University of Rochester Library Bulletin: Report of the Woman's Rights Convention, 1848

Volume IV · Autumn 1948 · Number 1
Report of The Woman's Rights Convention Rochester, 1848

[Among the manuscript collections in the University of Rochester Library is the secretary's report of the Woman's Rights Convention held in Rochester one hundred years ago. This report, together with letters from Lucretia Mott and Frederick Douglass, forms an important part of a collection of papers of Phebe and Henry Willis given to the University Library by their grandson, the late Henry Willis. The Rochester Convention had been preceded by a meeting at Seneca Falls on July 19 and 20, 1848, under the leadership of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. At Seneca Falls the women attending the convention were urged to hold similar meetings in other cities. The representatives from Rochester returned home and quickly organized their own convention which was held in the Unitarian Church on August 2, 1848. In commemoration of this event, the City Historian, Blake McKelvey has published in Rochester History, for July, 1948, an article entitled, "Woman's Rights in Rochester; a Century of Progress." Arch Merrill has also written about the two conventions in "Woman's Fury vs. 'Tyrant Man', which appeared in the Democrat and Chronicle, p. 16A, Sunday, July 18, 1948. It seems especially fitting to publish this report in this centennial year as a supplement to the articles by Dr. McKelvey and Mr. Merrill. - Gladys G. Nelson.]

At a convention held in the Unitarian church in the City of Rochester on the 2nd of August 1848 to consider the Rights of women, Politically, Socially, Religiously, and Industrially, Amy Post called the meeting to order and reported on behalf of the committee the following persons to serve as officers: Abigail Bush, president, Laura Murray, vice prest., Catharine A. F. StebbinsSarah L. Hallowell, and Mary H. Hallowell, secretaries. Prayer by Rev. Mr. Whicher.

The minutes of the preliminary meeting were then read; at which time some anxiety was manifested concerning the low voices of the women, and when reading or speaking was attempted, cries of louder--louder nearly drowned them, without giving time for adapting them to the size of the house; and the President remarked that "we presented ourselves there before them as an oppressed class, with trembling frames and faltering tongues, and we did not expect to be able to speak so as to be heard by all at first, but she trusted we should have the sympathy of the audience, and that they would bear with our weaknesses now in the infancy as we were of the movement, that our trust in the omnipotency of Right was our only faith that we should succeed."

William C. Nell then read an address highly commendatory of the energies and rare devotion of Woman in every good cause, illustrated by facts in proof of her equality with men, adding that he "should never cease to award the grateful homage of his heart for their zeal in behalf of the oppressed class with which he stood identified."

Lucretia Mott said she must be allowed to object to some portions of it, such as calling Woman the better half of creation &c. Man had become so accustomed to speak of woman in the language of flattering compliment that he indulged in it unawares, 'tho there are some evidences of improvement--instance the reform in the literature of the day. The sickly sentimentality of the "Ladies Department" is fast disappearing, it being perceived that her mind requires more substantial food. She also objected to calling man a tyrant; it is power that makes him tyrannical, and woman is equally so when she has irresponsible power. We shall not place woman in a true position until we form a just estimate of mankind as created by God. William C. Nell disclaimed all intention to flatter; he did not think that flattery which is spoken in truth.

A letter from Gerrit Smith was read expressing his deep interest in the objects of the convention, and regretting his inability to be present.

The following Declaration of Sentiments adopted at the Seneca Falls convention was submitted. [The Declaration is not included in the manuscript which has only the note: "insert Declaration." The text of the Declaration may be found in the History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. I, pp. 70-71, edited by Elizabeth Cady Stanton.] The expression of sentiment on this Declaration being invited by the President, Elizabeth C. Stanton hoped the invitation would be accepted and desired opposers would be more generous than to withhold objections until the convention was dispersed, as at Seneca Falls, where the ministers reviewed it in their pulpits on the Sabbath day where they could not be met.

Mr. Coulton of New Haven felt great interest in the cause saying he "loved the ladies as well as they love themselves," but he would not have woman excel her proper sphere. He thought her place was at home; it was her empire and her throne--should deprecate exceedingly her occupying the pulpit. L. Mott wished him to read his Bible again and see if there is anything there to prohibit her being a religious teacher; thought it was not strange that he had imbibed such views, coming as he did from New Haven, Conn.; said we had derived our views too much from the clergy instead of the Bible.

Hon. William C. Bloss admitted that good results would attend the exercise of the elective franchise by woman, but portrayed many obstacles in the path of that reform and enquired if there was not a natural disqualification; did not boys and girls exhibit dissimilarity of taste in the choice of play things, the one preferring the noisy hammer or the hoop and the other her darling doll at home; and were not these same traits only more fully developed in after life?

At the request of L. Mott, Elizabeth McClintock read some lines from the pen of Maria W. Chapman styled, "The Times that try Men's Souls" and signed, "Lords of Creation" in reply to a pastoral letter written some years since.

M. C. Codding objected to that part of the declaration in regard to political action; he thought it sufficient for women to vote through their fathers, husbands, and brothers, but concluded by wishing them a hearty God speed. He was asked whether he voted by proxy that he thought it so desirable for women.

