Nancy Arnold, Rose Edington and Mary Grigolia
Unitarian Universalist Women’s Heritage Society
Service at General Assembly, 2001
courage courage courage
courage courage courage courage courage courage courage courage
Adler, Pianist, Medley of Service Music
on the Path” (Grigolia)
The Hutchinson Singers
The strands of
oppression form a negative web of existence. Time after time
throughout history voices of courage call us to the truth that we are
part of an interdependent web of all existence; that each person and
all peoples are deserving of worth and dignity. We would be weavers
of the web of egalitarianism with its strands of worth and dignity
and laughter, of courage, love and justice; of sorrow, joy and peace;
and the many unnamed strands that contribute to its delicate
This morning we are
gathered to honor and recall the 1 50th anniversary of the
intersection of the struggle for women’s right to vote and the
abolition of slavery in the United States and of the role one of our
Universalist churches played in this historic moment.
It was in 1851 that the
Old Stone Church of Akron, Universalist, hosted the Ohio Women’s
Rights Convention. At a time when many voices of religious leaders
were saying that all the rights women needed were assumed when the
United States became a country in 1776 and that a woman’s place
was in the home, not at the balloting box; and some were using
scripture to validate slavery, this Universalist church provided
space for new freedoms to be worked out.
service we invoke the spirits of those who struggled for the freedoms
we have today - especially the spirits of Sojourner Truth, Frances
Dana Gage and Harriet Tubman - to be present with us and to inform
our time together.
As we acknowledge and
thank them, we know that the struggles that they were part of are
still going on in different forms today. We honor these voices of
courage from our past, that we ourselves might be voices of courage
for our time and for those who come after us.
Leader: The flame of
our heritage lights the way to our future. We invoke voices of
courage from our past to encourage us in the present.
Side: “Failure is impossible!” [Susan B. Anthony]
Right Side “O
women of America, it is yours to create a healthy public sentiment;
to demand justice, simple justice as the right of every race.”
[Frances Ellen Watkins Harper]
Side: “Strike for the right, uphold the truth;! thoul’t
find an answering tone! In honest hearts, and soon no more/ Be left
to stand alone. [Frances Dana Gage]
Right Side: “Come
on up, I’ve got a lifeline!” [Harriet Tubman]
Leader: The flame of
our heritage lights the way to our future. Courageous voices of
contemporary women keep us on the path and point us to the future:
Side: “When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard
nor welcomed, but when we are silent we are still afraid. So it is
better to speak remembering, we were never meant to survive.”
Right Side: “Never
doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change
the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”
SIDE: ‘tove is concerned that the beating of your heart should
kill no one.” [Alice Walker] Ri1it Side: “I have to cast
my lot with those who, age after age, perversely, with no
extraordinary power, reconstitute the world.” [Adrienne Rich]
flame of our heritage lights the way to our future:
May its light encourage
us in our present efforts against the grind of racism, sexism, and
all hierarchies that oppress.
May its glow illumine
the way for the voices of courage that will still need to be heard in
the future, for we are learning that even with our optimism and
energy, great struggles do not get completed in one lifetime.
May we be part of the
great cloud of witnesses who are relentless in resisting oppression.
May we find joy in the
“The Urge for Freedom” (Grigolia) The Hutchinsons
FRANCES DANA GAGE
Gage] read every book, magazine, and newspaper that came to hand in
her small community, and she came to regard abolition of slavery,
equal rights for women, and temperance as parts of one great ‘triune
cause.’ Her reform interests led her to write letters to the
newspapers. She also began to publish some of her poems written for
her own amusement and sent in at first by friends; by 1850 she was a
frequent contributor to the Ladies’ Repository of Cincinnati.”
“writing career took a more professional turn ... when, as
she began to contribute letters to the Ohio Cultivator, a bimonthly
farm paper... [the letters] contained practical advice about health,
women’s dress, and similar matters of interest to farm wives,
[but] they revealed as well the author’s concern with reform.
Mrs. Gage also began speaking extemporaneously on her three favorite
subjects whenever opportunity arose... When the call went out for the
first Ohio woman’s rights convention, held at Salem in April 1
850...Mrs. Gage sent a letter of support.... In May, at a local
meeting in McConnelsville, she drew up a petition to the legislature
asking that the words ‘white’ and ‘male’ be
omitted from the new state constitution then being drafted. A year
later she was chosen to preside at a second statewide woman’s
rights convention in Akron, Ohio.”
Frances Dana Gage’s
commitment to women’s rights did not end with the 1851
Convention. In 1853, she presided over a national convention held in
Cleveland. “Before long she was appearing regularly on the
programs of out-of-state temperance and feminist meetings and filling
lecture engagements as far afield as New Orleans, where she spoke in
March 1854 on woman’s rights.”
“In 1 853 the
Gages moved from McConnelsville to St. Louis, Missouri. [This was] a
hostile environment for Mrs. Gage’s reform activities,
particularly her abolitionism. She contributed for a time to two St.
