Ye May session of ye woman's rights convention - ye orator of ye day denouncing ye lords of creation / JM'N. June 1859. Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA Notes Illus. in: Harper's weekly, v. 3, no. 128 (1859 June 11), p. 372. Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication."A movement for the higher education of women was inaugurated. Colleges, universities, and professional schools were opening their doors to women…. women were becoming self-supporting members of the community. Hard and unjust laws which had grievously hindered them were repealed, and others affording larger protection and opportunity were enacted. Great organizations of women for missionary work were formed…. Women by the hundred thousand wheeled into line for temperance work…. Woman Suffrage Leagues multiplied. Everywhere there was a call for women to be up and doing, with voice and pen, with hand and head and heart."~Mary Livermore, The Story of My Life: or, The Sunshine and Shadow of Seventy Years
Public arguments in the wake of the speech given in Salem in January 1870 by Mary Livermore (1820-1905), advocating "The Reasons Why" women should obtain equality in every area of life continued to be heated. The movement for gender equality, after the Civil War, with its rallying cries of "Freedom" and "Liberty" still ringing in the air, took on new urgency.
Women remained politically and legally constrained or excluded even as suffrage was extended to an entire new segment of the male population. With the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, ratified on February 3, 1870, the injustice of the contrast between male and female citizenship rights was thrown into sharper relief. Women who tested the gender neutrality of the law by attempting to vote were turned away or arrested.
In her history of the women's rights movement, published 1881, Harriet Jane Hanson Robinson wrote:
"The war was over. The rights of the black man, for whom the women had worked and waited, were secured, but under the new amendment (by which his race had been made free) the white women of the United States were more securely held in political slavery. It was time, indeed, to hold conventions and agitate anew the question of woman's rights…. some who before the war had not thought upon the matter, began to ask themselves why thousands of ignorant men should be made voters, and they, or their sex, still kept in bondage under the law."
Two years before Mary Livermore's speech in Salem, in November, 1868, a New England Convention to rally advocates for women's suffrage was held at Horticultural Hall, Boston.
After this convention, Robinson stated:"Local societies were soon after formed in Malden, Lynn, Salem, Taunton, and in numerous other cities and towns….The New England Association held its first anniversary in May, 1869, and the meeting was even more successful than the opening one of the preceding year."
The Massachusetts Suffrage Association (1870) "managed all political action except during the existence of a Woman Suffrage State Central Committee." This Association concentrated informing "the women of the State in clear and comprehensive form, an explanation of the different sections of the new law 'allowing women to vote for school committees.'"
The law to which she refers was an important step on the road to political and legal equality for women. In 1879 The Massachusetts Legislature had voted to allow women the right to vote for school committee members. About 5,000 Bay State women became registered voters.
Although Salem was represented in advocating the next step, it proved more of a leap to some:
"On March 29th, 1881, the Bill in favor of Municipal Suffrage to Women came before the House for final action, and was ably supported by Col. T. W. Higginson, Cambridge, William Johnson, Everett, G. A. Shepard, Sandisfield, E. P. Brown, Boston, and James F. Almy, Salem. Nearly every member was in his seat, and the opponents were there in full force, ready to vote….
The Massachusetts State House of Representatives voted 76 "yeas" vs. 122 "nays."
"A certain newspaper said, that after the defeat, the women who had been sitting in the gallery went smiling home, feeling quite relieved, and glad to know that their Suffrage Bill was not carried: for, if it had been, they would have had nothing more to fight for. If any of the women "smiled," it was with grim irony to see the men who represent the "blue blood" of Massachusetts join forces with the immigrant and the foreigner, to prevent the women of their own class from enjoying the rights of citizenship. This thought was enough to have made the emblematical stuffed codfish smile, and the Indian in bas relief on the Massachusetts coat of arms, get down from his honored place over the Speaker's desk, and flee from his native State to find a home in a new reservation far beyond that of the persecuted Poncas."~ Massachusetts in the Woman Suffrage Movement (Robinson)
And with this quote, one sees a familiar subtext: an undercurrent of ethnic and racial tensions. The following year, in 1882, a nascent Massachusetts anti-suffrage movement took root. Later more formally organized as "The Massachusetts Association Opposed to the Further Extension of Suffrage to Women," (MAOFESW) it was begun and run by women. The "Anti" movement soon spread to other states.
Through the rest of the century and well into the 20th, both sides, pro and con, continued the long argument about "The Woman Question" with new energy and renewed commitment–in Salem, as in the nation.
Author's note: Salem's role in the story of the arguments for women's political equality, pro and con, will be continued in future articles.
For Next week: Our Special One Year Anniversary Column!
Musician, educator and lecturer, Maggi Smith-Dalton is the president of the Salem History Society and author of “Stories and Shadows from Salem’s Past: Naumkeag Notations” (The History Press, 2010). She and her husband, Jim Dalton, are co-authoring a book on music in Salem's history and have recorded two new albums of 19th-century music for 2011. Reach her at http://singingstring.org. For information on joining the Salem History Society, go to http://salemhistorysociety.org.