Burning of Pennsylvania Hall

Women abolitionist faced extreme backlash both for their beliefs and for their gender.  African American women experienced even another level of backlash.  A women's place was not in the public eye.  For women to speak on a stage and to hold conventions of their own, or to even write a piece for a newspaper, was socially unacceptable.  Angelina Grimke describes in her diary that in 1835, just as she was beginning to get involved with William Lloyd Garrison, that she recieved threats from men in her life telling her that she should not continue to let her work be published in The Liberator(1).  Just three years later in 1838, Grimke would go on to face a mob of people at Pennsylvania Hall, a place were abolitionists, men and women alike would met and speak(2).  The mob would go on to burn the building to the ground, as shown in the drawing above.  This violence came, not coincidentally, at the same time as the second women's anti-slavery convention.  The people of the mob threw rocks at the windows as women, such as Maria Weston Chapman, spoke(3).  The women inside tried to zone out the violence and continue their meeting.  African American women who planned on attending the event stayed home, fearing for their lives(4).  Women were harassed in the streets, being told they were to blame for all of the chaos surround the Hall.

Violence like this, however, was not new to these women abolitionists.  People, since the beginning of women's involvement in the movement, were openly opposed to them.  The Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society saw these angry mobs and attacks as reasoning to work even harder in their fight to end slavery(5).  While this violence did not entirely stop women from meeting, it did have negative effects.  The yearly conventions that women held saw decreases in attendence each year.  Women from outside of the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society that chose not to attend explained that they were scared of more severe attacks(6).  As seen in other circles in this era of the 1800s, mobs were used as a means to shun and quiet those voices who were in the minority.  Cases of white women assisting and teaching their fellow African Americans were met with threats and violence.  In Ohio, a group of men threatened an abolitionist, claiming that they would drown her, tar and feather her, and destory everything she owned, if she did not stop her involvement(7).  Women were seen as people who needed protected, but if they went out of their way to get involved in things that they shoudln't be, then neighbors would go to extremes to try to dissuade them.  Life as an abolitionist woman was not an easy one.  This backlash and exclusion is what led many of them to join the women's rights movement, realizing that they did not like how they were being treated.  They fought for the rights of African Americans and felt they needed to also fight for themselves. 

[1]Grimké, Angelina Emily, and Charles Wilbanks. 2003. Walking by faith: the diary of Angelina Grimké, 1828-1835. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press. pg.211.

[2]Ibid. 215.

[3]Salerno, Beth A. 2005. Sister societies: women's antislavery organizations in antebellum America. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press. pg.86.

[4] 87.



[7]Baumgartner, Kabria. 2017. “Building the Future.” Journal of the Early Republic 37 (1): 117–45.