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Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Abolition and the early women's suffrage movement
were tightly linked. Neither movement found much
support in Texas, but the slavery issue still split
Texas as it did the rest of America.
This piece of stationery shows scenes of life in San Antonio in the 1850s. Even in the city, Texas was still very much a part of the frontier.
This 1850 letter from Louisa Jo Holmes of Coriscana to her parents in "Arkansaw" reveals that death and hardship were frequent visitors to the frontier. "When you come," Louisa advises, "Bring a two horse wagon my wagon is noacount."
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Abolition and the Early Women's Rights Movement
Back in the Northeast, especially in New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Ohio, the women of the Second Great Awakening were drawn to another cause -- the abolition of slavery. If all human beings were equal before God, then it was the worst kind of injustice to keep African Americans in bondage. It didn't take long for women abolitionists, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and others, to realize that the injustice that they wanted to remedy for blacks also applied to women. In 1848, Stanton and other women and men held the first women's rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York, and called for the right to vote in order to give women the voice they needed to better their lives. Anthony joined the movement two years later. Over the next decade, the women suffragists held conventions and traveled the country on the lecture circuit, holding public meetings and striving to influence public opinion in favor of giving women the right to vote.
The cause of women suffrage found little support in Texas in those early years. The association of the cause with abolition made it anathema to most Texans, who supported slavery and believed that evangelization of the slaves fulfilled their spiritual obligations. Feminism and women's rights were foreign notions to most Texas women, who lived on farms or in small towns, where family, church, and neighborhood life were dominated by men.
A God-Given Right to Citizenship
It was the crusading suffragists back East who laid the groundwork for changing people's attitudes about the role that women could play in American life. They pointed to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, which guaranteed the right to vote to all citizens. Women, they argued, had a God-given right to citizenship just as men did. The vote was not a privilege to be granted -- it was a basic right. Without it, women were subject to taxation without representation and unfair loss of their property. A woman should not have to rely on the goodness of some man to protect her and represent her interests or suffer if the man was cruel or unjust. Instead, women should be counted as equal citizens and given the means to protect their own interests.
Angels Don't Vote
These women faced vocal and strident opposition every step of the way. Even within other reform movements in which they worked, such as the temperance movement, they often found themselves shouted down. Opponents of women's suffrage argued that a citizen had to be ready to sacrifice everything for his country, especially in wartime. As tender-hearted mothers, women were unequal to this demand. Moreover, women were slaves to their own biology. In this era before birth control, they were often pregnant, and men found the idea of a pregnant woman engaging in public life to be laughable. Women (along with blacks, Indians, and others denied the vote) had neither the character nor the intellect to be allowed to make political decisions. A woman's place was to serve as "the angel of the home," while the man undertook the coarse business of politics.
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