Document 6: Letter from Martha Coffin Wright to Matilda Joslyn Gage, 15 February 1871, Garrison Family Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College.

Introduction

       Matilda Joslyn Gage of Fayetteville, New York, became active in the woman’s rights movement in the 1870s. She later helped Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony write and edit the first three volumes of the History of Woman Suffrage, published in the 1880s.[16] In 1871, Gage wrote Martha Wright about the possibility of holding a state woman suffrage meeting in Albany. In Wright’s response, which follows, she recalled the excitement of an abolitionist convention she had chaired there in 1861 on the eve of war. A mob of anti-abolitionists had arrived with intent to disrupt the convention, but order was maintained with the help of police and the mayor sitting on the platform with a gun visible on his lap.[17] Once again, Martha showed her willingness to face mob violence because of her anti-slavery convictions. The letter also includes some opinions on the state of the woman’s rights movement in 1871 and on some of the current leaders, who had held a well-publicized Woman’s Rights Convention in Washington the previous month.

                                                         Auburn Feb. 15th ’71

My dear Mrs. Gage

       I should not have waited a day before answering your letter, if I could have seen any way of helping you out of yr. difficulty, as to the proper way of calling a Con. in Albany. If, as you think, the State association is practically dead, why not call an independent Convention, as has been done several times, & with good effect? But with Mrs. Stanton & Susan [B. Anthony] as moving Spirits. I fear one without them, wd. hardly be a success. I shall never forget that last convention we held in Albany, under the personal & active protection of the Mayor, amid the howling of a mob, furious to the last, & following us with hooting, to the Delevan [hotel], the Mayor waiting on my Sister Lucretia, Frederick Douglass[A] with me, & quite a procession of members of the Con.--all waiting in the parlor, till the Streets were safe. Thanks to the Mayor’s vigorous clearing the galleries, with his police force, we got thro’ our day & adjourned in order. I shall always remember the manly bravery of Frederick Douglass, as he stood on the edge of the platform with folded arms, & dared the mob to come on, as they threatened to attack him. We see the results of perseverance in our movement then, in the increasing freedom for woman, everywhere, in the modification of some of the worst features of the laws, in the present attitude of Mrs. Griffing,[B] Mrs. Davis,[C] Mrs. Hooker,[D] Mrs. Woodhull,[E] & others in Washington, and tho’ I think they are over sanguine of immediate success, I have not a doubt of the final triumph of the right. It is to be hoped that the pious fervor of Mrs. Hooker, the dauntless energy of Mrs. Woodhull and the persevering ardor of Mrs. Davis & Mrs. Griffing & others in Washington will not all be wasted. I am thankful for the work that they have done, tho’ I must confess I had serious misgivings as to Mrs. Hooker’s success in carrying on the Convention; even tho’ we may not see immediate results, the Spirit of enquiry has been aroused, more perhaps than ever before, & will no doubt produce good results, the opposition of Conservatives aiding rather than hindering our cause.

       I may go to Florida for a few weeks,[F] & therefore I cannot promise to preside at the Convention, if I do not go south however, & am able to be present, I will try to do so.

       I am sorry the Revolution[G] has lost so much of its early vigor, but perhaps other papers are destined to do its work. There was so much pious rubbish in the Independt, so much “vice and cant & sniffle” as Emerson says, that we did not take it. There was a good article in the Boston Commonwealth last wk. in regard to it, & the mistake of the proprietors, in thinking that radical subscribers could be transferred, or retained at will. Let me hear from you ag’n as to the success of yr plans, & believe me

                                           Very truly
                                               Yr. friend
                                                  M. C. Wright

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A. Frederick Douglass, a former slave, became a famous antislavery speaker and editor of an abolitionist newspaper. He was a longtime supporter of woman’s rights, and was an active participant in the 1848 Woman’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls. For more on Douglass, see his biographical sketch.
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B. Josephine Griffing (1814-1872) of Ohio, later of the District of Columbia, was active in both the antislavery and woman’s rights movements. After the Civil War she lobbied for the creation of the Freedmen’s Bureau and worked in the freedmen’s aid movement (see “Women and the Freedmen’s Aid Movement, 1863-1891,” also on this website.)
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C. Paulina Wright Davis (1813-1876) presided over the First National Woman’s Rights Convention, held in Worcester in 1850. At the time of this letter, she was active in the National Woman Suffrage Association.
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D. Isabella Beecher Hooker (1822-1907), a member of the prominent Beecher family that included authors Catherine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe and minister Henry Ward Beecher, avoided involvement in the woman’s rights movement until the 1860s. She then helped found the New England Woman Suffrage Association in 1868, became active in the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) shortly after its formation in 1869, and spoke at the NWSA’s Second Annual Convention in 1870.
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E. Victoria Woodhull (1838-1927) made a brief, colorful, and controversial appearance in the woman’s rights movement in the early 1870s. In January 1871, the month before this letter, Woodhull made a presentation on woman suffrage before the House Judiciary Committee and spoke at the Washington Convention of the National Woman Suffrage Association.
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F. Martha was considering visiting her son William Pelham Wright and his wife, who had recently settled in Florida. She and her husband David Wright finally made the trip in the winter of 1873-74.
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G. In January 1868, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, with the financial support of George Francis Train, started publication of The Revolution, a fiery weekly newspaper promoting, among other things, woman suffrage and woman’s rights. Stanton and Anthony left the paper in May 1870, and it continued in publication for only a short time thereafter.
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