Document 22: Letter from Martha Coffin Wright to Susan B. Anthony, 4 November 1869, Garrison Family Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College.
In 1869, controversy over the final stage of the abolition movement, i.e., passage of the Fifteenth Amendment awarding suffrage to black men but not to women, was a leading cause for a split in the woman’s movement. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony opposed the Fifteenth Amendment, which gave the vote to freed male slaves, without giving the vote also to women with an accompanying Sixteenth Amendment. Lucy Stone and her allies who formed the American Woman Suffrage Association supported the Fifteenth Amendment and were willing to delay suffrage for women.
Martha Wright had been involved in the abolitionist movement from the 1833 founding meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society, and in the woman’s rights movement from the 1848 Seneca Falls Woman’s Rights Convention, which she, along with her sister Lucretia and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, had helped to organize. She was a close friend and confidant of both Stanton and Anthony. In 1869 she sided with Anthony and the National Woman Suffrage Association. In this letter she quoted her letter to Lucy Stone rejecting Stone’s offer to join the competing American Woman Suffrage Association.
Auburn Nov 4th ’69
My dear Susan--
I was glad to see, by yr. recent letter to Eliza[A], that there was some chance of our seeing you here. Of course, you will come directly to our house, yr. home, where we always gladly welcome you. When Eliza told me some time ago, that she had asked you to come there, I thought I should write at once & tell you I should not let you, but the wedding put it out of my head.[B] Eliza I suppose wd. not object now, as she is tied to her little Nelly, who has Measles, Tom having just recovered.[C] Nearly all the children in town have had measles, or are threatened.
We are hoping that the pleasant weather we have had since Thursday last, may be a guarantee of favoring winds & waves for our children, who must be by this time not far from Savannah. We had a short letter from New York. Our visit at Johnstown was a pleasant one, & all went off very satisfactorily. We were pleased with Flora. We can only hope & trust, that all may be well with them in the future--and that she may not feel too keenly the separation from so many dear relatives & friends.
I want very much to see you & talk over the present aspects of our cause. I think the malcontents have done, & are doing incalculable injury to it. Dissensions in our own camp of course lead the enemy to triumph & weaken a cause that needs all the strength that unity of action can give. I will copy for you, my answer to Lucy.
“My dear Lucy--I recd. yr. letter & circular, proposing a Convention to form an American Womans Suffrage Association, but as there is already a National Association, I cannot agree with you that the cause will be better served by two. In union there is strength, & I feel persuaded that our cause will be weakened & the day of our success postponed, by unwise dissension, or the attempt to ostracise some of the truest & noblest pioneers, & most indefatigable workers in it.
It may be wise to meet in Convention with a view to making the present organization “more comprehensive, & more truly representative” if it is lacking in these essentials. There was honest difference of opinion as to the wisdom of the 15th Amendment, but have we not always claimed the fullest freedom of opinion, & does not the attempt to control it lead inevitably to petty feuds, & final disorganization & defeat? Let us now work in unison for the passage of the 16th & in our final triumph forget all past differences."[D]
I hope we shall see you while this pleasant Indian Summer weather lasts. Eliza & I got home from Johnstown just in time for the advent of Frank’s little daughter.[E] I should not have go, if I had tho’t there was so little time to spare. We came Friday morning, & the baby Saturday afternoon--after 19 hours of dreadful suffering, but all doing well now.
Affectionately Yr. friend
M. C. Wright
A. Martha’s daughter Eliza Wright Osborne of Auburn.
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B. On 28 October 1869 in Johnstown, New York, Martha’s son William Pelham Wright married Flora McMartin, niece of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Soon after the wedding, they sailed for Florida, where William had purchased land for a citrus plantation.
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C. Nelly was Eliza Wright Osborne’s daughter Helen Osborne, then 5, and Tom was her son Thomas Mott Osborne, then 10.
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D. This letter to Lucy Stone was written when Martha was President of the New York Woman Suffrage Association, a branch of Stanton and Anthony’s National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA). Martha continued to seek reunification of the woman’s movement, intensifying her efforts in 1874, when she became President of the NWSA. She wrote her last letter to Stone on the subject on 21 December 1874, just two weeks before her death. For further details of her correspondence, see Robert Riegel, “The Split of the Feminist Movement in 1869,” Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 49 (December 1962): 485-96.
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E. On 30 October 1869, Fanny Rosalie Pell Wright, wife of Martha’s son Frank, gave birth to their only child, Mabel Channing Wright.
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