Frederick Douglass remarked that the only true basis of rights was the capacity of individuals, and as for himself, he dared not claim a right which he would not concede to Woman. In reference to the enfranchisement of Woman it need not be questioned whether she would use that right or not. He contended that man should not withhold it from her; he alluded to the oppressive customs in the Old World which so wronged woman that they subjected her to the most laborious as well as degrading means for a livelihood. He would see her elevated to an equal position with man in every relation of life.

Afternoon Session

A large audience convened. Opportunity for prayer was given. A long and interesting letter from James C. Jackson approving the objects of the convention was read.

Sarah C. Owen then presented an address portraying the evils to which women are subject.

Sarah D. Fish also read an address setting forth some of the causes of woman's degradation, and urging her earnestly to come forward to the work of elevation.

Several resolutions were read which L. Mott ably advocated; 'tho she thought them too tame. She wanted something more stirring.

Mrs. Roberts reported the average price of labour for sempstresses to be from 31 to 38 cts. per day, board from $1.25 to $1.50 per week to be deducted therefrom and they are generally obliged to take half or more than half in due-bills.

Mrs. Galloy corroborated the statement, having herself experienced some of the oppressions of this portion of our citizens and expressed her gratitude that the subject was claiming attention.

Mrs. Stanton offered a resolution respecting the wages of house servants which she thought quite too low for the labour they performed, and urged the necessity of reformers commencing at home.

Mrs. Mott said our aim should be to elevate the lowly and aid the weak. She compared the condition of woman with that of the free colored population, and dwelt upon the progress they had made within the past few years, urging imitation of their perseverance through opposition and prejudice. And said while woman is regarded as an inferior being; while the Bible is brought forward to prove the right of her present position and while she is disposed to feel satisfied with it, all these efforts can do but little. We cannot expect to do much by meeting in conventions for those borne down by the oppressor, unless the oppressed themselves feel and act; and while so little attention is paid to education, and so little respect to woman. She spoke of the difference in education of boys and girls in England. The common schools for boys show an improvement, mathematics and many of the higher branches being taught; while the girls learn little more than to read, write and keep their little accounts, sewing being the principal object of attention. The teachers say it will not do to educate them, "you unfit them for servants." We grant that woman's intellect is feeble because she has been so long crushed. Does one man have fewer rights than another because his intellect is inferior? If not, why should woman be denied her rights for that reason? Let her arise and demand them and in a few years we shall see a different mental development. She regarded this as the beginning of the day when woman shall rise, when she shall occupy her appropriate position in society…

Evening Session

The Declaration of Sentiments was again read and 107 signatures obtained.

Mr. Sully wished to ask fathers if they had considered this subject, what effect this equality would have on the happiness of a family if the wife and husband should differ in regard to politics or the education of a child. Mrs. L. Mott replied by asking "which is preferable, ignorant or intelligent differences?" Mr. Sully further said when the two heads disagree who must decide? There is no Lord Chancellor to whom to apply, but does not St. Paul strictly enjoin obedience to husbands, and that man shall be head of woman? Mrs. Mott replied that in an extensive intercourse with the Society of Friends she had never known any difficulty to arise on account of the wife's not having promised obedience in the marriage contract. She had never known any other mode of decision except a resort to argument, an appeal to reason; and, altho in some of the meetings of this society women are placed on an equality, none of the results so much dreaded have occurred. The opposers of Woman's Rights who 'tho they bid us obey the bachelor St. Paul, themselves reject his counsel. He advised them not to marry. In general answer she would quote "One is your master, even Christ." Although Paul enjoins silence on women in the church yet he gives directions how they should appear when they are speaking. And we have scripture accounts of honourable women not a few who were religious teachers. Phebe, Priscilla, Tryphena, Tryphosa and the 4 daughters of Philip and various others. Mrs. Stanton thought the gentleman could be easily answered; the strongest will or the superior intellect now governs the household as they will in the new order. She knew many a woman, who, to all intents and purposes, is at the head of her family. The resolutions were then read and Amy Post moved their adoption. A discussion ensued in which Mrs. Mott, Mrs. Stanton and Mr. Pickard participated. Mr. Pickard asked, who after marriage should hold property and whose name should be retained? He thought an umpire necessary - all business must cease until the consent of both parties be obtained. He saw an impossibility of introducing such a rule into society; the Gospel has established the unity of the married pair, they two are one. Mrs. Stanton thought property might be held jointly and the choice of names discretionary with the parties. The custom of taking the husband's name is not universal.

The following resolutions were now adopted with but two or three dissenting voices -

[Section B only of the resolutions is included in the manuscript. The complete list is given in the appendix, page 808, of the History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. I]

Resolved, That we tender a vote of thanks to the trustees of the Unitarian Church for kindly granting the use of it for this convention.

Resolved, That the friends interested in this movement gratefully accept the kind offer of the Trustees of Protection Hall to hold our meetings whenever we choose.

LAURA MURRAYVice-President