#MenOfSuffrage Not a pin-up calendar--though maybe it should be. It's a guest post! Stay tuned for a terrific thread by Hélène Quanquin @HQuanquin about her new book on men in the American women's rights movement, 1830-1890. Her subtitle, Cumbersome Allies, is a perfect summary.
“When I ran away from slavery, it was for my people; but when I stood up for the rights of women, self was out of the question, and I found a little nobility in the act.” Frederick Douglass, International Council of Women, D.C., 1888. #SuffrageMen thread.
At the first World’s Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840, white abolitionist Wendell Phillips introduced the motion in favor of the participation of American female delegates, including his wife Ann Greene Phillips, in the debates.
His motion failed. Women were not seated. But friendships between women and men that developed in abolitionist organizing contributed to the emergence of a feminist consciousness in the US.
It was a man, James Mott, Lucretia Mott’s Quaker husband, who chaired the second day of the Seneca Falls Convention. Frederick Douglass, the only Black man present there, famously defended the resolution on woman suffrage. The Declaration of Sentiments was signed by 32 men.
After the Civil War, Robert Purvis, the author of the Appeal of Forty Thousand Citizens, Threatened with Disfranchisement, to the People of Pennsylvania in 1838, refused to endorse the Fifteenth Amendment because it did not implement universal suffrage.
Reformer Thomas Wentworth Higginson wrote extensively about women’s rights: The Nonsense of It: Short Answers to Common Objections Against Woman Suffrage; For Self-Respect and Self-Protection; Unsolved Problems in Woman Suffrage, and more.
Higginson performed Henry B. Blackwell and Lucy Stone’s radical 1855 wedding ceremony. In addition to Stone keeping her own name, their vows protested coverture, and included an arbitration clause!
Not all "woman's rights men" implemented the principles they defended publicly. Some marriages were more equal than others, but feminist ideas emerged in discussions at home. Women like Frederick Douglass’ first wife Anna Murray influenced how their husbands saw women’s rights.
Men were “cumbersome allies." Some tried to impose a restrictive vision of women's rights by excluding the marriage and divorce question from discussions. Others, like Henry B. Blackwell, actively sought Southern whites’ support for whites-only suffrage.
Some also came to develop paradoxical arguments, arguing that “woman’s rights” was also “man’s rights” but also claiming a moral superiority that came with their position as “disinterested allies.”
They sometimes tried to confine women to certain roles and strategies. In 1872, Henry Blackwell wrote Susan B. Anthony: “Women can persuade men,—can reason with them,—can appeal to their sense of justice and chivalry;—they cannot scold them into compliance.”
Men’s place in the women’s rights movement was never unproblematic. It was discussed at length at women’s rights conventions. Men were not allowed to speak at the 1850 convention in Salem, Ohio. But engaged men recognized their responsibility in women’s oppression.
By the 1880s, however, men pulled back. They were forced to acknowledge their “feebler voices” (Thomas Higginson) in the movement. Women had always been fighting for their rights but their public voice had grown louder.
At the 1888 International Council of Women meeting, Frederick Douglass declared: “Men have very little business here as speakers . . . if they come here at all they should take back benches and wrap themselves in silence.”