Many people contributed to the creation and eventual success of the abolition movement in the United States. With arguments that ranged from personal convictions about the immorality of slavery to financial reasons, many people throughout the United States joined together to end this “necessary evil” that had been a part of the country since its beginnings. The abolition movement not only worked for the end of slavery in the United States, but it also spawned another reform movement. The woman suffrage movement developed in part out of the abolitionist movement, and it is important to understand the connections between the two in order to see how they strengthened each another and were eventually successful in their struggle for equal rights.
One of the polarizing factors in the campaign to end slavery was Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe's March 1852 book, which was initially published in serial form in the abolitionist weekly, the National Era. She intended her work to present the harsh realities of slavery through the interactions between slaves and their owners. The book had sold more than two million copies worldwide by 1857. Uncle Tom's Cabin brought about widespread debate on the subject of slavery and helped divide the American public into either abolitionists or antiabolitionists. It was such a polarizing book that some say it helped cause the Civil War. Legend has it that when President Abraham Lincoln met Stowe in 1862, he exclaimed, "So you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war!"
Aside from its influence on the abolition and proslavery movements, its impact on popular culture and society was unprecedented. The book was translated into many languages, inspired twenty-five proslavery novels before the beginning of the Civil War, and spawned the creation of countless puzzles, games, dolls, and musical compositions. Well-known and widely discussed, the book rapidly helped to shape public opinion on the issue of slavery. In many ways, Uncle Tom's Cabin gave legitimacy to the abolition movement in the United States and eventually helped white women to move into other areas of reform.
In the mid-1800s, participants in the abolitionist movement started to involve themselves with the woman suffrage movement. In 1848 at the Seneca Falls Convention, women began to call for their enfranchisement. Many participants in the suffrage movement, especially white women, initially undertook their reform work in the abolition and temperance movements. These women realized that in order to influence men in power to make changes, they needed the ability to vote. This realization, along with the leadership and organizational experience gained while working in these movements, helped bring women to the suffrage movement. This cause served as a unifying goal for people from diverse backgrounds and experiences, as the fight against slavery spurred a desire for liberty among women. Famous suffragists like Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott learned the organizational methods and rhetoric needed for a reform movement through the abolition movement, and this knowledge was easily transferred over to help with woman's rights.
This copy of Uncle Tom's Cabin, which Anthony donated to the Library of Congress in 1902, was originally given to woman's rights activist Lydia Mott by a black abolitionist, William H. Topp. The subject of the book and the list of owners demonstrate the close connection between the antislavery and woman's rights movements.
1. Who wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin and in what year was it published?
2. What was the impact of the book in popular culture and in politics?
3. When did the woman suffrage movement begin?
4. How were women able to move from the abolition movement to the suffrage movement?
1. Women were not only involved in the abolition movement before the suffrage movement began. The temperance movement was also important in the United States during the same time. What was this movement about? How does the temperance movement compare to the abolition movement in it is goals, organization, and methods? Did women from this movement also become involved in the suffrage movement? How? Was their involvement in this movement similar to that of the abolition movement?
White women were not the only reform participants who crossed over from one movement to another. African American abolitionists like Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth were also supporters of the woman's rights movement, working alongside Susan B. Anthony and others.
Evans, Sara M. Born for Liberty: A History of Women in America. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997.
Green, Elna C. Southern Strategies: Southern Women and the Woman Suffrage Question. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1997.