The Role of Religious Women in the Abolitionist Struggle

TheRole of Religious Women in the Abolitionist Struggle

Theabolitionist movement desired to attain immediate freeing of allslaves and the ending of discrimination and racial segregation. Thewomen’s rights movement advocated for the rights of women duringthe 19thcentury. Religious women were not left behind during the abolitioniststruggle. This paper will discuss the role of religious women duringthe abolitionist struggle this would be in reference to women suchas Anna Murray Douglass, Angelina Grimke, Sarah Grimke, CatherineBeecher, and Harriet Tubman.

Whiteand black women fought as abolitionists. They faced differentrestrictions during their fight towards freedom. The abolitionists’and women’s rights movements were the two most powerful movementsduring the pre-civil rights era. The women’s rights movementadvocated for the same rights that the abolitionists were demanding.Even though both movements had similar agendas, abolitionists seemedto treat women as subordinates. They did not want women to takepublic roles or leadership roles in the abolition movement.Surprisingly, Frederick Douglass’ stated the same views regardingHarriet Tubman as a female abolitionist1.Douglass was impressed with Tubman according to his letter,responding to Tubman request for an endorsement of her biography. Thebook was titled “Mosesof Her People.”Douglass told Harriet Tubman, “You ask me for what you do not needwhen you call on me for a word of commendation. Douglass went on toindicate, “I need such words from you for more than you need fromme, especially where your superior labors and devotion to the causethe enslaved of our land are known as I know them2.The difference between us is very marked.” Harriet Tubman had adouble-edge sword to deal with—she was both black and a woman. Itcan be argued that she reached out to Douglass for his supportbecause he was a male who was more accepted than a female. It isheart wrecking to read Douglass’ response to Harriet Tubman.Someone could almost hear Douglass as he reminded Harriet “youhave labored in a private way. I have worked in the day—you in thenight. I had the applause of the crowd and the satisfaction thatcomes of being approved by the multitude, while most of what you havedone has been witnessed by a few trembling, scared, and foot-sorebondmen and women, whom you led out the house of bondage and whoseheartfelt, ‘God bless you,’ has been your only reward3.”Harriet and many other black women like Sojourner Truth were kept outof the public, leadership, and decision-making positions. HarrietTubman and Sojourner Truth understood they were black and theirconstraints were different. Even though they were black women in theNorth, they used their churches to help blacks who were stillenslaved in the South. These women understood the effects ofoppression. They even had family members who still lived in the Southwho were slaves. Like the slaves, they too were victims of racism andsexism that held them in bondage. Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’tI a Woman”speech delivered at the Women’s Convention in 1851, in Akron, Ohio,influenced my life in a way that I will never forget. When I wasworking at the Tennessee Valley Authority, I will never forgetwondering why there were so few blacks working for the agency. In myoffice, there were only two black females, no males, andapproximately one hundred and fifty people. During Black HistoryMonth, I heard Sojourner Truth’s speech. It resonated in my spiritthat day. About twelve years after Sojourner Truth gave a speech, adifferent version was published. This is the time the speech wasgiven the title, “Ain’tI a Woman.”This latest version became well known when the speech was publishedin AtlanticMonthly.Afterward, Frances Dana Gage, president of the Women’s RightsConvention, which was convening in Akron, Ohio, Harriet Beecher Stoweinvited Sojourner Truth to recite her speech at the convention. AsSojourner began to walk down the aisle to the stage people began tomake noise, Beecher Stowe begged the people to keep silent for a fewminutes and Sojourner began to speak. When she finished, referring toMother Eve, Sojourner said she could turn the world upside down andthen she could turn it back. Sojourner turned the mob crowd into anexcited crowd that exhibited respect and motivation. Black women inthe North’s communities began to engage in activism. They foughtfor women’s rights and immediate emancipation of the slaves. Theyvowed to heed the enslaved mother’s cry for her children who weretorn away and designated their houses as “free homes” for thosefleeing from slavery.

In 1850, the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law stated that anycitizens could capture enslaved persons who had run away. That sameyear, Harriet Tubman began defying the Fugitive Slave Law by leadingenslaved men, women, and children out of the South4.Black women abolitionists played a vital role in the work withHarriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad. Anna Murray Douglass,wife of Frederick. These black women recognized that war with theSouth was unavoidable. They continued their work as abolitionists,sending food and clothing for those who were destitute.

Inthe South, Angelina Grimke and her sister Sarah Grimke were verypowerful freedom fighters from South Carolina. They were of theQuakers religion. Later, they moved to Philadelphia. Their crusadewas not only to end slavery but also to gain social and politicalequality for women. The Grimke sisters were the first abolitioniststo fight for women’s rights. Angelina was viewed as the mostpowerful female public speaker for the cause of abolition. Angelinawrote to Catherine Beecher criticizing Beecher’s idea of exilingAfrican Americans to Africa to form a colony as racism. Angelinastated in the letter that black Americans were entitled to everyprivilege and social, civil, and religious opportunity that otherAmericans enjoyed. Angelina was the first women to speak before alegislative body of the United States and strongly supported theUnion. The two sisters lived to see the end of slavery and the riseof the women’s rights movement. Angelina had written, “I want tobe identified with the Negros until they get their rights5.We shall never have ours. Over Angelina’s lifetime, she workedextremely hard to see both racial and gender equality. Churches werethe heart of everything. The church was the central location whetherit was the abolitionist movement or women’s rights movement, mostof the meetings were held in churches.

Inconclusion, many believed slavery’s influence had corrupted allsociety and they took it in their hands to condemn it and fight forfreedom. A change in spiritual values was required to achieveemancipation. Abolitionists’ strong influence caused laws to beimplemented that caused segregation and inequality of human rights tobe outlawed, embracing human rights for all. Songs composed for everysocial issue were released, and newspaper editions called foremancipation. The female Anti-slavery Society was formed, and womenbecame the heart of the abolitionist movement, especially in Boston,New York, and Philadelphia6.

Allthe struggles that where viewed as laws that were much for theimpoverished, and dis-disenfranchised, and other were a lot but nottoo much for God to deal with. Nothing can destroy future dreams andpeople will keep looking to the manifestation. Religious women weredetermined to keep on dreaming dreams to come true. Religious womenformed their own abolition groups, organization, and events to endslavery and grant basic human rights and equality. Slavery andinequality violated Christianity principles and moral stand.

EndNotes

1 Raboteau, Albert J. Slave Religion: The Invisible Institution in the Antebellum South New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2004.

2Hedrick, Joan D. Harriet Beecher Stowe, New York, NY, Oxford University press 1999.

3 Wesley, Timothy L. The Politics of Faith During the Civil War: Baton Rouge,LA: Louisiana State University Press, 2013.

4 Hedrick, Joan D. Harriet Beecher Stowe, New York, NY, Oxford University press 1999.

5 Griffith, Marie R. American Religions a Documentary History New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2007.

6Hedrick, Joan D. Harriet Beecher Stowe, New York, NY, Oxford University press 1999.

Bibliography

Raboteau, Albert J. Slave Religion: The Invisible Institution in the Antebellum South New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Wesley, Timothy L. The Politics of Faith During the Civil War: Baton Rouge,LA: Louisiana State University Press, 2013.

Griffith, Marie R. American Religions a Documentary History New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Fox-Genovese, Elizabeth. The Civil War and the Religious Imagination of Women Writers, New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Hedrick, Joan D. Harriet Beecher Stowe, New York, NY, Oxford University press 1999.