Women’s Rights Associations Unite Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The merger of the two major national woman suffrage organizations ended the divisiveness that had long hampered the woman suffrage movement and created a body that would play a major role in the eventual ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment.

Summary of Event

Many of the men and women who campaigned for women’s rights during the nineteenth century were also involved in other reformist causes. For example, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott attended the first World Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840, where women were denied the right to participate. Susan B. Anthony was first involved in the temperance Temperance movement;in United States[United States] movement, and at an 1852 Sons of Temperance meeting in Albany, New York, she was denied the right to speak. By then, Stanton, Mott, and three others had organized what came to be known as the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention. Women’s movement[Womens movement];suffrage associations National Woman Suffrage Association American Woman Suffrage Association Anthony, Susan B. [p]Anthony, Susan B.;and National Woman Suffrage Association[National Woman Suffrage Association] Stanton, Elizabeth Cady [p]Stanton, Elizabeth Cady;and National Woman Suffrage Association[National Woman Suffrage Association] Stanton, Elizabeth Cady [p]Stanton, Elizabeth Cady;and National Woman Suffrage Association[National Woman Suffrage Association] Woodhull, Victoria [p]Woodhull, Victoria;and suffrage associations[Suffrage associations] [kw]Women’s Rights Associations Unite (Feb. 17-18, 1890) [kw]Rights Associations Unite, Women’s (Feb. 17-18, 1890) [kw]Associations Unite, Women’s Rights (Feb. 17-18, 1890) [kw]Unite, Women’s Rights Associations (Feb. 17-18, 1890) Women’s movement[Womens movement];suffrage associations National Woman Suffrage Association American Woman Suffrage Association Anthony, Susan B. [p]Anthony, Susan B.;and National Woman Suffrage Association[National Woman Suffrage Association] Stanton, Elizabeth Cady [p]Stanton, Elizabeth Cady;and National Woman Suffrage Association[National Woman Suffrage Association] Stanton, Elizabeth Cady [p]Stanton, Elizabeth Cady;and National Woman Suffrage Association[National Woman Suffrage Association] Woodhull, Victoria [p]Woodhull, Victoria;and suffrage associations[Suffrage associations] [g]United States;Feb. 17-18, 1890: Women’s Rights Associations Unite[5700] [c]Women’s issues;Feb. 17-18, 1890: Women’s Rights AssociationsUnite[5700] [c]Organizations and institutions;Feb. 17-18, 1890: Women’s Rights Associations Unite[5700]

During the decade leading up to the Civil War (1861-1865), feminists made modest gains. Limited protection of a married woman’s personal property was legislated in Ohio Ohio;women’s rights in[Womens rights in] and New York New York State;women’s rights in[Womens rights in] , and increasing numbers of middle-class women were entering the professions. Oberlin College Oberlin College admitted women. Many traditions came under attack. Stanton briefly joined Amelia Bloomer’s Bloomer, Amelia campaign for women’s dress reform and spoke at the 1860 Woman’s Rights Convention on the need to reformulate marriage Marriage;and civil law[Civil law] as a civil, not a sacred, contract.

As the Civil War approached, the antislavery movement came to dominate reform causes. Basing their argument on Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence, feminist leaders asserted that both women and African Americans had natural rights. In general, they were in accord with Frederick Douglass, former slave and abolitionist leader, who argued that, if the U.S. Constitution Constitution, U.S.;and slavery[Slavery] were interpreted literally, it was an antislavery document, and with Victoria Woodhull, radical speaker and editor, who insisted that women already had the legal right to vote.

With the end of the Civil War in 1865 and proposals to add the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, feminists suffered a setback. While the Constitution previously had not defined citizens as male, the wording of this amendment did so. Thus, for the first time, women were explicitly denied rights that were guaranteed to men. Previously, they were denied voting rights by state laws alone. With the passage of the Fourteenth Fourteenth Amendment;suffragist protests against Amendment, only another amendment could enfranchise them. Like many other abolitionist leaders, Wendell Phillips Phillips, Wendell , elected president of the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1865, argued that women should postpone their own campaign for the vote until rights for African Americans had been constitutionally ensured. Some moderate feminists, such as Lucy Stone, agreed.

In May, 1869, that strategy led to a split among suffragists. The New York group, which became the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), was led by Anthony and Stanton. Stanton was the first NWSA president and remained president for twenty-one years. To establish a short-lived newspaper, The Revolution, Anthony and Stanton accepted funds from George Francis Train, a radical Irish American; Train may have been a racist, but his support of organized labor alone would have made him unacceptable to most middle-class reformers. The newspaper’s association with Train offended many NWSA members.