Louis papers, but eventually her radicalism proved too much for the
editors. Still active in the woman’s rights and temperance
causes, she worked with Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and
other prominent leaders. She also contributed poems and articles”
to women’s publications. The family moved back to Ohio in 1860
following three fires, “perhaps set in retaliation for her
antislavery sentiments, [the fires] ruined Gage’s business and
cost them their home...”
Frances supported the
family as associate editor of the Ohio Cultivator and of Field
Notes, when her husband’s ill health necessitated it.
With the advent of the Civil War, Frances concentrated her efforts on
helping the freed Negroes. She was put in charge of five hundred
freedmen on Parris Island, South Carolina, which was then under Union
control. She returned to the North to use her voice to relate the
stones of the freedmen to Northern audiences. “She worked
without pay, asking only enough to cover her expenses and giving any
surplus to the freedmen’s association and to soldier relief.”
Frances continued to lecture and to publish her poems and articles
until a stroke paralyzed her in 1867. She died in 1884, and was
buried in Greenwich, Connecticut in the cemetery of the Second
Congregational Church. “Although a Universalist in early life,
she had left that church when it seemed to her to be lagging in the
cause of abolition and other reforms... thereafter [she] had no
formal affiliation. Frances Dana Gage is chiefly important not for
her literary work [alone], but as an early woman lecturer and as one
of the leaders in the pre-Civil War generation of women reformers.”
Biography by Eugene H. Roseboom in Notable American Women)
FRANCES DANA GAGE’S
...When I tell you that
I have never in my life attended a regular business meeting, and am
entirely inexperienced in the forms and ceremonies of a deliberative
body, you will not be surprised that I do not feel remarkably
grateful for my present position. For though you have conferred an
honor upon me, I very much fear I shall not be able to reflect it
back. However, I will try.
I shall enter into no
labored argument to prove that woman does not occupy the position in
society to which her capacity justly entitles her. The rights of
mankind emanate from their natural wants and emotions. Are not the
natural wants and emotions of humanity common, too, and shared
equally by both sexes? Does man hunger and thirst, suffer cold and
heat more than woman? Does he love and hate, hope and fear, joy and
sorrow more than woman? Does his heart thrill with a deeper pleasure
in doing good? Can his soul writhe in more bitter agony under the
consciousness of evil or wrong? Is the sunshine more glorious, the
air more quiet, the sounds of harmony more soothing, the perfume of
flowers more exquisite, or forms of beauty more soul-satisfying to
his senses than to hers? To these interrogations everyone will
Where, then, did man
get the authority that he now claims over one-half of humanity?
...Whence came this right? Came it from nature? Nature made woman
man’s superior when she made her his mother — his equal
she fitted her to hold the sacred position of wife.
Does he draw his
authority from God - from the language of Holy Writ? No! For it says
that “Male and Female created He them, and gave them dominion.”
Does he claim it under
the law of the land? Did woman meet with him in council, and
voluntarily give up all her claim to be her own lawmaker? Or did the
majesty of might place this power in his hands? - the power of the
strong over the weak - make man the master? Yes, there, and there
only he gains his authority!
Do not answer that
woman’s position is now all her natural wants and emotions
require. Our meeting here together this day proves the contrary;
proves that we have aspirations that are not met. Will it be answered
that we are factious, discontented spirits striving to disturb the
public order? So it was said of Jesus Christ and his followers, when
they taught peace on earth, and good will to man. So it was said of
our forefathers, in the great struggle for freedom. So it has been
said of every reformer that has ever started the car of progress on a
new and untried track!
We fear not man as an
enemy. He is our friend and brother. Let woman speak for herself, and
she will be heard! Let her claim with a calm and determined, yet
loving spirit, her place, and it - will - be - given - her.
I pour out no harsh
invective against the present order of things - against our fathers,
husbands, and brothers; they do as they have been taught; they feel
as society bids them; they act as the law requires. Woman must act
for herself. Oh, if all women could... with one united voice speak
out in their own behalf ... they could... do more to ... purify,
elevate, and ennoble humanity, than all that has been done by
reformers in the past century! Thank you all!
[Gage remains standing
to introduce the song] As a result of this Convention, I wrote the
Years Hence,” which was sung at the Convention of 1852. This
song was written for John Hutchinson of. the famous singing family
from New Hampshire. Please join me in singing it this morning.
SONG: “A Hundred
Year’s Hence” (Frances Dana Gage)
hundred years hence, what a change will be made,
politics, morals, religion and trade,
statesmen who wrangle or ride on the fence
things will be altered a hundred years hence.
cheating and fraud will be laid on the shelf,
will not get drunk, nor be bound up in self.
all live together, good neighbors and friends,
Christian folks ought to, a hundred years hence.
and war will be heard of no more
blood of a slave leave his print on our shore
will then be a useless expense
we’ll go free-suffrage a hundred years hence.
laws then will be uncompulsory rules,
prisons converted to national schools,
pleasure of sinning ‘tis alt a pretense
people will find out a hundred years hence.
woman, man’s partner, man’s equal shall stand,
beauty and harmony govern the land.
think for oneself will be no offense,
world will be thinking a hundred years hence.
of speech-making to satisfy wrong
all join the chorus to sing Freedom’s song.
if the Millennium is not a pretense,
all be good brothers a hundred years hence.
