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Review of "Suffragists and Abolitionists" Brechner Series

Published on 2/7/2019

As part of the run-up to the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in 2020 – and as a prelude to the March publication of “Warriors for Democracy,” a history of the LWVOC – a new lecture series got under way Sunday at the Orange County Regional History Center.

The LWVOC History Committee and the center’s Brechner Speaker Series presented UCF associate instructor of history Patricia Farless. Her subject:  abolitionists, suffragists and “Getting the Right to Vote.”

She began her history discussing the decade or so leading up to the famed 1848 Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, N.Y. Farless painted a picture of a time of economic, political and educational change, emphasizing the opening of the Erie Canal as a catalyst for new philosophies. This was also a time that saw the beginnings of social reforms and issues of equality.

As usually happens, the awakening came about via biography, and Farless discussed the contributions of William Lloyd Garrison, who criticized both the U.S. Constitution and the Bible for not condemning slavery; Abby Foster and the Grimke sisters, the first women in the abolition movement; and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, two of the founders of the women’s movement. Women were attracted to Garrison’s philosophy, which said that there should be no discrimination based on sex and race.

Stanton wrote the Declaration of Sentiments that was unveiled at Seneca Falls, basing it on the Declaration of Independence and throwing in a clause about women’s suffrage. Her friend Frederick Douglass supported her. Unfortunately, the women’s movement stalled during the Civil War and Reconstruction as women prioritized aiding the preservation of the Union.

The end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th saw an increase in xenophobia and segregation, according to Farless, giving rise to compromises on the part of women as well as leading to lynching (famed abolitionist/suffragist Ida B. Wells leading the charge against it) and other Jim Crow horrors.

All things considered, the battle to win the right to vote made for a sometimes uncomfortable history and some “heart-wrenching debates.” The issues of the past do not negate the League of Women Voters' later accomplishments, Farless said.

She ended with a “future push”: “The ballot can cleanse and renew our civic soul.”

Next up in the four-part lecture series is “Women: Fighters for Florida’s Environment,” 2-4 p.m. Feb. 17, featuring author and Rollins College professor Leslie Kemp Poole.

Submitted by Dean Johnson