Proceedings of the Woman’s Rights Convention, 1853

Beyond the well-known Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, many smaller women’s rights and abolitionist conventions were held throughout the antebellum era. This 1853 meeting took place in the Broadway Tabernacle, located just a few blocks north of the American Museum. Participants, who included such prominent reformers as William Lloyd Garrison, Lucretia Coffin Mott, and William H. Channing, outlined a number of principles and argued that the existence of equal rights would not force all women to exercise them. Channing’s reference to Jenny Lind, the “Swedish Nightingale” who became famous in the U.S. thanks to P. T. Barnum, suggests the degree to which Barnum’s promotion of her as an “ideal” woman had permeated the popular consciousness.


Resolved, That this movement for the rights of women makes no attempt to decide whether woman is better or worse than man, neither affirms nor denies the equality of her intellect with that of man . . . does not seek to oblige woman any more than man is now obliged, to vote, take office, labor in the professions, mingle in public life, or manage her own property . . .

Resolved, That the monopoly of the elective franchise, and thereby of all the powers of legislation and government, by men, solely on the ground of sex, is a monstrous usurpation--condemned alike by reason and common sense, . . . and insulting to the dignity of human nature. . . .

Resolved, . . . that an unobstructed and general participation in all the branches of productive industry, and in all the business functions and offices of common life, is at once their natural right, their individual interest and their public duty; the claim and the obligation reciprocally supporting each other; that the idleness of the rich, with its attendant physical debility, moral laxity, passional intemperance and mental dissipation, and the ignorance, wretchedness and enforced profligacy of the poor, which are every where the curse and reproach of the sex, are the necessary results of their exclusion from those diversified employments which would otherwise furnish them with useful occupation . . .

Resolved, That this movement gives to the cause of education a new motive and impulse; makes a vast stride towards the settlement of the question of wages and social reform; goes far to cure that wide spread plague--the licentiousness of cities; adds to civilization a new element of progress; and in all these respects commends itself as one of the greatest reforms of the age. . . .

Mrs. Mott . . . The idea of the leaders of this movement is not that women should be obliged to accept the privileges which we demand should be open to her. There are, no doubt, many women who have no inclination to mingle in the busy walks of life; and many would, in all probability, feel conscientious scruples against voting, or taking any office under the present constitution of this country, considering some of its provisions. That, however, supplies no objection to the co-equality which we assert. . . .

William Lloyd Garrison . . . Some seem to think that, were women to vote, and be voted for, there would not be a sufficient number left at home to prepare the dinner, and mind the children. How many women would be required to devote their time so exclusively to political concerns? How many men sit in Congress and in the State Legislatures? Could not one woman be spared out of a large number, as easily as one man is, without there being any dread that enough would not be left to boil the kettle and darn the stockings? The objection is a foolish one . . . When you stand on a political equality with men, when you have the power to maintain and protect your rights, they will be maintained and protected, but never until then.

W. H. Channing . . . The largest assemblies greet with clamors Jenny Lind, when she enchains the ear and exalts the soul with the sublime strain, 'I know that my Redeemer liveth;' but when Mrs. Mott, or Miss Brown stands with a simple voice, and in the spirit of truth, to make manifest the honor due to our Redeemer, rowdies hiss, and respectable Christians veil their faces! So, woman can sing but not speak, that "our Redeemer liveth."

Source: Votes for Women: Selections from the National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection, 1848-1921— American Memory Collection, Library of Congress