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The Women’s Rights Movement in the Early to Mid-Nineteenth Century

By the mid-nineteenth century, New Jersey women’s activism took new forms, as women became involved in the abolition and temperance movements. Men organized a state temperance society in 1834, while women began to organize in the 1840s. Women were especially concerned with the effects that alcoholism had on women and children, tracing a connection to poverty and domestic violence.

Both abolitionists and temperance advocates struggled with the role of women within the movements. While leaders welcomed women’s support, they questioned women’s public role. After Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott were not seated at the first World Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840, they became determined to hold a woman’s rights convention. The first woman’s rights convention ultimately took place in July 1848, in Seneca Falls, New York. Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote most of the Declaration of Rights and Sentiments, the document that the convention produced. Modeled on the Declaration of Independence, the document declared that men and women were created equal and called for fair treatment before the law, the right to speak on public platforms, and greater opportunities in education and the workplace. The only resolution that did not pass unanimously was the claim that women should be granted the right to vote. Some of the participants felt that this concept was so radical that it might detract from their other demands.

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Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Harriot Stanton Blatch

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902) the daughter of a prominent attorney, was born in Johnstown, New York. She attended a coeducational school, the Johnstown Academy, but was frustrated that she could not attend college like her male classmates. She ultimately graduated from the Troy Female Seminary in 1833. As a young woman, she moved in the circle of her cousin Gerrit Smith, a well-known supporter of the abolition of slavery, women’s rights, temperance, and prison reform. It was on a visit to her cousin that she met fellow abolitionist Henry Brewster Stanton, whom she married in 1840. As a young mother, Elizabeth Cady Stanton struggled to balance activism with child-rearing responsibilities. In this portrait, Stanton is pictured with her young daughter Harriot Stanton Blatch, who would also become a leader in the women’s suffrage movement.

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Lucretia Coffin Mott

Lucretia Coffin Mott (1793-1880) was an early feminist activist and abolitionist who was heavily influenced by her background as a Quaker from Nantucket Island, Massachusetts. An organizer of the Seneca Falls Convention, her support for women’s rights evolved naturally from her opposition to slavery. Mott became the first president of the American Equal Rights Association in 1866.

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Sojourner Truth

Following Seneca Falls, a series of women’s rights conventions were held in the East and Midwest almost yearly until the Civil War. At the 1850 National Women’s Rights Convention, an African-American woman known as Sojourner Truth (1797–1883) took the stage for the first time. Born enslaved in New York as Isabella Baumfree, Sojourner Truth became a self-taught itinerant preacher and powerful women’s rights advocate.

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Profile: The Grimké Sisters

Sarah (1792-1873) and Angelina (1805-1879) Grimké Weld were abolitionists and suffragists who spent part of their lives in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. Born into a slaveholding family in South Carolina, the sisters converted to Quakerism, which inspired them to join the abolitionist movement. They became the first female agents for the American Anti-Slavery Society, leading them to be ostracized by their Quaker community for taking such a public role. In 1836, Angelina published Appeal to Christian Women of the Southern States, urging white women to join the abolition movement. She argued that white women have a natural bond with female slaves, a position thought to be extreme, even for abolitionists. The sisters lectured throughout the country from 1837 to 1838, visiting New Jersey. When they were criticized for speaking in public, Angelina wrote that petitioning was women’s political right and “Christian duty.” In 1838, Sarah’s Letters on the Equality of Sexes and the Condition of Women was published. She argued that Adam and Eve were created equal and that the idea of separate spheres for men and women was not scripturally sound.

Angelina, her husband Theodore Weld, and Sarah moved to Fort Lee, New Jersey, in 1838, and then to Belleville in 1840, where they started a small boarding school in their home. In 1853, they were invited by Marcus and Rebecca Buffum Spring to run the school at the Raritan Bay Union, a new cooperative community near Perth Amboy, New Jersey. The Raritan Bay Union was designed “to solve individual and family problems and to serve as a model for the less perfect society around it. The school, known as Eagleswood, was the main focus of the community. Angelina taught history, while Sarah taught French and served as the bookkeeper. Unfortunately, because of conflict with the Springs and the serious illness of their son, Sody, the Grimké-Welds left the school in 1861 and moved to Massachusetts.



Coeducational and interracial, the Eagleswood School encouraged girls to speak in public, act in plays, and excel at sports. Teachers and students did manual work in addition to academics, and were encouraged to interact with the local community. Eagleswood was also a stop on the Underground Railroad. After the Grimké Welds left in 1861, Marcus Spring established a military academy at Eagleswood to train soldiers to fight in the Civil War.

The Women’s Rights Movement in the Early to Mid-Nineteenth Century