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Posts Tagged ‘abolitionist’

Grave of Helen Pitts Douglass

Helen Pitts Douglass was the 2nd wife of Frederick Douglass. Douglass’ first wife, Anna Murray, died in 1882 after over 40 years of marriage. Helen Pitts, an advocate for women’s rights and a graduate of Mount Holyoke Seminary, met Douglass when he hired her as a clerk. After his first wife’s death, he married the white woman who was 20 years his junior, their interracial marriage exposing tensions with long time friends and colleagues. After Frederick Douglass’ death in 1895, his widow dedicated herself to the creation of the Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association.

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Yesterday marked the 90th anniversary of Tennessee’s ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, guaranteeing women’s right to vote in the United States.

A likely grave marker for today’s post would be for Susan B. Anthony, one of the most prominent leaders of the women’s suffrage movement, but I’ve written about her before. Instead I want to introduce you to someone whose contributions to women’s suffrage are less well known, even for those who know his name: Frederick Douglass.

Frederick Douglass' Grave

Frederick Douglass rests in the same cemetery as Susan B. Anthony in Rochester, New York. Born into slavery in about 1818, Douglass engineered an escape and freed himself by fleeing northward. He married his first wife and settled in Massachusetts. His self-education brought him in contact with abolitionists, and he began to speak about his experiences as a slave and joined the abolitionists’ number. He wrote Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written By Himself. He received acclaim as an orator and writer.

Although Douglass is best known for his role as an abolitionist and proponent of black civil rights, he had a much broader perspective on social reform. He supported equal rights for all, including immigrants, Native Americans, and women. He gave speeches in support of the home rule movement in Ireland. And, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, he supported women’s suffrage. In 1848, Douglass was the only African-American in attendance at the first women’s rights convention in the nation, in Seneca Falls, New York. He wrote and spoke in favor of women’s suffrage, not as a separate issue from black civil rights, but as one piece of the whole of social justice. He argued that with the franchise, African-American women in particular would be given a new tool to continue the struggle for equality. He died in 1895, still engaged in his social justice work.

Douglass is represented in these statues at Seneca Fall’s National Women’s Rights Historic Park. (Sorry for the blurriness – look at the third figure from the right.)

Seneca Falls statues

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