What was the connection between abolition and the women's suffrage movement?

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Answered by: Aaron Thorpe, An Expert in the Social History Category
Understanding the connection between the Women's Suffrage movement and the movement for the abolition of slavery in the United States is vitally important to understanding the history of feminism in the United States. The presence and activity of women in Abolition laid the framework for Women’s Suffrage in a variety of important ways. By providing both a unique arena in which women could gain experience and hone their skills in political activism and organization and a network of like-minded individuals with the dedication and wherewithal and to challenge the dominant social and political will, the Abolition movement was the fertile ground from which the movement for women’s suffrage would spring.Participation in the movement to abolish slavery marked a number of political firsts for countless women, many of whom would become leaders in both abolition and women’s rights. It was for the cause of abolition that many women for the first time found themselves actively involved in politics and political agitation. By engaging in such activities as petitioning, public speaking, writing editorials and organizing other activists, women in large numbers were stepping well outside what had traditionally been described their “proper sphere.” They rejected the notion that their proper place and vocation was that of homemaker, mother, and quiet, obedient wife and rather embraced the idea that, as Angelina Grimke said before an 1838 convention in Philadelphia, “each one present has a work to do, be his or her situation what it may, however limited their means, or insignificant their supposed influence.”

As mainstream society railed not just against what activists like Grimke and others were saying about slavery but the fact that they, as women, were saying it at all, women and some men in the abolitionist movement quite naturally began to draw parallels between the enslavement of blacks of both sexes and the subjugation of women of all races. A great many, therefore, also turned their attention to the question of women’s rights in general and—a few, at least—to the question of women’s suffrage. In the summer of 1848, prominent abolitionists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott held a “Women’s Rights Convention” in Seneca Falls, New York. One of the results of this convention was the drafting and publication of a “Declaration of Principles.” The document was a deliberate paraphrase of the Declaration of Independence and laid out a framework of demands for the fair and equal treatment of women as United States citizens, including the resolution “that it is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.” This Declaration would serve to inspire and inform the next several generations of women’s rights and women’s suffrage activists.Clearly, the Abolitionist movement was vitally important to the birth of the early movement for Women’s Suffrage. The influence of their experiences, the networks of connections made and the sense of empowerment gained through taking political action despite the prevailing ideas of social propriety enabled the early leaders of the Suffrage movement to take the first steps necessary in the decades-long struggle to win the right for women to vote. Had it not been for the abolitionists, there very likely might never have been a Women's Suffrage movement.

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