Federal law never restricted the franchise to men, as it was up to the individual states to determine franchise rights. Long before passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, some states did, in fact, permit women to vote. Here women are seeing voting in a Boston election in 1888.

(Library of Congress)

When the Fifteenth Amendment Fifteenth Amendment was proposed, stating that the vote could not be denied on the basis of color, race, or previous servitude, the NWSA urged inclusion of the word “sex.” NWSA leaders took a stand on other issues then considered radical, favoring equal pay for equal work and reform of marriage Marriage;and women’s rights[Womens rights] laws, and attempting to draw public attention to the legal and economic plights of housewives, factory workers, prostitutes, and prisoners. Membership in the NWSA was open to all, but no man could hold office in the organization. The NWSA tended to attract younger women and women from the western frontier, rather than the more sheltered women of eastern cities.

Meanwhile, a Boston-based group, led by Lucy Stone and Henry Blackwell, concentrated on the vote. Founded by Stone, Julia Ward Howe, and Isabella Beecher Hooker, the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) allowed men full participation. The popular Protestant preacher Henry Ward Beecher Beecher, Henry Ward [p]Beecher, Henry Ward;and woman suffrage[Woman suffrage] , Isabella Hooker’s Hooker, Isabella brother, became the first AWSA president. When a choice had to be made between the causes of woman suffrage and African American suffrage in order to get legislation passed, the Boston group agreed that woman suffrage must wait. In comparison with NWSA’s newspaper, the AWSA newspaper was conservative. Mary Livermore Livermore, Mary , the editor of Woman’s Journal, had left the NWSA because of its radical stance on marriage Marriage;and women’s rights[Womens rights] and dress.

The division between the two organizations was hardened by the NWSA’s brief acceptance of radical orator Victoria Woodhull. Once a spiritualist healer, Woodhull and her sister, Tennessee Claflin, had become the first female Wall Street Wall Street;women brokers brokers. They operated as Woodhull, Claflin & Company and were backed by Cornelius Vanderbilt’s Vanderbilt, Cornelius money. So long as Vanderbilt money was behind her, Woodhull was treated with respect by the press, but that changed as Vanderbilt’s interest waned. In 1870, Woodhull began Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly , a newspaper that touched on women’s issues ranging from hair-dye poisoning to prostitution. In it, she supported her own candidacy for U.S. president, to run in the 1872 elections as a third-party candidate.

A charismatic orator, Woodhull was initially accepted by Stanton and some others in the NWSA. She spoke to large gatherings on such matters as political and civil service corruption, the unequal division of wealth, and the need to unite labor reformers and suffragists. Her most outspoken opponents were from the Boston faction and included two sisters of Henry Ward Beecher—Catharine Beecher Beecher, Catharine and Harriet Beecher Stowe Stowe, Harriet Beecher , the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852). As newspapers focused on details of Woodhull’s unconventional personal life, she chose to expose the hypocrisy of her critics by publicly revealing the long-standing affair between Henry Ward Beecher and a married woman member of his congregation. The various scandals alienated many of the New York group from Woodhull; the Boston group was enraged.

Through almost two decades, the division between the two associations remained. Both claimed memberships of about ten thousand during this period, while millions of women were drawn into other reformist or self-help movements, including cultural and garden clubs, the Women’s National Committee for Law Enforcement, Women’s National Committee for Law Enforcement[Womens National Committee for Law Enforcement] and the Southern Women’s Educational Alliance Southern Women’s Educational Alliance[Southern Womens Educational Alliance] . The largest group was the Women’s Christian Temperance Union Women’s Christian Temperance Union[Womens Christian Temperance Union] (WCTU), which claimed a membership of 150,000 in 1892. With its auxiliaries, its membership was more than 200,000. Frances Willard, WCTU leader, worked with both suffrage associations, seeing woman suffrage as the one route to legislation against alcohol.

Alice Stone Blackwell, Lucy Stone’s daughter, was among those who saw the need to unite the two suffrage factions into a single, more effective body. She and Rachel Foster Avery Avery, Rachel Foster , who represented the NWSA, were negotiators. The merger took place at a February 17-18, 1890, meeting in Washington, D.C. Stanton, who was then seventy-five years old, became the first president of the new National American Woman Suffrage Association National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Anthony and Stone, who were both in their early seventies, served as vice president and executive committee chair.

