The first national Women’s Rights Convention opened in Worcester, Massachusetts, on this date in 1850. Two years earlier, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott had launched the woman suffrage movement with their hastily organized Seneca Falls Convention in New York. They published the Declaration of Sentiments, using language modeled after the Declaration of Independence, to call for voting rights for women. They also expressed a hope that conventions for women’s rights would continue to be held at regular intervals.
The first morning session of the national convention drew 900 delegates, mostly men. By that afternoon, the ranks had swelled to more than a thousand. The hall was packed and many more waited outside. People came from 11 states, including California, which had only been a state for a few weeks. The president and keynote speaker, Paulina Kellogg Wright Davis, called for “the emancipation of a class, the redemption of half the world, and a conforming reorganization of all social, political, and industrial interests and institutions.” Other speakers followed, including Lucretia Mott, Frederick Douglass, and Sojourner Truth. The convention closed with a speech by Lucy Stone that moved Horace Greeley to take up the cause in the New York Tribune, which in turn inspired Susan B. Anthony to join the women’s movement. Stone said: “We want to be something more than the appendages of Society; we want that Woman should be the coequal and help-meet of Man in all the interest and perils and enjoyments of human life. We want that she should attain to the development of her nature and womanhood; we want that when she dies, it may not be written on her gravestone that she was the ‘relict’ of somebody.”
The Tribune was a rare exception, however; most newspapers were scornful at best and openly hostile at worst. The New York Herald published what it called “the actual designs of that piebald assemblage called the Women’s Rights Convention,” a list that included abolishing the Bible, the Constitution, the laws of the land, and the gallows; encouraging the “free and miscellaneous amalgamation of sexes and colors”; and “cut[ting] throats ad libitum.”