Women's Rights Reformer

       At one time Angelina wanted to be a man so she could speak to audiences. She never thought she would get a chance as a woman, but she did (Birney 165). Soon Angelina was lecturing on women’s rights as well as abolition (Birney 186). Theodore Dwight Weld, a great abolitionist orator (Birney 115) and Angelina’s future husband, wanted Angelina to think of abolition first and then to fight for women’s rights (Birney 207-12). He felt that supporting women’s rights distracted from the abolitionist movement because it took the focus off the main cause (South Carolina 199). Angelina refused to yield and became the first person to make the question of women’s rights a reform issue. She believed women had a “moral obligation” to society that was not confined to their homes (Birney 174). This can be seen in the fact that she called on women first to help abolish slavery. She wanted to get women involved in the antislavery movement and through this to advocate women’s rights. The first Female Anti-Slavery Society meeting was one of the first foundations laid for women’s rights (Birney 164). Angelina and her sister Sarah challenged the old Puritan way of looking at the sexes’ roles (Birney 182). Angelina believed that there was no distinction of the sexes in Christ. “Whatever is morally right for a man to do is morally right for a woman to do” she contested. “I recognize no rights but human rights” (Birney 188-89). This line of belief brought Angelina under attack from many different organizations in society, both Christian and non-Christian. She was attacking an established way of life, which was threatening to people. Angelina responded in particular to the charge that women disgraced God and man by being independent. The reaction was a call to women by Angelina’s opposition to remember that God had made women dependent on men and when they were independent they rejected God and His authority. Angelina responded to this charge that women disgraced God and man by proving the claims unfounded (Birney 185-86). If challenging social norms were not enough to incite the public hostility, Angelina began speaking to audiences including men (Birney 179-80). It originally started when a man hid himself away in the first meeting of the Female Anti-Slavery Society meeting (Birney 164). From then on, men could be found trying to pass into meetings unaware to hear this daring abolitionist. She soon set another first for women when she held a public debate with a young man about slavery (South Carolina 178). Angelina’s renown as an abolitionist orator finally opened the door for a major step in the women’s movement. She was the first woman to be invited to speak to the Massachusetts Legislature on behalf of abolition (Birney 228). This eventually lead into another political and women’s rights statement when she was among the first to lead women to the polls to vote in Massachusetts. The votes were not counted (Birney 296-97). She set many firsts for women and broke down many walls that had previously existed for women in public life.

Please send questions/comments here

Last updated March 2, 2001

Dr. Tallant's Homepage