Sherry H. Penney and James D. Livingston, "Expectant at Seneca Falls," New York History, 84 (Winter 2003), 32-49. Reprinted with permission.


Sherry H. Penney and James D. Livingston

This is a biographical sketch of Martha Coffin Wright of Auburn, New York, one of the organizers of the 1848 Seneca Falls Women's Rights Convention. She was active in the abolition movement and remained a leader in the women's rights movement until her death in 1875, when she was president of the National Woman Suffrage Association.


        The Visitor Center at the Women's Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls features life-size bronze statues of key participants in the historic 1848 women's rights convention. One statue is of an obviously pregnant woman, and represents Martha Coffin Wright, one of the five women described by Elizabeth Cady Stanton as the "chief movers and managers" of the convention.[1] That July, Wright was forty-one years old and six months pregnant with her seventh child. Her statue in Seneca Falls is testimony for the ages that the bearing of children does not preclude women from making important public contributions to society. Wright remained a leader in the women's rights movement until her death in 1875, when she was president of the National Woman Suffrage Association.

       Of the five women who planned the historic Seneca Falls Convention, only three remained active in the women's movement in the decades following - Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Martha Coffin Wright. According to Judith Wellman, foremost expert on the convention, of all the women at Seneca Falls, only these three "became figures of national importance."[2] The lives of Mott and Stanton have been described in numerous biographies, but Wright has been relatively neglected, obscured by the fame of her older sister, Lucretia Mott. "The eminence of Lucretia Mott," wrote historian Robert Riegel, "threw the career of her sister Martha C. Wright into the shadow . . . Her influence, however, was widespread and important."[3] It is time to allow Martha Wright to emerge from her sister's shadow.

       The official report of the convention states that during the first day's session, "LUCRETIA MOTT read a humorous article from a newspaper, written by MARTHA C. WRIGHT."[4] In 1848, Mott was already an accomplished public speaker, while Wright, fourteen years her junior, decidedly was not, and was encumbered by her pregnancy. Later that year, Mott chided Wright for being quiet during the convention, and Wright responded:

I plead guilty to being very stupid & dispirited at Seneca Falls - the prospect of having more Wrights than I wanted tending materially to subdue the ardor & energy that would doubtless have characterized me "at another time" but I was glad of the privilege of looking on and shrinking, as far as shrinking was practicable, into the insignifance [sic] that under the circumstances was appropriate for me.[5]

        Martha Wright's "having more Wrights than I wanted" (but not enough rights!) and "as far as shrinking was practicable" (when six months pregnant) reveal the humor that characterized her letters and published writings, including her newspaper article, "Hints for Wives," read at Seneca Falls.

Boston to Seneca Falls - 1806-1848

       Martha Coffin was born in Boston on Christmas Day, 1806. Her ancestors and all of her siblings, however, were born on the island of Nantucket, an experience that taught the Coffin children that women could be strong and act independently of men. Many Nantucket men sailed off on long whaling or trading expeditions, and while they were away, their wives were required to maintain their households on their own. Many also operated shops to maintain family income. Lucretia and Martha's father, Thomas Coffin, was a ship captain, and their mother, Anna Folger Coffin, was one of Nantucket's many female shopkeepers, an independent, self-reliant woman and powerful role model for her daughters.

       Thomas and Anna Coffin, and several generations of their Nantucket ancestors, were members of the Society of Friends. The family moved in 1809 to the Quaker city of Philadelphia, and Martha's formative childhood years were spent there. Her father died six years later and Anna Coffin, forced to become the breadwinner, turned her home into a boardinghouse. Thus from the age of eight, Martha grew up with her mother as head of household. She also grew up imbued with Quaker values, including pacifism, temperance, simplicity in dress, opposition to slavery, and a strong emphasis on the individual. The Quakers held that each person, male and female equally, had an Inner Light that showed the way of God. This led to Quaker women receiving a more extensive education than most females in early nineteenth-century America. Martha's education was mostly in a day school in Philadelphia, but she also attended Westtown, a coeducational Quaker boarding school outside of the city. Her adult letters describing her school days at Westtown suggest that she was a lively young girl, pulling pranks (like putting a dead mouse in a schoolmate's desk), and testing the limits of the school's rigid regulations. When she left Westtown in 1822, she returned to her mother's boardinghouse in Philadelphia and soon found herself pushing the regulations of her mother and of her Quaker meeting.

