THE LIZ LIBRARY: Women's Movement Documents Section

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"Never before has any reformatory
movement gained so much in so short a time."

Lucy Stone's Address to the 7th
Women's Rights Convention November 25, 1856

Progress Report

On November 25-26, 1856, the 7th National Woman's Rights Convention was held in New York City. This was the group headed by Lucy Stone. (A reminder, this progress report was made only EIGHT years after the first call for women's rights in the history of this nation was made at Seneca Falls. The changes that occurred in such a short time once women decided to demand their rights was amazing.) In an address before the convention, Lucy Stone said:

        "Our first effort...where a few women were gathered, who had learned woman's rights by woman's wrongs...
        "Never before has any reformatory movement gained so much in so short a time. When we began, the statute books were covered with laws against women, which an eminent jurist Judge Walger said would be a disgrace to the statute books of any heathen nation.
        "Now almost every Northern state has more or less modified its laws.
        "Maine, after having granted nearly all other property rights to wives, found a bill before it asking that a wife should be entitled to what she earns, but a certain member grew fearful that wives would bring in bills for their daily service and, by an eloquent appeal to pockets, the measure was lost for the time, but that which has secured other rights will secure this.
        "In Massachusetts, by the old laws, a wife owned nothing but the fee simple in her real estate. And even for that, she could not make a will without the written endorsement of her husband, permitting her to do so. Two years ago the law was so changed the she now holds the absolute right to her entire property, earnings included.
        "Vermont, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island have also very much amended their statutes. New York has by the direct effort of this movement secured to wives every property right except earnings. During two years a bill has been before the legislature which provides that if a husband be a drunkard, a profligate, or has abandoned his wife, she may have a right to her own earnings. It has not passed. Two hundred years hence that bill will be quoted as a proof of the barbarism of the times; now it is a proof of progress.

    [WiiN Ed. Note: Yes, you read that right. At the time - and the years before - abandoned wives had their earning taken from them, the children left to starve by husbands. All employers gave women's earnings to any husband or any male relative who asked for it. The woman and children had no rights. Social pressures, the laws, and the churches supported the drunken husband's abuses and robbing of the woman's earnings.]

        "Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana have also very materially modified their laws. And Wisconsin - God bless these young states - has granted almost all that has been asked except the right of suffrage. And even this, Senator Sholes said, 'is only a question of time and as sure to triumph as God is just.'
        "In Michigan, too, it has been moved that women should have a right to their own babies, which none of you ladies have here in New York.
        "A bill to grant women the right to vote was passed the House of Representatives in Nebraska but was lost in the Senate only because of the too early closing of the session. That act of justice to woman would be gained in Nebraska first, and scores of women would go there that they might be made citizens, and no longer subjects."

One of the resolutions passed by the 1856 convention read:

        "That the present uncertain and inconsistent position of woman in our community, not fully recognized either as a slave or as an equal, taxed but not represented, authorized to earn property but not free to control it, permitted to prepare papers for scientific bodies but not to read them, urged to form political opinions but not to vote upon them all marks a transitional period in human history which can not long endure...."




© 1990-2006 Irene Stuber, Hot Springs National Park, AR 71902. Originally web-published at
We are indebted to Irene Stuber for compiling this collection and for granting us permission to make it available again.
The text of the documents in the women's history library may be freely copied for nonprofit educational use.

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