How Do Contemporary Newspaper Accounts of the
1850 Worcester Woman's Rights Convention Enhance Our Understanding
of the Issues Debated at That Meeting?

Abstract

      In 1870, for the twentieth anniversary woman's rights convention, Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote in the official "Call," that "the movement in England, as in America, may be dated from the first National Convention, held at Worcester, Mass., October, 1850." This meeting, not the gathering at Seneca Falls in 1848, was the convention the first generation of woman's rights proponents regarded as igniting the women's rights movement in the United States. This project examines the first national women's rights convention held at Worcester, Massachusetts in October 1850, contrasting the convention's official published text, The Proceedings of the Woman's Rights Convention, over which Paulina Wright Davis exerted considerable editorial control, with contemporary newspaper accounts of the convention. That the Proceedings give few hints to the contentious debates that occupied much of the convention's daily proceedings is a striking example of Davis's success in presenting a coherent and unified platform in the official published text. In contrast, contemporary newspaper accounts, although unabashedly partisan and best approached with caution, suggest a convention floor deeply divided over many issues, including prostitution, the role of men in the struggle for women's rights, and the place of race at the convention and within the larger movement. Neither the official Proceedings, nor contemporary newspaper reports, individually offer a comprehensive and objective account of the Worcester convention. However, reading the official account of the convention against various newspaper accounts reveals a convention much more complex than the Proceedings (and existing historiography) portray.

   
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