This Day In History: October 23

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Suffragist organizers hold the first-ever National Women’s Rights Convention in Worcester, Massachusetts on October 23, 1850.  

More than 1,000 delegates from 11 states arrived for the two-day conference, which had been planned by members of the Anti-Slavery Society.

The convention followed the steps laid out at the landmark Seneca Falls Convention two years before: “In entering upon the great work before us, we anticipate no small amount of misconception, misrepresentation, and ridicule; but we shall use every instrumentality within our power to effect our object.”

The event's organizers and attendees faced stiff opposition from most Americans, who believed that a legal and economic system that disenfranchised women was natural. The organizers hoped to create a national organization and plan of action through which to build a popular movement.

Lucy Stone was one of many speakers who argued for equal enfranchisement for women. “We want that [women] should attain to the development of her nature and womanhood; we want that when she dies, it may not be written on her gravestone that she was the [widow] of somebody,” Stone said in a speech. Her speech and the convention’s proceedings were recorded and sold after the event, helping the movement gain international recognition.

These conventions continued up until the twelfth convention in 1869 in Washington, D.C., after which the organized suffrage front split over the question of whether Black men should have suffrage. The National Woman Suffrage Association, founded by suffragists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, directly opposed the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to give African American men the vote, believing that women’s suffrage and their equality with men were more urgent political issues. The American Woman Suffrage Association, led by Stone and other organizers, did support universal suffrage, though they focused solely on universal voting rights and not on other social or economic rights.

After two decades, the groups reunited as the National American Women’s Suffrage Association, or NAWSA. However, the women’s suffrage movement continued to focus their resources on female suffrage, with some of NAWSA’s state and local chapters electing to exclude Black women from membership and even have segregated marches.

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