The abolition movement

Junior (College 3rd year) ・History ・Chicago ・3 Sources

Prior to 1865, there were close links between the proponents of women's suffrage and the abolitionist movement due to their shared belief in natural rights and shared supporters. Thousands of women contributed to the abolitionist movement in the 1830s in a variety of ways, including by publishing abolitionist essays and pamphlets. Women could develop their abilities and gain experience in organizing and participating in politics thanks to their involvement. Furthermore, it was now simple to put together a group of like-minded individuals who were committed to opposing the dominant political and societal will. All advocates for women's rights backed abolition, even though not all abolitionists did. However, those who supported both abolition of slavery and women's rights did not let these differences stop them from doing the required job. However, after the Civil War, there was an amendment to the U.S. Constitution extending suffrage and citizenship to former slave men. The extension of citizenship and the rights to vote by the 14th and 15th amendments to the African American men created division between the two movements because of their priorities.

Since all women supported the abolition of slavery, they worked closely with the abolitionists in the fight towards freedom. Moreover, Abolitionist leaders such as Frederick Douglass publicly supported the rights of women. There was a mutually benefiting relationship between the two movements. In as much as the women made a significant contribution to the abolitionist movement, they gained skills and experience that proved to be essential to the success of the battle for women’s suffrage. However, as the civil war was closing, the 14th and 15th amendments opened a constitutional loophole for freedom. To the surprise of women’s rights advocates, the concerns of women of all races were not addressed by the amendments, which only concentrated on men.

According to the feminists, the constitutional changes showed that the female gender had a second-class status in the society. This was contrary to the expectations of many women who thought that the civil war had created an opportunity for their freedom and equality. It was evident that the women suffrage movement had failed to achieve its goals. As a result of the constitutional amendment, there was a division between the abolitionists and women’s rights advocates because they had different priorities. The abolition movement, which majorly comprised of men, had achieved its objectives of ending slavery and acquiring freedom. Additionally, their new goal was to fight for African Americans rights to vote. According to them, the fight for equal rights philosophy was not urgent and would have to wait. In response to this split, women’s rights advocates formed the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) and the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA).

NWSA and AWSA were two competing national organizations that sought to win the struggle for women suffrage. However, the founders of NWSA were against the 15th amendment to the United States, which only addressed African American men, granting them the right to vote. The association believed that women’s rights activists should not support the 15th amendment, but rather fight for women to be included as well. On the other hand, AWSA founders were staunch abolitionists who supported the new amendment. According to AWSA, if the new amendment included the women as well, it was in danger of failing to pass in Congress. This organization focused on obtaining the right to vote for African-American men, a strategy they believed would later help in advocating for women’s rights. However, the two organizations later merged after years of negotiations, as it was clear that having two groups campaigning for votes for women was not a good idea.

However, the abolitionists claim that the split was not necessary, as it was a matter of achieving goals and priorities. According to movement, the equality-rights philosophy was at the time not logical; in addition, voting rights and citizenships should be first extended to African American men. Therefore, even the abolitionist leaders such as Douglass who previously advocated for women rights supported the amendments. If all parties united to ensure the 14th and 15th amendments are implemented successfully, then the abolition movement would later return to support women’s suffrage. Majority of the females were sad and dissatisfied because they thought the two movements would advocate for universal suffrage before and after the Civil War. Some women, on the contrary, felt that it was not yet time for their equal right philosophy and that priority should be given to the right to vote for African-American men.


Although women’s rights suffrage and abolitionists worked together for a long time, the introduction of the 14th and 15th amendments led to a division between the two movements. Essentially, the amendments only addressed the plights of African American men, ignoring women rights to vote and the issue of equality. It was clear that the priorities of the two groups were different since it was easy for abolitionists to put aside the interests of women despite their unity. As a result, women rights advocates established a new organization to fight for the plights of the female gender in the society. However, until 1920, when the 19th amendment was passed, women did not earn the right to vote in the United States. Through the skills acquired and experience by their involvement in the abolition movement, NAWSA was able to conduct independent operations. It is through radical factions that the organization was eventually able to force the federal amendment allowing women to vote.


Miller, Grant. ""Women's Suffrage, Political Responsiveness, and African-American Rights in American History”. The Quarterly Journal of Economics 123, no. 3 (2008): 1287-1327.

Ramirez, Francisco O., YaseminSoysal, and Suzanne Shanahan. ""The Changing Logic of Political Citizenship: Cross-National Acquisition of Women's Suffrage Rights, 1890 to 1990"". American Sociological Review (1997): 735-745.

Sklar, Kathryn Kish, and James Brewer Stewart.Women's Rights and Transatlantic Antislavery in the Era of Emancipation. New York: Yale University Press, 2007.

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