That Noble Cause, Abolition and Woman’s Suffrage

Women participated in many crusades during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, supporting causes such as racial justice, women’s rights, labor reform, temperance, child labor laws, and juvenile justice. The women's rights movement was the offspring of abolition. While the 15th Amendment prohibited states from denying a male citizen the right to vote based on “race, color or previous condition of servitude," it notably still denied the vote to women.

Many women’s rights supporters and suffragists gained experience with reform efforts through the antislavery movement and specifically through the American Anti-Slavery Society. The abolition movement provided women with opportunities to speak, organize, write, hold office, raise funds, and edit newspapers. However, not all abolitionists supported women’s rights. In her Essay on Slavery and Abolition, Catharine Beecher urged women to end slavery while remaining “in their appropriate sphere.”

Black women played a critical role in the suffrage movement. Though they were excluded from suffrage associations that maintained mostly white upper-middle class membership, they worked towards the same end goal from their own separate suffrage organizations. Black reformers founded the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) in 1896. The NACW became the largest federation of local black women’s clubs. Suffragist Mary Church Terrell became the first president of the NACW. Black women attended political conventions, wrote papers, spoke during forums and public events, and planned strategies to gain the right to vote. In the History of Woman Suffrage (1881), the contributions of Black suffragists is largely ignored.

After the passage of the 19th amendment, many states continued to use other means such as complex registration practices, poll taxes, and literacy/educational testing to discriminate against voters. It was not until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that Black women, minority women and women from lower economic classes secured the right to vote.

“That Noble Cause” comprises books written by Black female authors including Maria W. Stewart, Phillis Wheatley, Harriet Jacobs and Mary McLeod Bethune. Also included are books and articles written by a number of abolitionists who later championed the suffrage movement, including the Grimké sisters. These items highlight women arguing against slavery, calling for the abolition of slavery in the United States, and the connections between abolition and suffrage.

The Sorrows of Yamba: Illustrating the Cruelty of the Slave-Trade. Together with Reflections of a Minister in the Day of Declension. Let God be prais'd who overrules, The works of TYRANNY and Fools

The Sorrows of Yamba: Illustrating the Cruelty of the Slave-Trade. Together with Reflections of a Minister in the Day of Declension. Let God be prais'd who overrules, The works of TYRANNY and Fools.

[Anonymous] [Anti-Slavery].

The Sorrows of Yamba: Illustrating the Cruelty of the Slave-Trade. Together with Reflections of a Minister in the Day of Declension. Let God be prais'd who overrules, The works of TYRANNY and Fools.

Greenwich [Mass]: Printed by John Howe - For Ezekiel Terry, of Palmer, 1805.

First separate American edition of a famous anti-slavery item published both as a broadside and pamphlet, sometimes attributed to Hannah More (1745-1833) who may have derived it from William Cowper's “The Negro's Complaint”.

From the Helen LaKelly Hunt Collection of American Women Reformers and Writers

Productions of Mrs. Maria W. Stewart, Presented to the First African Baptist Church and Society, of the City of Boston

Productions of Mrs. Maria W. Stewart, Presented to the First African Baptist Church and Society, of the City of Boston.

Maria W. Stewart (1803-1879)

Productions of Mrs. Maria W. Stewart, Presented to the First African Baptist Church and Society, of the City of Boston.

Maria W. Stewart is considered America's first Black woman journalist and political writer. Productions of Mrs. Maria W. Stewart was compiled in 1834 and published in 1835 after Stewart left Boston. It contains Stewart's speeches and addresses from her Boston years, including her 1833 farewell address. It also includes prayers, meditations, and hymns. This work was advertised in major anti-slavery and human rights publications.

From the Helen LaKelly Hunt Collection of American Women Reformers and Writers

The Anti-Slavery Record. Vol 1, nos. 1-12, Jan. to Dec+ Appendix

The Anti-Slavery Record. Vol 1, nos. 1-12, Jan. to Dec+ Appendix.

[American Anti-Slavery Society]

The Anti-Slavery Record. Vol 1, nos. 1-12, Jan. to Dec+ Appendix.

New York: Published by R. G. Williams for the American Anti-Slavery Society, 1835.

First of only three volumes (1835-37) of the annual Anti-Slavery Record. Contains stories and woodcut pictures. Of particular interest is the account of the flogging of Amos Dresser who, as a means of raising funds for his education, sold anti-slavery literature in Nashville.

Another illustration, “The Desperation of a Mother," shows a young mother killing her two infant children with an axe rather than letting them be taken from her by a slave-trader. The mother then killed herself. This incident would later serve as a theme for Toni Morrison's work of fiction Beloved, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize.

From the Helen LaKelly Hunt Collection of American Women Reformers and Writers

Slavery and the Boston Riot

Slavery and the Boston Riot.

Angelina Emily Grimke (1805-1879)

Slavery and the Boston Riot.

Philadelphia: [s.n.], 1835.

This is a broadside printing of the letter sent to William Lloyd Garrison, editor of The Liberator, from Angelina Grimke shortly after the infamous Proslavery Riot in Boston. Grimke wrote in response to a series of mob riots in Boston, Philadelphia, Canterbury, CT, Concord, MA, and Charleston, SC. In this letter/broadside, Grimke unequivocally attacks members of the clergy and other prominent gentlemen of Boston, who watched from the sidelines the activity of the mob.

From the Helen LaKelly Hunt Collection of American Women Reformers and Writers

An Appeal to the Christian Women of the South. Vol. I. No. 2

An Appeal to the Christian Women of the South. Vol. I. No. 2.

Angelina Emily Grimke (1805-1879)

An Appeal to the Christian Women of the South. Vol. I. No. 2.

 [New York]: The Anti-Slavery Examiner, September 1836.

Abolitionist and woman's rights pioneer Angelina Grimke was a member of the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society and the first of the Grimke sisters to join the abolition movement.

From the Helen LaKelly Hunt Collection of American Women Reformers and Writers

An Epistle to the Clergy of the Southern States

An Epistle to the Clergy of the Southern States.

Sarah Moore Grimke (1792-1873)

An Epistle to the Clergy of the Southern States.

[New York: American Anti-Slavery Society], 1836.

Published in December by the American Anti-Slavery Society, Sarah Grimke’s “An Epistle” refuted the argument that slavery is justified because it appears in the Bible. She argued that slavery was irreconcilable with Christianity, in an attempt to persuade the Southern clergy to take the lead in opposing slavery.

From the Helen LaKelly Hunt Collection of American Women Reformers and Writers