Akron Woman’s Rights Convention Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

This second major women’s rights convention highlighted the connections between the women’s and abolitionist movements and exposed the internal contradictions that would increasingly emerge in the growing women’s movement.

Summary of Event

By the late 1840’s, the accelerated growth of the United States affected all aspects of American life. Territorial expansion to the West and industrial development changed the social fabric as immigrant labor created urban areas and modified gender and class roles. The women’s rights movement emerged from this dynamic context. Most of the movement’s founders had gained experience in organizing from their participation in the temperance Temperance movement;in United States[United States] , antislavery, moral purity, and health reform movements through their churches and benevolent societies. On July 19, 1848, they came from the surrounding areas to assemble in a Wesleyan chapel in Seneca Falls, New York, to begin the organized women’s rights movement. By the end of that first meeting, sixty-eight women and thirty-two men had signed the Declaration of Sentiments Declaration of Sentiments (1848) , a compilation of gender inequities ending with a series of resolutions to shape the agenda for the coming years. Akron Woman’s Rights Convention[Akron Womans Rights Convention] Women’s movement[Womens movement];Akron Woman’s Rights Convention Ohio;Akron Woman’s Rights Convention[Akron Womans Rights Convention] National Woman’s Rights Convention (1851)[National Womans Rights Convention (1851)] [kw]Akron Woman’s Rights Convention (May 28-29, 1851) [kw]Woman’s Rights Convention, Akron (May 28-29, 1851) [kw]Rights Convention, Akron Woman’s (May 28-29, 1851) [kw]Convention, Akron Woman’s Rights (May 28-29, 1851) Akron Woman’s Rights Convention[Akron Womans Rights Convention] Women’s movement[Womens movement];Akron Woman’s Rights Convention Ohio;Akron Woman’s Rights Convention[Akron Womans Rights Convention] National Woman’s Rights Convention (1851)[National Womans Rights Convention (1851)] [g]United States;May 28-29, 1851: Akron Woman’s Rights Convention[2830] [c]Women’s issues;May 28-29, 1851: Akron Woman’s Rights Convention[2830] [c]Social issues and reform;May 28-29, 1851: Akron Woman’s Rights Convention[2830] Gage, Frances Dana Cowles, Betsey Mix Truth, Sojourner

The movement had able leaders in Susan B. Anthony Anthony, Susan B. , a pragmatic, yet intense organizer; theorist Elizabeth Cady Stanton Stanton, Elizabeth Cady , who had limited mobility because of her large family; Quaker reformer Lucretia Mott Mott, Lucretia ; orators Lucy Stone Stone, Lucy and Ernestine Rose Rose, Ernestine ; and many others. Male reformers also participated during these early years. However, when men joined the women at their next meeting in the Quaker community of Salem, Ohio, the women barred them from vocal participation to raise their awareness of women’s plight and won a resolution to secure equal rights for all persons.

The first National Woman’s Rights Convention National Womans Rights Convention (1850)[National Womans Rights Convention (1850)] Massachusetts;National Womans Rights Convention[National Womans Rights Convention] was organized by wealthy reformer Paulina Wright Davis Davis, Paulina Wright and held on October 26 and 27, 1850, in Worcester, Massachusetts. New leaders attending this meeting included Antoinette Brown Brown, Antoinette , who became the first ordained female minister; Harriot Hunt, a medical pioneer; and Sojourner Truth Truth, Sojourner , an evangelist and abolitionist.

The connection between women’s rights and abolitionism was strong during these early years. Arguments against the moral, legal, and social conditions of slavery raised women’s awareness of their own restrictions. Societies, newspapers, lyceums, lecture circuits, fairs, and support networks began to include other reforms, including women’s right to speak in public on behalf of slaves. Gradually, women broke down barriers and developed skills that would help them develop their own movement for women’s rights.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

(Library of Congress)

These connections appeared at what is generally called the Second National Woman’s Rights Convention, on May 28-29, 1851, at Akron, Ohio. Because of the loose organization through steering committees during the early years of the women’s movement, confusion about titles of conventions abounds. Akron’s meeting is also known as both the Second Statewide Convention and as the Akron Convention. However, the Worcester, Massachusetts, Convention of October, 1851, is also sometimes called the Second National Woman’s Rights Convention.

