This Crazy Movement
May 26, 1852 — 3rd Women’s Rights Convention, Baptist Meeting House, Massillon OH
I cannot say as did Mrs. Davis at Worcester, “that the object for which our Convention is called is so well known and understood that I need not occupy time in rehearsing”, for I do not feel that here it would be true. There are a few who fully understand us, a few who have looked beneath the surface of things and realize the deep importance of our movement, the great mass even of those who think favorably and give us no opposition, do not feel nor see the broad ground we have taken, nor conceive of the ultimate effects of our proposed reform upon society. They feel that woman occupies an uncomfortable position in society, that she is cramped, dependent, undeveloped, and they are beginning to be anxious, to look about them enquiringly, and ask of those whom they feel to be deeper thinkers than themselves, “What shall we do to be saved?”
The necessity of earnest effort, or the active employment of both mind and body — the wisest law of God to man — is removed from the rich, and as a consequence under the present system of things, labor for woman, to them, has become almost disgraceful. But they have bodies that require to be exercised, and minds demanding constant employment. These demands of nature are not met truly and wisely, and as a consequence for no moral, mental or physical law can be violated with impunity — we see women in the higher classes of society, weak in body and undeveloped in mind, suffering through their whole lives from effeminacy, utterly unfitted for life and its high and holy duties, their children as weak and effeminate as themselves and the frail fashionable woman who never endured the hardship of cooking a meal or washing a dress for herself, too often becomes the helpless invalid, when she should be in the very vigor of life, and learns, when too late, that wealth and ease have been to her the bane of existence. Her children, around whom her affections twine, with all a mother’s deep absorbing love, drop into an early grave, because the mother has not given them vital power sufficient to resist the evil influences that surround them, and she who feels herself incapable of making sufficient efforts to enable her to give strength and power to her offspring, suffers a thousand fold in her inner life from grief and sorrow, and she asks with an imploring voice, “What shall I do to avert these evils?” Labor, as I said before, has become almost disgraceful, and consequently the exercise of the body must be that which is taken for mere amusement, and mere amusement never gives much strength or vigor to the mind. The predominant passions of the human mind are as active and vigorous in women as in man, and the pride and ambition of woman, having no other vent, or almost no other as things now are, finds its escape in the love of display. — Hence we see fashion and folly bearing rule among those whose wealth places them in a position to give tone to society. The second class of society, those above the actual necessity of constant labor for a living, look up to those who seem to hold a position above them and with envious longing they struggle, strive, and toil to reach that eminence. The whole life of too many is a constant effort to appear what they really are not. The pale, sickly child of wealth, with its embroidered slip, its hat and feather, its coral neck-lace, and little cramped feet, who cannot bear the winter breeze, or the summer’s sunshine, is to them a far more attractive object, than the hardy, strong, rosy-cheeked, bare-footed urchin who rejoices and shouts in the freedom enjoyed in the exuberance of health and strength, and fears neither wind nor storm; and with mistaken views and feelings of their own duty and destiny, they devote their energies, of both mind and body, to that which neither elevates or improves, to that which a large majority know and feel in their own hearts is wrong, and yet they see and feel no way of resisting the influence. They are worried, restless, unhappy, and they too, are crying out “What shall we do to be saved?”
The third class of women — the poor — those who must toil or die, Oh, how my heart bleeds when I think of them! They make the majority of the mothers of our race. Toil, toil, toil, is their never ending doom. And yet theirs is not a healthful, necessary labor, but of suffering never ending toil, without relaxation, almost without compensation. I will not stay now to depict their utter wretchedness and woe. There is not one here who has not seen it, and been made to understand its details, and listened to their anguished cry of “What shall we do to be saved?” Which of these three classes of women taken in the mass are fit to become the mothers of men? — which are fitted, and prepared physically, mentally and morally, to stand as the living providence to produce, nourish, guard, guide and govern a human being from infancy to adult years, and to bring out in its highest possible perfection every faculty of that human soul, and make it as near as possible, an image of its God?
Mark, me, I do not say that all the women in any one of these classes are unfitted for the work. There are many in each class who are striving with mind and might, against the influence of their surroundings, and doing noble duty for humanity. But alas! for the mass, — they are not yet awakened to a sense of their false position; they feel that there is evil, but have no inclination or will to resist the current that is bearing them down the stream of popular error.
