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
|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
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
"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...."