The Condition of Women Prior to July 1848

Portrait of Sarah Grimke

Portrait of Sarah Grimke (1792-1873)

Portrait of Angelina Grimke

Portriat of Angelina Grimke (1805-1879)

Although feminism was more of a rarity and did not begin to gain momentum until the first Women's Convention in 1848, many historians trace the beginnings of American feminism back to Sarah and Angelina Grimke. The work of the Grimke sisters was undoubtedly important as they advocated for women to share their voice for abolition. Sarah, born in 1793, and Angelina, born in 1805, were the daughters of an elite family in Charleston, who, surprisingly, owned slaves. Expected to fulfill their traditional roles as women by having a family and tending to the house, the Grimke sisters had other plans for themselves. Not only were the Grimke sisters interested in ending slavery, but as the only Southern white female abolitionists, they became a voice for women's rights in America as well. They were the only women invited to join the Convention of the Seventy, an anti-slavery convention in 1836, which allowed them to gain recognition and support as they fought towards equality.

In addition to the beginnings of feminism that was initiated by the Grimke sisters, female abolitionists also fought for equality at the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society from 1833-1870. The group was created as a sequel to the American Anti-Slavery Society three days after four women attended one of the meetings as observers, including future Seneca Falls leader, Lucretia Mott. Mott spoke briefly at the American Anti-Slavery Society meeting, a surprise to all of the men in attendance as women rarely attended meetings, let alone spoke at them. Because these women were not asked to sign the society's constitution, the 4 women who attended the meeting formed their own society to promote anti-slavery beliefs and gain engagement among women.

Both the leadership of the Grimke sisters and the meetings of the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society were important parts in generating feminism in America, but they weren't enough to officially launch the fight for women's rights. Even with the early begninnings of feminism emerging, before the first women's convention at Seneca Falls in July of 1848, women had virtually no rights, even less than the Irish man at that time, according the the third grievance of the Declaration of Sentiments. Additionally, feminism was seen as so radical at the time that many meetings held by female abolitionists were disrupted by protestors, including at the 1838 Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women where rocks were thrown against windows and, eventually, fire was set to the building in protest.

It wouldn't be until after the female abolitonists led the first women's convention in 1848 that feminism would change from being the small niche that it was to a widespread phenomenon. The event at Seneca Falls would finally allow the notion that women are equal to men to become more accepted and it would no longer be frowned upon for women to hold conventions of their own due to the media reporting how respectable and organized the convetion at Seneca Falls was.³

The Condition of Women Prior to July 1848