Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women
The first Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women was held on May 9, 1837. One hundred and seventy-five women, from ten different states and representing twenty female antislavery groups, gathered in New York City to discuss their role in the American abolition movement. This gathering represented the first time that women from such a broad geographic area met with the common purpose of promoting the anti-slavery cause among women. Mary S. Parker was the President of the gathering. Other prominent women went on to be vocal members of the Women's Suffrage Movement, including Lucretia Mott, the Grimké Sisters, and Lydia Maria Child. The attendees included women of color, the wives and daughters of slaveholders, and women of low economic status.
Professor Ann D. Gordon has described the Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women as the first convention at which women discussed women's rights, especially the rights of African-American women. The 1848 Seneca Falls Convention was the first convention of women devoted exclusively to women's rights and promoted as such decades later by convention organizer Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
Convention records indicate that attendees were from the following states: New Hampshire (2), Massachusetts (26), Rhode Island (5), New York (109), New Jersey (1), Pennsylvania (25), Maine (1), Connecticut (2), Ohio (2), and South Carolina (2).
Role of Black Women
The Grimké Sisters considered the attendance of black women at the convention to be crucial for the success of their cause. Sarah Grimké sent written correspondence to the Boston and Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Societies, requesting that they send African American delegates. Ultimately, only five black women attended the convention. The limited attendance is explained partly by the relatively low number African American women that were enrolled in female Anti-Slavery groups during this time. It is estimated that black women never constituted more than 10% membership in any integrated Anti-Slavery society. Additionally, many black women simply did not have the economic resources needed to make the journey to New York. Even if women did have the means to travel, the journey and experience was fraught with discrimination and exclusion. For example, Julia Williams, a black attendee from Boston, traveled with white attendees from her society. She was often forced to eat meals separately from her party and was required to stay in a boarding house designated for African-Americans.
During the convention, these women discussed a variety of issues and voted on numerous resolutions. Many of the resolutions centered on the role of women within the Anti-Slavery movement, but overall, these women addressed a wide variety of issues. For example, one resolution discussed the validity of evangelical and missionary associations accepting money from slaveholders. Women also debated over whether attendees of the convention should be recorded with the designation of Miss or Mrs. Also discussed was the potential formation of general executive committee for the women’s movement. This resolution failed, as some attendees believed that a female-headed committee would segregate men from their efforts and limit any potential merge into the male dominated American Anti-Slavery Society. The final resolution passed at the convention was an agreement among the women that unity and cooperation was crucial to their efforts.
Effects of the 1837 Convention
The convention had lasting effects of women’s antislavery organizations for a variety of reasons. First, it provided a means for women from different states and backgrounds to meet in person and fostered a strong sense of community within the movement. Additionally, the convention promoted increased interactions between black and white women. Lastly, the close of the convention was marked with an increase in women’s antislavery petitions, which more than doubled in number in 1837. These petitions were significant in the antislavery movement, as door-to-door campaigns brought the antislavery agenda to thousands of individuals that might have not been exposed to this information otherwise.
- Yellin, Jean Fagan, and John C. Horne. The Abolitionist Sisterhood: Women's Political Culture in Antebellum America. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994. Print. ISBN 0-8014-8011-6
- Gordon, Ann D.; Collier-Thomas, Bettye (1997). "Introduction". African American women and the vote, 1837–1965. University of Massachusetts Press. pp. 2–9. ISBN 1-55849-059-0. In June 1848, the rights of women were also discussed at the National Liberty Party Convention in New York at which Gerrit Smith said that women should be able to vote.
- Salerno, Beth A.. Sister societies: Women's Antislavery Organizations in Antebellum America. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2008. Print. ISBN 978-0-87580-619-8