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Abolitionists and Suffragists: Working Together and Apart

Suffrage and Slavery

The women's rights movement was the offspring of abolition. Many people actively supported both reforms. Several participants in the 1848 First Women's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls had already labored in the anti-slavery movement. The organizers and their families - the Motts, Wrights, Stantons, M'Clintocks and Hunts - were active abolitionists to a greater or lesser degree. Noted abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass attended and addressed the 1848 Convention.

Both movements promoted the expansion of the American promise of liberty and equality - to African Americans and to women. How did these two movements develop and how were they related to each other? How did each develop strategies and deal with the contradiction of violence and war that results from the advocacy of peaceful change? (Continue Reading from the National Park Service)


Suffragists and Abolitionists: Working Together and Apart

After Seneca Falls, women’s rights conventions became annual events, where women met to discuss educational opportunities, divorce reform, property rights, and sometimes labor issues. Women lent their support to abolishing slavery believing universal suffrage would follow, but both the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments ignored their demand for suffrage. National leaders responded differently, leading to a split in the movement and contrasting campaigns for voting rights at the local, state, and national levels. In 1878 the first federal women’s suffrage amendment was introduced but was soundly defeated later in the first full Senate vote in 1887. As the nineteenth century neared an end, competing national suffrage groups reunited as the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), and groundwork was laid for a national movement. (Continue Reading from the US Library of Congress)


Learn More About the Movements and their Disagreements
Books About Abolitionists and Suffragists

In 1870, the passage of the 15th Amendment guaranteed the rights of African American men to vote. It also greatly contributed to a division between the Abolitionist and Suffragist groups. 

In the lead up to the drafting and ratification of the amendment, women had argued with abolitionists that both groups push for having the amendment include women, so that all freed slaves and all women would receive voting rights at the same time. Abolitionists wanted to seize the right for black men to vote as quickly as possible, and viewed suffrage as something that could be achieved more easily with this right secured.

The failure of the suffragist movement to convince the abolitionist movement to back this effort caused a rift between the movements, some conflict due to insults and a sparking of racial tensions, which led to the two groups focusing more on their own individual causes. (Continue Reading from the National Park Service)