       That winter, Martha's mother took in a new boarder named Peter Pelham, a wounded veteran of the War of 1812 who had arrived in Philadelphia to seek medical treatment. Within a few months, Martha, 16, and Peter, 37, were in love. Anna Coffin strongly disapproved, in part because Peter was not a Quaker. The lovers were separated, and Peter traveled to Florida to assume the post of supplier to a new army post established at Tampa Bay. But he continued to correspond with Martha, and when he returned to Philadelphia in November 1824, they were married. Their love had survived over a year of separation, and Anna Coffin no longer objected to their marriage. The Quaker meeting did object, however, and Martha was expelled for marrying a non-Quaker.

       Martha Pelham's married life had an ominous start. On their trip south, their sloop (ironically named Hope) was wrecked off the Florida coast, and they were stranded for two weeks on an offshore island. Once she finally reached Tampa Bay, Martha found the only residents were 200 soldiers, a few officers' wives, and an abundant supply of insects, wild hogs, and alligators. Nevertheless, she wrote many years later that "During my residence in Florida, I enjoyed the escape from conventionalities that continually interfere with ones freedom of action."[6] In testing the limits of regulations at Westtown, in violating Quaker discipline by marrying a non-Quaker, and throughout her later life in reform, Martha set great store in "freedom of action."

       She returned to Philadelphia the following summer for the birth of her first daughter, and soon thereafter returned to Florida. But her husband's health continued to deteriorate, and he died in July 1826, leaving Martha a nineteen-year-old widow with a one-year-old child. A year after her return to Philadelphia, Martha traveled to the tiny village of Aurora in the Finger Lakes district of upstate New York. Her mother had taken over a Quaker girls' school, at which Martha supported herself and her daughter by teaching painting and writing. This region of New York State became known as the "burned-over district" from the proliferation of religious movements, utopian communities, and reform activities that occurred there in the antebellum years. In nearby Seneca Falls, Martha would later make her own contribution to the district's reputation as a center of reform.

       Martha had attracted a new admirer, an aspiring artist named Julius Catlin, and in September 1828 he visited Martha in Aurora. His brother George Catlin was already an established artist, and Julius was on his way to Rochester to deliver a painting for him. Julius left Aurora with a promise to return in three weeks, but a few days later, Martha was to read in a Rochester paper that Julius had drowned in the Genesee River. Martha, not yet twenty-two, had suffered the loss of her first love and husband, Peter Pelham, and now the drowning death of her second love, Julius Catlin. She traveled to Pennsylvania to visit the Catlins and share their grief. Her letter describing her return trip to Aurora by stage over bumpy roads is especially revealing of her character. "I could not help laughing once," she wrote, "to find myself very comfortably and gently seated on the straw in the bottom of the stage."[7] Not every woman who finds herself jolted out of her seat to the floor of a bounding stage responds with laughter. Yet Martha did, despite her deep sadness over Julius's tragic death. Her sense of humor, and readiness to laugh in the midst of misfortune, would help to ease the pain of her life's many "bumps along the road."

       Her luck in romantic attachments soon changed. In the following year, she met a young law student named David Wright, and they married in Aurora in November 1829, five years to the day after her marriage to Peter Pelham. David would outlive Martha, and, despite many intellectual disagreements, they remained a close and loving couple throughout her life. A son and second daughter soon arrived, and Martha would recall her years raising three children in a small home, on the very limited income of an aspiring lawyer, as some of the hardest of her life.

       In late 1833, she took a brief vacation from Aurora and returned to Philadelphia for a visit to her sister Lucretia, a visit that led to her first direct exposure to the organized anti-slavery movement. There she met William Lloyd Garrison, and attended the founding meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society. Martha had long hated slavery, and from that moment on, was a committed and active abolitionist.

       David's law business continued to grow, and in 1839 they moved from Aurora to Auburn, the county seat, where most of David's cases were argued. The recently completed rail connection between Auburn and Albany, and the imminent line to Rochester, would facilitate his travel to distant courts as well. Auburn would be their home for the rest of their lives. Here they became close to Governor William Henry Seward (later U. S. Senator and Secretary of State) and his wife Frances, who became one of Martha's closest friends. More children soon arrived, and by 1844 Martha had three daughters and three sons.

