A lively anthology tracing the emergence of the women’s-rights movement in the US during the turbulent antebellum period.
Sklar (History/SUNY Binghamton) provides a lengthy introductory essay tracing with vigor and clarity the manner in which, beginning in the 1830s, white and black women in the North began to become active in the abolitionist cause, inspired in many cases by the religious revivals sweeping the nation. While women in the movement at first focused their efforts upon emancipation, the intense criticism that greeted their activities gradually pushed some of them toward an advocacy of women’s rights as well. They discovered that they first had to defend their right to speak at all in a society in which women were expected to restrict their activities to a purely domestic sphere. At the forefront in articulating women’s right to speak and act on moral and political issues were Angelina and Sarah Grimke, the courageous daughters of a Southern slaveowner. During their influential speaking tour in 1837, the eloquent Grimkes asserted that they pleaded “not the cause of the slave only” but also “the cause of woman as a responsible moral being.” Their lectures served both to stimulate support for the abolitionist cause and to encourage other women to begin speaking about rights and responsibilities. It also aroused discomfort among some male abolitionists, concerned that arguments over women’s rights would diffuse moral outrage over slavery. There was, Sarah Grimke argued in a letter to a male colleague, no going back. “To close the doors now . . . would be a violation of our fundamental principle that man and woman are created equal and have the same duties and the same responsibilities as moral beings.” The 54 pieces collected here trace the gradual development of ideas about women’s rights, beginning with Angelina and Sarah, the growing tension that resulted, and the articulation of a separate women’s-rights movement in the early 1840s. The concluding section traces the gradual separation of the women’s movement from abolitionism in the 1850s.
An essential work for anyone interested in the early days of abolitionism and the women’s movement in North America. (15 illustrations, not seen)