Our object then in meeting together, in assembling ourselves in Convention, is the elevation of the race, the establishing of equal rights for all. And how is this mighty work to be accomplished? I answer, by such action as will make the mothers of the race free by placing them in a state of perfect equality with the fathers — giving the same scope to their mental, moral and physical faculties.
From the hints I have here given, you will perhaps gather a more distinct idea of the great and ultimate objects of our assembling ourselves together ¾ the elevation of the race, through the freedom and elevation of woman.
Permit me here to speak of the progress of our cause. The first public demonstration on the subject of Women’s Rights that ever fell under any observation, was held at Seneca Falls, N. Y., in August, I think, of 1844. I was traveling, and saw the account in a newspaper I casually met with. I had long been, in a private way, an advocate for the equality of the sexes, and this manifestation cheered and delighted me. I said to my friends with earnestness, “Oh, how I wish I had been there!” — The reply was, “Are you crazy?” But I had so often been asked that question, that it did not startle me much; at least I had hopes of escaping the straight jacket awhile longer, particularly as I wore my dress trailing in the dust, and the required number of whalebones to satisfy any jury of rational men of my sanity. Misery loves company, and I was glad, you may be sure, that I was not the only crazy woman in the world. I returned to Ohio and heard no more of this crazy movement; though I have been quite recently informed that those who were most active in the Convention at Seneca Falls, held one of the same character about a month later at Rochester.
In the spring of 1850, a Convention was called at Salem, Ohio, and numerously attended. The proceedings and letters found their way into the New York Tribune, and were spread far and wide over the country. And here let me say, that I feel that the friends of the Women’s Rights cause, owe much, very much, to the liberality and kindness of Horace Greely, the able and talented conductor of the Tribune. This well spread intelligence through the Tribune called out a world of abuse, sneers and contempt; but the very weakness of the arguments used, gave strength to the friends of the cause, and afforded them ample opportunities to set forth their own views.
In October of 1850, a Convention was held in Worcester, Mass.; and again the startled world threw squibs and crackers, but thinking people began to speak words of aid and comfort. In the spring of ’51, a second Ohio Convention was held in Akron, the published report of which, was wafted over the great waters to the Old World, and called out an article in the Westminster Review, headed “The Ohio Convention,” in which the resolutions of the Worcester Convention were discussed and our views ably defended. This was fully copied into the Tribune; and the high authority, connected with unanswerable argument, seems to have given a quietus to the sneers, reviling, taunts, and reproaches of the would-be wise ones on this side of the water, who still look up to thoughts of the mother country for guidance and direction. I have since that Convention, received letters from Anne Knight, that bold and determined missionary of all good things, and also from Harriet Martineau, who with her strong, clear intellect, sees and feels the needs of woman, and is ready to spread for her, even at the risk of being called an idiot.
Thus it will be seen that our associated action has attracted an attention, co-operation, and sympathy, that no isolated movement could. Anne Knight gave me an account of a visit made, and lectures delivered at Glasgow, Scotland, and of the organized meeting of friends of the emancipation of Women at Chelmsford England, and requested the published copy of our proceedings for the benefit of earnest enquirers at home. Let it not be said that our efforts have done no good, when England and Scotland, in the old fortresses of conservatism, have heard the echos of our earnest call for liberty.
In October ’51, a State Convention was held in Indiana; and in the same month another in Worcester, Mass., where strong minds spoke strong truths. Every where was published the notice of their proceedings, and words of commendation almost as universally spoken. ¾ We are in Convention again; next week another rally is to be made in Westchester, Pa., and another during the season in New York.
Thus has this great hall of reform rolled in, and never perhaps did any great political movement — as, I may, to a certain extent call it — which with such rapid evolutions. Every where women and men acknowledge that it is time that something was done for woman, that if she is not elevated the race will run out. — Many who are earnest for our elevation, do not as yet see the propriety of installing women in all the political rights and immunities men enjoy. Yet I honestly believe if a majority of the women of our land, were to demand an acknowledgement of the right of suffrage, that that right would be granted. Even if man’s justice should hesitate to grant us a recognition of the rights which we claim as ours, his heart still throbs with affection and kindness for woman; and if she is but just to her own nature, strong and self reliant, convincing him with mildness and with love that she is capable of doing all that she asks to be permitted to undertake, he cannot long refuse to grant her request, and those concessions which she won from his affection, his justice, will afterwards fully confirm.
Source: Anti-Slavery Bugle (Lisbon, OH), June 5, 1852, p. 3.