       In the 1840s, Martha's letters to Lucretia began to discuss issues later associated with the women's rights movement, such as proposed legislation in New York to enhance the property rights of married women.[8] In 1846, she complained to her husband that the daily salary they paid their seamstress was less than half what they paid to their male hired hand for outdoor work.[9] Martha felt they should receive equal pay, but David strongly resisted, and after a heated argument, "wouldn't hear any more such nonsense." In the years to come, David would hear much more such "nonsense" from Martha, as she became more and more involved in working for women's rights.

Seneca Falls - July 1848

       The Boston Tea Party of 1773 ignited the movement towards American freedom from domination by England. Seventy-five years later, a New York tea party ignited the movement towards women's freedom from domination by men. This second revolution, which also shook the world, started in July 1848 with an invitation to Martha and her sister Lucretia, then visiting her in Auburn, to attend a tea party at the home of Jane Hunt in nearby Waterloo. There they met with two other women, Mary Ann M'Clintock of Waterloo, a Quaker abolitionist, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton of nearby Seneca Falls, a fiery young woman whom Lucretia had met eight years earlier. Over the teacups the five women decided to call a Women's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, and their first call for the historic event appeared in the Seneca County Courier on Tuesday, July 11.[10] Based on the discussion at the tea party, Stanton drafted the historic Declaration of Sentiments. Signed at the convention by sixty-eight women and thirty-two men, it declared that "all men and women are created equal," a statement even Thomas Jefferson would have found revolutionary.

       On the morning of Wednesday, July 19, Martha, then six months pregnant, and Lucretia traveled by train to Seneca Falls to attend the first day's session. They spent that night as Stanton's guests in her small home, a visit that undoubtedly included lively discussions of the convention activities. Among the topics was probably Martha's article, "Hints for Wives," which Lucretia read in the afternoon session. In the future, Martha would speak and even preside at many women's rights conventions, but, limited both by her pregnancy and by her inexperience with public speaking, at Seneca Falls her major contribution was through her writing. "Hints for Wives" was first published in 1846 in the United States Gazette, a Philadelphia newspaper, and appeared again in August 1848 in Frederick Douglass's North Star.[11] Douglass attended the Seneca Falls Convention, presumably enjoyed hearing Martha's article read, and asked for permission to republish it. Her article described, in humorous and exaggerated form, the inequities of the daily gender roles in marriage. As described by Martha, the husband "passes the day among the ever-varying scenes of every-day business life. The wife, meanwhile, amid incessant clamor, must renew the treadmill task of yesterday - must wash the same faces, make the same beds, sweep the same rooms." At night, the husband "sleeps as quietly as 'the babes in the wood,' while the wife starts at the slightest noise, to minister to the comfort of the restless inmates of the trunnel bed and the crib." The article was surely well received by the women at Seneca Falls, most of whom were very familiar with the "treadmill tasks" of housewives.

Seneca Falls to Boston - 1848-1875

       Publicity following the Seneca Falls Convention led to other meetings, including the National Women's Rights Conventions held at Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1850 and 1851. Martha's household responsibilities prevented her attendance at Worcester, but she participated in the third national convention held in September 1852 in Syracuse, the first convention at which Martha spoke. Here Martha met a woman, attending her first women's rights convention, who eventually became one of Martha's closest friends and colleagues in the woman's movement, Susan B. Anthony.

       Both the Seneca Falls and Syracuse conventions were held in the vicinity of Auburn, but Martha's increasing involvement with the women's rights movement soon required more distant travel. She traveled with Lucretia to Cleveland, Ohio, in October 1853 and served as secretary at the fourth national convention. The sisters continued homeward to Philadelphia, where they attended a meeting marking the twentieth anniversary of the founding of the American Anti-Slavery Society, and a public debate on the authority of the Bible. Although she considered herself a Christian, Martha had become hostile to organized religion. This was partly because many church leaders had used the Bible to attack women's rights, and sometimes even to defend slavery, but also because she felt that the creeds of most religions were too restrictive of freedom of thought and action. Even the relatively liberal Quakers had expelled her for marrying a non-Quaker. William Lloyd Garrison, impressed with a letter of Martha's describing the debate on Biblical authority, published it anonymously in The Liberator, his weekly anti-slavery newspaper.[12]

       Although the women's movement consumed more and more of Martha's energy in the years following Seneca Falls, she continued to carry out her responsibilities as wife and mother, and continued to experience personal tragedies. Her seventh child died in 1849 shortly after his first birthday, and in 1854 she learned of the death by drowning of her oldest son, aged twenty-two. He had been drawn to California by the gold rush, and died in a sailing accident near San Francisco. Despite her grief, Martha was back in Philadelphia that October as one of the vice-presidents of the fifth national women's rights convention, and the following year she agreed to serve as president of the New York State women's rights convention in Saratoga. To a friend, she wrote, "I had many misgivings as to the part assigned me, and felt somewhat like the minister who went to meeting out of curiosity to know what he was going to say."[13] Despite Martha's misgivings, Susan B. Anthony and other speakers proclaimed she had done well, and in October she traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio, to preside over the sixth national convention.

