis (1983)

  • Frederick Douglass credits women with being one of the largest proponents of the abolition of slavery
    • He was also a prominent women’s rights advocates
      • This led to much ridicule
  • Women joined the anti-slavery movement
    • Harriet Beecher Stowe said it was maternal instincts
      • In her book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the perfect woman was the perfect mother & slaves seen as helpless children (Davis sees this as racist)
  • White women’s lives were being transformed in the 19th century
    • Once the Industrial Revolution kicked in, women’s societal roles diminished by making domestic labor’s importance less important
    • Until then, the economy was centered around the home producing all the home’s needs, food & raising kids but now no longer functioning members of the economic household but just living ideals as wife & mother
  • The Nat Turner Slave Revolt in 1831 was a clear expression of slaves showing discontent & risking their lives
    • 1830s – strikes occurred in Northern factories for rights
    • Women fought for education & career
      • Invoked the metaphor of slavery with their domestic situation & marriage. Trivialized slavery
    • 1830s – White women were drawn to the abolition movement as a bond between oppressed groups
      • Often derided by non-sympathizers & sometimes causing local scandals
      • Ideas of what white people & “ladies” were were invoked
    • Abolition movement gained momentum in New England by wives of prominent men in society – mostly upper class
      • Middle class women felt a loss of status because of industrialization
      • Sometimes men were requested to take a back seat in the movement
    • Some men didn’t think women’s support was necessary because of their political exclusion – which only made women feel stronger about abolition
    • Pro-slavery mobs got violent in Boston & Philadelphia
    • Women got very good political experience – fund-raising, literature distribution, calling meetings, public speaking & drawing up petitions
      • Skills they’d use later for women’s rights
  • The Grimke sisters were the most consistent in making the link between women’s rights & abolition
    • They moved up North & reported what they had seen in SC, using persuasive words, winning men & women over
    • Some clergy told them to stay in their traditional roles as women
      • Some even accused them of challenging God’s will
      • They wanted to question inequality & draw attention to women’s & men’s equal moral duties, which women weren’t allowed to perform
    • Abolitionist men thought women’s rights would detract from the abolitionist cause
      • The sisters disagreed – it was necessary for them to express their voices legally in the matter of abolition – essentially the causes were inextricably linked

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