Ohio Ohio;antislavery societies had the most antislavery societies of any state in the union in 1840. It had recently adopted a new constitution State constitutions;Ohio , which had mobilized both antislavery and women’s rights supporters working to shape the new laws. Although the Ohio constitution remained unchanged regarding women’s rights, agitation for women’s rights continued throughout the state.

Akron was a central location in Ohio, drawing leaders from the East and from various pockets of reform in Ohio. The strongest center of support came from Salem, Ohio, the Quaker community in Columbiana County that was the home of the Anti-Slavery Bugle, Anti-Slavery Bugle[AntiSlavery Bugle] the newspaper of the Garrisonian Western Anti-Slavery Society Western Anti-Slavery Society[Western AntiSlavery Society] . Salem was also the home of many male and female supporters of women’s rights and equality. These included Jane Elisabeth (Lizzie) Hitchcock Hitchcock, Jane Elisabeth and her husband Benjamin Jones, who were co-editors of the Anti-Slavery Bugle; Mary Ann and Oliver Johnson Johnson, Mary Ann and Oliver , who succeeded Lizzie and Ben Jones Jones, Ben as the paper’s editors; Emily Robinson Robinson, Emily ; and Lot and Eliza Holmes Holmes, Lot and Eliza . The abolitionist and temperance supporter Martha J. Tilden Tilden, Martha J. , who was the wife of a congressman, represented Akron. Teacher and school founder Betsey Mix Cowles Cowles, Betsey Mix came from Austinburg, representing Canton. Josephine Sophia White Griffing White Griffing, Josephine Sophia came from Medina as one of the Western Anti-Slavery Society’s most active and effective lecturers. From the southern part of the state came Sarah Ernst, a Cincinnati Garrisonian.

The Akron Woman’s Rights Convention tapped Ohio leadership. Frances Dana Gage Gage, Frances Dana of McConnelsville, Ohio, a married woman with four young children, was elected president of this convention. Gage’s skills as a writer for abolition and temperance had brought her into the reform network that supported women’s rights. Although she admitted to having never attended a regular business meeting and to feeling entirely inexperienced in organizational procedures, her natural organizational and intellectual skills provided the basis for her leadership. Unlike the other Ohio reformers, who had come from New England to settle in the West, Gage was born in Ohio and had married an Ohioan. In her opening speech to the convention, she related how women had struggled alongside men in adapting to the environment. These experiences demonstrated the common needs of women and their shared humanity with men. She traced the false basis in religion and custom that gave men predominance over women. She sought with “a loving spirit” to bring men into the movement for women’s rights to create “a revolution without armies, without bloodshed” to improve the conditions of society by granting women their rights.

Ohio leaders read letters of support from Paulina W. Davis Davis, Paulina Wright of Rhode Island, Elizabeth Cady Stanton Stanton, Elizabeth Cady and Amelia Bloomer Bloomer, Amelia of New York, former Oberlin student Lucy Stone Stone, Lucy , and Gerrit Smith Smith, Gerrit . The current status of women was presented in reports. L. Maria Giddings spoke on the common law. Betsey Mix Cowles Cowles, Betsey Mix detailed labor conditions and wages. Pittsburgh’s Jane G. Swisshelm Swisshelm, Jane G. related women’s sphere to education, a topic also addressed by Emily Robinson.

The reports provided a stage for commentaries and debate, with ministers quoting Scripture assigning women a secondary role. They pointed out that, according to the Bible, Bible;and women’s movement[Womens movement] Women’s movement[Womens movement];and Bible[Bible] Jesus Jesus Christ [p]Jesus Christ;and women’s movement[Womens movement] had chosen no female apostles, that Eve was responsible for all the sin in the world, and that John had instructed women to be silent. As the meeting degenerated in this debate, a tall figure emerged from the back of the church hall and asked to speak. Many in the crowd responded in the negative, saying that women’s rights and “nigger’s rights” did not mix. Gage Gage, Frances Dana , however, had been a strong supporter of the antislavery movement and had great respect for the proposed speaker, Sojourner Truth Truth, Sojourner . Gage assented to the request.

The speech then delivered by Sojourner Truth turned the tide in favor of women’s rights. This former New York slave, originally named Isabella Van Wegener, had experienced a religious conversion and had renamed herself Sojourner Truth as she entered a career as an itinerant preacher and antislavery lecturer. Dubbed the “Lybian Sybil” by Lydia Maria Child Child, Lydia Maria , Truth stood more than six feet tall and had very dark skin, which gave her a commanding physical presence in any gathering. Although illiterate, she was an eloquent orator and had addressed similar crowds in the antislavery lecture circuit and spoken to earlier women’s rights conventions at Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1850.