       The nation's attention in the late 1850s was being drawn more and more to the increasing division between North and South over the issue of slavery. There was no national woman's rights convention in 1857, but in the following three years, their convention was held in New York City in May, coordinated with the annual meetings of the American Anti-Slavery Society. It was at the 1858 meeting that the issue of a "free platform" first became a major issue. Susan B. Anthony, Martha, and other leaders were unwilling to close the platform to controversial presentations, but some of the more extreme speakers, like Stephen Pearl Andrews, an advocate of "free love," began to dominate the newspaper coverage of the conventions. Two years later, it was Elizabeth Cady Stanton herself who became the center of controversy by introducing a number of resolutions calling for the liberalization of divorce laws. To many at the time, marriage was considered indissoluble, and support of liberalized divorce was akin to endorsing free love. Serving as president of this tenth national convention, Martha had her hands full controlling the heated discussion that followed Stanton's proposals. Press coverage was negative, and seeds were sown that would contribute within a decade to a split in the woman's movement.

       Soon after the women's rights convention, the Republicans met in Chicago to select a nominee for President. Martha's Auburn neighbor William Henry Seward was the early favorite, but the convention chose instead the relatively unknown lawyer from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was elected in November, and in December, South Carolina voted to secede from the Union. The nation was on the brink of war, many blamed the abolitionists, and Martha was soon to face several angry anti-abolitionist mobs.

       In January, Anthony and Stanton organized a tour of abolition speakers across upper New York State to rally antislavery sentiment and to pressure Lincoln to avoid concessions to the South. Abolitionist meetings in Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse were disrupted by mob violence, and the meeting that Martha organized in Auburn met the same fate.[14] Anthony, Stanton, and the other speakers were forced from the hall by the mob and retired to Martha's home, where they were able to complete their meeting unmolested. A few days later, they gathered in Albany for another antislavery convention, with Martha again presiding and her sister Lucretia now among the speakers. Here mob violence was largely held in check by a conspicuous police presence, and by the Albany mayor himself appearing on stage with a loaded gun on his lap. Martha wrote later about "the howling of a mob, furious to the last," that followed them to their Albany hotel after the convention, "the Mayor waiting on my sister Lucretia, Frederick Douglass with me."[15] After Martha returned to Auburn, she "called at Mr. Seward's & sat an hour, telling them abt. the Convention."[16] Soon thereafter, Seward headed to Washington to serve as Lincoln's Secretary of State.

       Martha's son Willy enlisted that fall as Lieutenant of an artillery battery. For many months, she would read the daily papers with great apprehension, but wrote Willy that she was proud he was doing his part in what she termed "this holy war between Liberty and Slavery."[17] He was seriously wounded at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863, while holding off the famed Pickett's Charge, but a brief stay in a field hospital, followed by a long recuperation at home under Martha's care, enabled him to regain his health. Martha's intense hatred of slavery, and emotions stirred by her son's war experiences, removed any remaining traces of her Quaker-taught pacifism. Near the end of the war, she wrote, "I for one wd. rather the War wd. last till the South is depopulated."[18]

       Susan B. Anthony had wished to continue agitation for women's rights during the war, but Martha, ever practical, demurred. "As to calling a National Woman's Rights Convention," she wrote Anthony in 1862, "I have felt that it would be very unwise, at this time, when the nation's whole heart and soul are engrossed with this momentous crisis . . . it is useless to speak if nobody will listen."[19] Anthony and Stanton instead organized the Women's Loyal National League, which collected signatures on petitions calling for the abolition of slavery. In little more than a year, the women abolitionists, Martha among them, collected four hundred thousand signatures, which Congress later used as evidence of nationwide support for the Thirteenth Amendment, which in 1865 finally abolished slavery.

