The famous reformer and activist Susan B. Anthony wrote this speech about 1859. Its main purpose is to discuss slavery in America and argue for its end. One of many women involved in the American abolition movement, Anthony also used the oppression of enslaved people to rally for woman's rights.
This speech presented the facts of slavery—that millions of African American men, women, and children were enslaved and considered property. Anthony then linked the circumstances of enslaved African Americans to that of American women. Like slaves, women were oppressed and had no freedom. Anthony urged her female listeners to “make the slave's case our own.” She went on to say “let us feel . . . that is it our own backs bared to the slave driver's lash, . . . that it is our own children, that are ruthlessly torn from our yearning mother hearts.”
There were many women like Anthony who made the transition from the abolition movement to the woman's rights movement. In many ways, abolitionism created the woman's rights movement. While campaigning for abolition, women spent much time discussing and pondering the meaning of American liberty, freedom, and democracy. Those women realized that they, too, were oppressed and that they could also benefit from many of the reforms for which they fought. Furthermore, their involvement in abolitionism prepared them to struggle for woman's rights. They became proficient in public speaking and debating and also experienced public scorn and ridicule. The idea of promoting woman's rights was extremely controversial. Even when antislavery organizations began, women were not allowed to join, and they had to form their own. Many people considered it inappropriate for women to enter public discussions and address audiences of men. Throughout the 1840s and 1850s, women's discussions and speeches, like Anthony's, not only advocated abolition but also woman's rights. After the Civil War when the Fifteenth Amendment was passed without including women in the electorate, Anthony's extreme disappointment led her to break her association with freedpeople's rights groups.
1. From what reform movement did the woman suffrage movement emerge?
2. What type of argument does Anthony use in her speech? Is it convincing?
3. How did abolitionism prepare activists for the woman's rights movement?
1. Compare this speech, which was written after the Seneca Falls Convention, with the Declaration of Sentiments. What similarities in language and purpose can you see?
Parker, Alison M. “The case for Reform Antecedents.” In Votes for Women: The Struggle for Suffrage Revisited. Edited by Jean H. Baker, 21–41. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.