Truth’s speech at the Akron Convention was called “Ain’t I a Woman?” "Ar’n’t I a Woman?" (Truth)[Arnt I a Woman] by Gage Gage, Frances Dana and by the Anti-Slavery Bugle Anti-Slavery Bugle[AntiSlavery Bugle] . Truth Truth, Sojourner argued that she had worked as hard as a man, had physical needs similar to those of a man, and thus deserved the same rights in return. She asked the ministry about the origin of Christ—from God and a woman, with man having no part. When challenged on the matter of Christ’s having no female apostles, she countered with women’s roles attending Christ at the crucifixion and mentioned the women to whom he appeared after resurrection. In defense of Eve, she argued that if one woman could turn the world upside down, then women together could correct the world’s problems, if given rights. Accounts of the magical influence of her speech were in agreement that she had provoked respect and admiration and turned the event into a successful women’s rights convention.

Significance

The convention resolved to use the periodical press to shape public sentiments, to use teachers and mothers to shape young minds, to form labor partnerships, and to repeal laws that created different privileges. Caroline Severance Severance, Caroline reported on the event in the Cleveland newspapers; in May, 1853, she presided over the first annual meeting of the Ohio Woman’s Rights Association Ohio;Woman’s Rights Association[Womans Rights Association] , which had been founded May 27, 1852, in Ravenna. The Akron Convention reflected the internal contradictions that would increasingly emerge in the growing women’s rights movement.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bernhard, Virginia, and Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, eds. The Birth of American Feminism: The Seneca Falls Woman’s Convention of 1848. St. James, N.Y.: Brandywine Press, 1995. Focuses on the founding convention; also provides information on the meetings that followed.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Buhle, Mari Jo, and Paul Buhle, eds. The Concise History of Woman Suffrage: Selections from the Classic Work of Stanton, Anthony, Gage, and Harper. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1978. Collection of primary documents on the women’s movement that includes several relevant to the Akron convention.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fitch, Suzanne Pullon, and Roseann M. Mandziuk. Sojourner Truth as Orator: Wit, Story, and Song. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997. Exploration of Sojourner Truth’s exceptional oratorical skills that includes some of Truth’s speeches, songs, and public letters.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Flexner, Eleanor. Century of Struggle: The Woman’s Rights Movement in the United States. New York: Atheneum, 1973. Still one of the best analyses of the movement for women’s rights.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gilbert, Olive. Narrative of Sojourner Truth. Edited by Margaret Washington. New York: Vintage Books, 1993. In the introduction to this edition of the Narrative of Sojourner Truth, the editor explores the Dutch culture in relation to slavery, the elements of culture and community in interpreting the effects of slavery upon African Americans, and the issue of gender in relation to the authorship of the narrative.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Langley, Winston E., and Vivian C. Fox, eds. Women’s Rights in the United States: A Documentary History. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994. Provides primary documents and bibliographic information.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mabee, Carleton. Sojourner Truth: Slave, Prophet, Legend. New York: New York University Press, 1993. Provides information about Truth’s background and her role in the women’s movement.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Painter, Nell Irvin. Sojourner Truth: A Life, a Symbol. New York: W. W. Norton, 1996. Comprehensive biography that challenges the authenticity of historical sources regarding Truth’s life.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Stanton, Elizabeth Cady, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage, eds. History of Woman Suffrage. 6 vols. New York: Fowler & Wells, 1881-1922. Reprint. New York: Arno Press, 1969. Volume 1 provides some information from Gage’s reminiscences on the Akron convention.

Seneca Falls Convention

Suffragists Protest the Fourteenth Amendment

Woman Suffrage Associations Begin Forming

Wyoming Gives Women the Vote

Declaration of the Rights of Women

Women’s Rights Associations Unite

Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Nineteenth Century, 1801-1900</i>

Susan B. Anthony; Amelia Bloomer; Matilda Joslyn Gage; Lucretia Mott; Elizabeth Cady Stanton; Lucy Stone; Sojourner Truth. Akron Woman’s Rights Convention[Akron Womans Rights Convention] Women’s movement[Womens movement];Akron Woman’s Rights Convention Ohio;Akron Woman’s Rights Convention[Akron Womans Rights Convention] National Woman’s Rights Convention (1851)[National Womans Rights Convention (1851)]

Categories: History Content