       After the war, Martha continued her activities in the American Anti-Slavery Society, which now focused on citizenship and voting rights for blacks, subjects of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. Most abolitionists argued this was "the Negro's hour," and the issue of woman suffrage would have to wait. Martha disagreed, stating, "They all ignore the negro woman,"[20] and sided with Stanton and Anthony, pushing for votes for women while the constitutional door was open. (Through her antislavery activities, including making her home a station on the Underground Railroad,[21] Martha had developed friendships with several black women, including Harriet Tubman.[22] In the postwar years, Martha was a major supporter of the home Tubman established in Auburn as a haven for freed blacks.)

       The first woman's rights convention held after the war met in New York in May 1866, and the women attempted to merge the issues of black and woman suffrage by reincorporating as the American Equal Rights Association (AERA). The motion to form the new association was seconded by Martha, but she regretted the loss of the name "woman's rights." "I for one," she said, "have always gloried in the name of Woman's Rights, and pitied those of my sex who ignobly declared that they had all the rights they wanted."[23]

       Controversy plagued the AERA from its inception. Stanton and Anthony offended most abolitionists by opposing passage of the Fifteenth Amendment providing black suffrage unless it was accompanied by a Sixteenth granting women the vote. The issue was brought to a head in May 1869 at the final meeting of the AERA in New York, where Anthony's motion in opposition to the Fifteenth Amendment without a Sixteenth was soundly defeated. In response, Stanton and Anthony and their followers formed the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), while their opposition, led by Lucy Stone and her husband Henry Blackwell, formed the rival American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA).

       Martha sided with Stanton and Anthony, and was elected President of the New York Suffrage Association, founded as an auxiliary of NWSA. Stone and Blackwell approached Martha to represent New York at the founding meeting of the AWSA in Cleveland. "As there is already a National Association," she answered, "I cannot agree with you, that the cause will be better served by two . . . Let us now work in unison for the passage of the 16th Amendment, & in our final triumph, forget all past differences."[24] Through her remaining years, Martha continued trying to heal the breach between the Boston-based AWSA and the New York-based NWSA.

       The NWSA, focused on lobbying Congress for a Sixteenth Amendment providing woman suffrage, held a convention in Washington each January for many years. Encouraged by the adoption of woman suffrage by the Territory of Wyoming in 1869, NWSA strategy became to convince Congress to institute woman suffrage in the District of Columbia as a step towards passage of the Sixteenth Amendment. A deputation of NWSA leaders, including Martha, was granted a joint hearing in January 1870 with the District Committees of the House and Senate, the first time in American history that women addressed a committee of Congress.[25] Stanton and Anthony were the major speakers, and Martha wrote proudly to her husband, "this hearing marked an era in the history of our movement & of course in the nation."[26]

       In October, Martha attended a "Decade Meeting" in New York, marking the twentieth anniversary of the 1850 Worcester Convention. The convention report honored the movement's pioneers, noting that "Mrs. Martha Wright, sister of Lucretia Mott, of Auburn, has presided in most of the NY State Conventions, and in some of the National, and her pen has always been sharpened in ready defence of the cause and the active workers."[27] Earlier that year, Martha had used her "sharpened pen" to respond in The Nation, a widely read weekly, to a series of editorials attacking the woman suffrage movement.[28] In her article, she diplomatically cited leaders of both the NWSA and AWSA, still trying to play the role of peacemaker between the two organizations.

       Although disagreement over the Fifteenth Amendment was the major issue that split the woman's movement, the issue of a "free platform" and the raising of controversial issues like divorce also contributed. Stanton and Anthony continued to fight for woman suffrage, but maintained an interest in other aspects of women's rights. The more conservative AWSA leaders chose to limit their strategy primarily to suffrage, which ironically had been the most controversial of the women's issues when it was first raised at Seneca Falls. The NWSA policy of a free platform, accepting speakers on a variety of woman's issues, created more problems between the two associations when a sensational new personality allied herself in 1871 with the NWSA - Victoria Woodhull.