Significance

Stanton resigned as president of the NAWSA in 1892. She was skeptical of the temperance affiliation and the piety and conservatism of the new group. After she left, she continued her radical attack on organized religion. Publication of her 1895 Woman’s Bible Bible;and women’s movement[Womens movement] Women’s movement[Womens movement];and Bible[Bible] caused such outrage that the NAWSA National American Woman Suffrage Association censured Stanton’s work at its 1896 meeting. Stanton was followed as president by Anthony and then by Carrie Chapman Catt Catt, Carrie Chapman , an Iowa superintendent of schools, who served from 1900 to 1904. A new vigor was given the suffrage movement, however, only by younger women. Harriot Stanton Blatch Blatch, Harriot Stanton , Stanton’s daughter, returned to the United States in 1907, after having observed radical British suffrage techniques. She organized the first suffrage parades in New York. Catt returned to power in 1915, and, with the younger generation of radicals, led the way to the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Baker, Jean H, ed. Votes for Women: The Struggle for Suffrage Revisited. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2002. Solid history of the woman suffrage movement.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Barry, Kathleen. Susan B. Anthony: A Biography of a Singular Feminist. New York: New York University Press, 1988. Readable scholarly biography that emphasizes Anthony’s public life and covers the many issues and divisions of the suffrage movement.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Blackwell, Alice Stone. Lucy Stone: Pioneer of Woman’s Rights. 2d ed. Norwood, Mass.: Alice Stone Blackwell Committee, 1930. Reprint. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2001. Biography of Lucy Stone by her daughter, who presents an insightful and personal view of Stone’s personal and public life.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bordin, Ruth. Woman and Temperance: The Quest for Power and Liberty, 1873-1900. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1981. Traces the complex relationship between suffrage and the then-more-numerous and powerful forces for temperance, a relationship that led the alcohol industry and drinkers to oppose suffrage.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Flexner, Eleanor. Century of Struggle: The Woman’s Rights Movement in the United States. Rev. ed. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1975. First published in 1959 and extensively revised in 1975, this remains the best basic survey of women’s rights issues from colonial times until ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Griffith, Elisabeth. In Her Own Right: The Life of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984. The first fully scholarly study of Stanton and her leadership in the women’s rights movement.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gurko, Miriam. The Ladies of Seneca Falls: The Birth of the Women’s Rights Movement. New York: Macmillan, 1974. Traces major figures of the women’s movement from 1848 through the formation of the NAWSA in 1890.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kern, Kathi. Mrs. Stanton’s Bible. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2001. Examination of Stanton’s nonsexist Women’s Bible, published in 1895. Kern argues that Stanton’s biblical commentary alienated her from less radical members of the women’s movement and may have delayed the achievement of woman suffrage.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">McFadden, Margaret, ed. Women’s Issues. 3 vols. Pasadena, Calif.: Salem Press, 1997. Comprehensive reference work with numerous articles on woman suffrage, women’s rights organizations, individual leaders, and many related issues.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sherr, Lynn. Failure Is Impossible: Susan B. Anthony in Her Own Words. New York: Times Books, 1995. Collection of excerpts from Anthony’s speeches and letters, with commentaries on Anthony’s life and career.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Underhill, Lois Beachy. The Woman Who Ran for President: The Many Lives of Victoria Woodhull. Bridgehampton, N.Y.: Bridge Works, 1995. Balanced and scholarly study of the charismatic feminist leader whose scandalous life has caused her to be omitted from or patronized in most early histories.

Social Reform Movement

Seneca Falls Convention

Akron Woman’s Rights Convention

Suffragists Protest the Fourteenth Amendment

Fourteenth Amendment Is Ratified

Woman Suffrage Associations Begin Forming

Wyoming Gives Women the Vote

Anthony Is Tried for Voting

Minor v. Happersett

Declaration of the Rights of Women

New Zealand Women Win Voting Rights

National Council of Women of Canada Is Founded

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

Susan B. Anthony; Henry Ward Beecher; Amelia Bloomer; Matilda Joslyn Gage; Julia Ward Howe; Lucretia Mott; Elizabeth Cady Stanton; Lucy Stone; Victoria Woodhull. Women’s movement[Womens movement];suffrage associations National Woman Suffrage Association American Woman Suffrage Association Anthony, Susan B. [p]Anthony, Susan B.;and National Woman Suffrage Association[National Woman Suffrage Association] Stanton, Elizabeth Cady [p]Stanton, Elizabeth Cady;and National Woman Suffrage Association[National Woman Suffrage Association] Stanton, Elizabeth Cady [p]Stanton, Elizabeth Cady;and National Woman Suffrage Association[National Woman Suffrage Association] Woodhull, Victoria [p]Woodhull, Victoria;and suffrage associations[Suffrage associations]

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