National Woman's Rights Conventions

1850 - 1869

Cartoon satirizing Women's Rights Convention 1859
Cartoon: Woman's Rights Convention 1859. PhotoQuest / Getty Images

The 1848 Seneca Falls Women's Rights Convention, which was called on short notice and was more of a regional meeting, called for "a series of conventions, embracing every part of the country." The 1848 regional event held in upstate New York was followed by other regional Woman's Rights Conventions in Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania. That meeting's resolutions called for woman suffrage (the right to vote), and later conventions also included this call. But each meeting included other women's rights issues as well.

The 1850 meeting was the first to consider itself a national meeting. The meeting was planned after an Anti-Slavery Society meeting by nine women and two men. These included Lucy Stone, Abby Kelley Foster, Paulina Wright Davis and Harriot Kezia Hunt. Stone served as secretary, though she was kept from part of the preparation by a family crisis, and then contracted typhoid fever. Davis did most of the planning. Elizabeth Cady Stanton missed the convention because she was in late pregnancy at the time.

First National Woman's Rights Convention

The 1850 Woman's Rights Convention was held on October 23 and 24 in Worcester, Massachusetts. The 1848 regional event in Seneca Falls, New York, had been attended by 300, with 100 signing the Declaration of Sentiments. The 1850 National Woman's Rights Convention was attended by 900 on the first day. Paulina Kellogg Wright Davis was chosen as president.

Other women speakers included Harriot Kezia Hunt, Ernestine Rose, Antoinette Brown, Sojourner Truth, Abby Foster Kelley, Abby Price and Lucretia Mott. Lucy Stone only spoke on the second day.

Many reporters attended and wrote of the gathering. Some wrote mockingly, but others, including Horace Greeley, took the event quite seriously. The printed proceedings were sold after the event as a way of spreading the word about women's rights. The British writers Harriet Taylor and Harriet Martineau took note of the event, Taylor responding with The Enfranchisement of Women.

Further Conventions

In 1851, the second National Woman's Rights Convention took place on October 15 and 16, also in Worcester. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, unable to attend, sent a letter. Elizabeth Oakes Smith was among the speakers who were added to those of the previous year.

The 1852 Convention was held in Syracuse, New York, on September 8-10. Elizabeth Cady Stanton again sent a letter instead of appearing in person. This occasion was notable for the first public speeches on women's rights by two women who would become leaders in the movement: Susan B. Anthony and Matilda Joslyn Gage. Lucy Stone wore a "bloomer costume." A motion to form a national organization was defeated.

Frances Dana Barker Gage presided over the 1853 National Woman's Rights Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, on October 6-8. In the mid 19th century, the largest part of the population was still on the East Coat and in eastern states, with Ohio considered part of the "west." Lucretia Mott, Martha Coffin Wright, and Amy Post were officers of the assembly. A new Declaration of Women's Rights was drafted after the convention voted to adopt the Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments. The new document was not adopted.

Ernestine Rose presided at the 1854 National Woman's Rights Convention in Philadelphia, October 18-20. The group could not pass a resolution to create a national organization, instead preferring to support local and state work.

The 1855 Woman's Rights Convention was held in Cincinnati on October 17 and 18, back to a 2-day event. Martha Coffin Wright presided.

The 1856 Woman's Rights Convention was held in New York City. Lucy Stone presided. A motion passed, inspired by a letter from Antoinette Brown Blackwell, to work in state legislatures for the vote for women.

No convention was held in 1857. In 1858, May 13-14, the meeting was held again in New York City. Susan B. Anthony, now better known for her commitment to the suffrage movement, presided.

In 1859, the National Woman's Rights Convention was held in New York City again, with Lucretia Mott presiding. It was a one-day meeting, on May 12. At this meeting, speakers were interrupted by loud disruptions from opponents of women's rights.

In 1860, Martha Coffin Wright again presided at the National Woman's Rights Convention held May 10-11. More than 1,000 attended. The meeting considered a resolution in support of women being able to obtain a separation or divorce from husbands who were cruel, insane or drunk, or who deserted their wives. The resolution was controversial and did not pass.

Civil War and New Challenges

With the tensions between North and South increasing, and Civil War approaching, the National Woman's Rights Conventions were suspended, though Susan B. Anthony attempted to call one in 1862.

In 1863, some of the same women as were active in the Woman's Rights Conventions earlier called the First National Loyal League Convention, which met in New York City on May 14, 1863. The result was circulation of a petition supporting the 13th Amendment, ending the system of enslavement and involuntary servitude except as a punishment for a crime. The organizers gathered 400,000 signatures by the next year.

In 1865, what was to become the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution had been proposed by the Republicans. This amendment would extend full rights as citizens to formerly enslaved Black people and to other African Americans. But women's rights advocates were concerned that, by introducing the word "male" into the Constitution in this amendment, women's rights would be set aside. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton organized another Woman's Rights Convention. Frances Ellen Watkins Harper was among the speakers, and she advocated for bringing together the two causes: equal rights for African Americans and equal rights for women. Lucy Stone and Anthony had proposed the idea at an American Anti-Slavery Society meeting in Boston in January. A few weeks after the Woman's Rights Convention, on May 31, the first meeting of the American Equal Rights Association was held, advocating just that approach.

In January of 1868, Stanton and Anthony began publishing The Revolution. They had become discouraged with the lack of change in the constitutional amendments proposed, which would exclude women explicitly, and were moving apart from the main AERA direction.

Some participants in that convention formed the New England Woman Suffrage Association. Those who founded this organization were mainly those who supported the Republicans' attempt to win the vote for African Americans and opposed the strategy of Anthony and Stanton to work only for women's rights. Among those who formed this group were Lucy Stone, Henry Blackwell, Isabella Beecher Hooker, Julia Ward Howe and T. W. Higginson. Frederick Douglass was among the speakers at their first convention. Douglass declared "the cause of the negro was more pressing than that of woman's."

Stanton, Anthony, and others called another National Woman's Rights Convention in 1869, to be held on January 19 in Washington, DC. After the May AERA convention, at which Stanton's speech seemed to advocate for the "Educated Suffrage"—upper-class women able to vote, but the vote withheld from the formerly enslaved people—and Douglass denounced her use of the term "Sambo" -- the split was clear. Stone and others formed the American Woman Suffrage Association and Stanton and Anthony and their allies formed the National Woman Suffrage Association. The suffrage movement did not hold a unified convention again until 1890 when the two organizations merged into the National American Woman Suffrage Association.

Do you think you can pass this ​Women's Suffrage Quiz?

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Lewis, Jone Johnson. "National Woman's Rights Conventions." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2021, February 16). National Woman's Rights Conventions. Retrieved from Lewis, Jone Johnson. "National Woman's Rights Conventions." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 25, 2023).