       Both the NWSA and AWSA held meetings in New York that May, and Martha attended sessions of both. "The division is so senseless," she wrote, "all thinking so nearly alike, all working for the same end, nearly all loving one another, that I have no patience."[29] However, Woodhull's controversial appearance at the NWSA Convention served to deepen the division between the two camps. She delivered a fiery speech attacking marriage, the press labeled the meeting "the free love convention," and the AWSA convention further separated themselves from the NWSA by passing a resolution against free love.[30]

       In New York the following May, Woodhull returned in full force for the NWSA meeting, which she attempted to turn into a joint meeting with her "People's Party," about to nominate her for the United States Presidency. Stanton supported the plan, but Anthony was enraged, and refused to yield the floor to Woodhull. Woodhull's supporters completed their nomination in another hall, but the controversy seriously strained the close relationship between Stanton and Anthony, threatening the cohesiveness of the NWSA. Martha was unable to attend this meeting, but received an urgent request from Anthony for a visit to Martha's home to discuss the situation. "I tell you Mrs. Wright I am feeling today that life doesn't pay," she wrote, "the way seems so blocked to me on all sides."[31] Over the weekend in Auburn, Martha was able to calm Anthony, and wrote Stanton that they had decided that "no effective programme of future measures to convulse the world could be satisfactory without your aid."[32] With Martha's aid, Anthony's breach with Stanton was healed, and the Stanton-Anthony partnership remained the driving force of the woman's movement for thirty more years.

       History of Woman Suffrage records that at the 1874 meeting of the NWSA in New York, "Martha C. Wright, one of the most judicious and clear-sighted women in the movement, was elected president."[33] As the new NWSA president, Martha traveled to Boston and attended a meeting of the rival AWSA. She again urged Lucy Stone and her allies in the Boston group to forget past differences and reunify the woman suffrage movement, but in vain.

       That December she returned to Boston for the birth of her fourteenth grandchild - William Lloyd Garrison 3rd. (Her youngest daughter in 1864 had married William Lloyd Garrison, Jr.) On the twenty-first, she asked Lucy Stone to post a notice for the forthcoming Washington NWSA meeting in Woman's Journal, the weekly newspaper of the AWSA, and made one last effort to urge reunion. She wrote Stone, "I only wish, as I told you last spring, that we could all meet together, as of old, in the interest of a cause that we all have equally at heart."[34]

       Martha joined the Garrison family for holiday celebrations on Christmas Eve and celebrated her sixty-eighth birthday on Christmas Day, but two days later, became seriously ill. She died of "typhoid pneumonia" in Boston, the city of her birth, on January 4, 1875, and was buried in Auburn's Fort Hill Cemetery. Her gravestone reads, in prominent raised letters, MARTHA COFFIN. The stone also reads, "Wife of David Wright," but Martha was much more than that. She was very much her own person, with her own strong opinions and her own significant accomplishments. It is appropriate that she rests beneath a stone bearing her own name.

       Anthony was shocked by Martha's death, and wrote in her diary, "I could not believe it; clear-sighted, true and steadfast almost beyond all other women!"[35] Stanton honored Martha with a tribute at the January NWSA Convention,[36] and both Lucy Stone and William Lloyd Garrison remembered Martha with warm obituaries in the AWSA Woman's Journal.[37] Martha was respected by the leaders of both camps, but despite her efforts, the NWSA and AWSA would remain separated for another fifteen years.


       Martha Coffin Wright[38] was imbued from childhood with the Nantucket Quaker model of strong, independent women, but her passionate support of women's rights was also fueled by her adult experiences with tragedy and hardship and as wife and mother of a large family. She was a leader in the women's rights movement from 1848, when she helped to plan the Seneca Falls Convention, until her death in 1875, when she was president of the National Woman Suffrage Association. Also a stalwart of the New York antislavery movement, she wrote frequently in support of both causes and presided over numerous women's rights and abolitionist conventions. Throughout most of her life, Martha Wright of Auburn remained one of New York State's major leaders in reform.


1. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Eighty Years & More: Reminiscences 1815-1897 (New York: Schocken Books, 1971), p. 148.
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2. Judith Wellman, "The Seneca Falls Women's Rights Convention: A Study of Social Networks," Journal of Women's History, 3 (1991): 9-37, 10-11.
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3. Robert Riegel, American Feminists (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1963), pp. 23-24.
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4. The official Report of the Woman's Rights Convention, Held at Seneca Falls,. N.Y., July 19th and 20th, 1848 was published in Rochester in 1848, reprinted in 1870 (New York: Robert J. Johnston), and appears in Ann D. Gordon, ed., Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, Vol. 1 (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1998), pp. 75-83.
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5. Martha C. Wright to Lucretia Mott, 1 October 1848, Garrison Family Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College (hereinafter referred to as GFP).
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6. Martha C. Wright to Flora McMartin Wright, 13 October 1869, GFP.
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7. Martha C. Pelham (later Wright) to Mary Catlin Hartshorne, 6 March 1829, GFP.
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8. Martha C. Wright to Lucretia Mott, 24 December 1841, GFP.
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9. Martha C. Wright to Lucretia Mott, 13 May 1846, GFP.
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10. Date for the appearance of the call is given correctly by Judith Wellman in her article cited above. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, in Eighty Years, p. 148, gave the incorrect date of July 14 for the publication of the call. As a result, many subsequent authors have given July 13 as the date of the historic tea party. Since the call actually appeared in the Seneca County Courier on July 11, the tea party must have been held July 10 or earlier.
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11. "Hints for Wives" in draft form can be found in a folder labeled "answers to mistaken editors" in GFP. It appeared, edited slightly, on the first page of the 23 September 1846 issue of United States Gazette and the 11 August 1848 issue of North Star.
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12. The Liberator, 16 December 1853, p. 198.
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13. Martha C. Wright to Rev. W. R. G. Mellen, 10 October 1855, GFP.
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14. Onondaga Standard, 6 February 1851, reprinted in The Liberator, 15 February 1861. 28th Annual Report of the American Anti-Slavery Society (1861), p. 187.
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15. Martha C. Wright to Matilda Joslyn Gage, 15 February 1871, GFP.
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16. Martha C. Wright to Ellen Wright, 11 February 1861, GFP.
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17. Martha C. Wright to William P. Wright, 26 September 1862, GFP.
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18. Martha C. Wright to William P. Wright, 1 April 1865, GFP.
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19. Martha C. Wright to Susan B. Anthony, 31 March 1862, GFP.
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20. Martha C. Wright to David Wright, 27 January 1869, GFP.
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21. Martha C. Wright to Lucretia Mott, 18 January 1843, GFP is a rare contemporary account of the overnight stay of a fugitive slave.
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22. The earliest of Martha Wright's letters that refers to Harriet Tubman is Martha C. Wright to Ellen Wright, 30 December 1860, GFP, in which she describes meeting the last group of slaves Tubman guided north before the war. Martha's letters and diaries after the war contain numerous references to interactions with Tubman.
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23. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage, eds., History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 2 (Salem, NH: Ayer Co., 1985), p. 175.
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24. Martha C. Wright to Lucy Stone, 22 August 1869, GFP.
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25. This Congressional hearing is reported in The Revolution, 27 January 1870, p. 58. Many sources mistakenly cite Victoria Woodhull's appearance before the House Judiciary Committee in January 1871 as the first appearance of a woman before a Congressional committee, apparently overlooking this 1870 hearing. Martha missed the 1871 hearing, but was present again in January 1872 when the NWSA leaders appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
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26. Martha C. Wright to David Wright, 24 January 1870, GFP.
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27. Paulina Wright Davis, comp., A History of the National Woman's Rights Movement for Twenty Years (New York: Journey-men printers' Co-operative, 1871; reprinted by Source Book Press in 1970).
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28. Editorials by "M" attacking woman suffrage appeared in The Nation on 24 and 31 March 1870, and 14 April 1870, and MCW's reply was published on 7 April 1870.
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29. Martha C. Wright to William Lloyd Garrison, Jr., 16 May 1871, GFP.
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30. Woman's Journal, 13 May 1871, 148.
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31. Susan B. Anthony to Martha C. Wright, 22 May 1872, GFP.
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32. Martha C. Wright to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 28 May 1872, GFP.
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33. Stanton, Anthony, and Gage, History of Woman Suffrage, p. 515.
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34. Martha C. Wright to Lucy Stone, 21 December 1874, GFP.
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35. Diary of Susan B. Anthony, January 1875, quoted in Ida Husted Harper, The Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony (Indianapolis: Hallenbeck Press, 1898), p. 467.
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36. Report of NWSA convention, 22 January 1875, Golden Age (New York), .
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37. Woman's Journal, 9 January 1875.
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38. Martha Wright's life and contributions to reform have been described briefly by Paul Messbarger in Notable American Women (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1971) pp. 684-85 and by Kathleen Nutter in American National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 44-45. For research in preparing the present essay and our forthcoming full-length biography of Martha Wright, to be published by University of Massachusetts Press, we acknowledge with thanks the cooperation of the staff of the Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College.
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