SOJOURNER TRUTH RISES
FROM THE BACK AND COMES FORWARD, ASKING:
May I say a few words?
[Various people in the
congregation hiss and boo, call out “No!” “Not
SOJOURNER TRUTH BY FRANCES DANA GAGE
There are those who say
that the cause of women’s suffrage should not be linked with
the abolition of slavery. I have heard the mutterings that the two
issues must be kept separate, that they speak to different
constituents. Yet, I do not think the issues are separate. The
freedom of one individual cannot preclude the freedom of another.
As chair of this
convention I recognize Sojourner Truth, a freed slave and long-time
supporter of the equal rights of the races and sexes.
Though I spoke in
dialect for its effect on the audience on 1851, I was not illiterate.
The Hutchinson’s daughter Louisa can tell you that she heard me
talking to myself in English, which I could speak as well as most
white folks. She also heard me speak Dutch to the boy who carried my
luggage. Dutch is my first tongue. I was raised on a Dutch American
plantation in upstate New York and was given a good education. It was
only when I was sold South that I learnt the dialect of the field
Most white people
expected every slave from the plantations to employ the hackneyed
speech of the minstrel shows or the sentimental ballad. So, when I
spoke in public, I used the dialect the public expected. It may sound
foolish today, but it is the price I paid to see my truth heard and
This is what I told the
people at the Ohio Convention:
Well, children, where
there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I
think that between the Negroes of the South and the Women at the
North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix
pretty soon. But what’s all this here talking about?
That man over there say
that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches,
and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into
carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And
aren’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed,
and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And
aren’t I a woman? I could work and eat as much as a man - when
I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And aren’t I a
woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to
slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but
Jesus heard me! And aren’t I a woman?
Then they talk about
this think in the head; what do they call it? Intellect? That’s
it. What’s intellect got to do with Women’s rights or
Negroes’ rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and
yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my
little half-measure full?
Then that little man in
black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men,
because Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from?
(pointing to a man in the audience) Where DID your Christ come
from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.
If the first woman God
ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone,
these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it
right side up again. And now that they are asking to do it, the men
better let them. Obliged to you for listening to me, and now ole
Sojourner don’t have nothing more to say.
SONG: “Psalm 94”
(Grigolia) The Hutchinson Singers
reflection is by Rev. Rose Edington and may be used as is, or a
service leader could be asked to write her or his own reflection)
Because part of the
research for my Doctor of Ministry thesis included looking into the
dynamics surrounding the nineteenth century issues of abolition and
suffrage, I agreed to give a brief reflection on what was going on
around the time of the 1851 Convention. Of course, a few minutes can
only highlight some of the dynamics.
One of my major
learnings in the thesis process was that my standpoint influences my
research and the way I interpret historical dynamics; in other words,
the who I am influences what I find and how I view it. So, it is
important to state that my standpoint is that of a White,
professional woman, raised in a working class family. Because I
operate from a well-spring of deep joy, I am radically committed to
In some ways, the
pre-Civil War year, 1 851, the year we are remembering this morning,
seems remote - too long ago for its dynamics to relate much to our
contemporary situation. Yet, when I remember that my American
grandparents were born just some 30 years after that Convention and
that my grandmother was in the first generation of women allowed to
vote in this country, that historical time takes on a more immediate
And, when I consider
that those same grandparents believed in White racial superiority
while also teaching that you treat everyone with whom you come in
contact with civility, whatever their race, I know some dynamics have
not changed these “1 00 Years Hence.”
There were some White
folks participating in the good cause of abolishing slavery who did
not necessarily believe in racial equality. They only wanted to
relieve suffering. Also, what was a cause - no matter how dangerous
for Whites - had a different quality of dynamics for African
Americans, free or enslaved. For example, with the Fugitive Slave
Act, passed by Congress in 1 850, the power dynamic for African
Americans, already out of kilter, worsened. Free African Americans
everywhere, and especially in southern states, had to take greater
pains to prove their freedom. The free Black woman, Frances Ellen
Watkins Harper, a Unitarian, found it increasingly difficult to live
or visit family in the southern state of Maryland and relocated to
Watkins Harper began
writing and speaking for women’s rights and abolition before
the more well-known Unitarian Susan B. Anthony, yet it is Anthony who
is lifted up in our history books. White women get short shrift in
most of our history texts but however sketchy our knowledge, we knew
there were suffragists and a women’s rights movement in the
nineteenth century. It took me too many years to discover the Black
women activists of the same time period.
Watkins Harper and
Anthony also point up differences in perspective based on one’s
situation in life. Watkins Harper spoke and wrote about the
difficulty she had in finding clothes to wear because she wanted to
insure that the cotton used in making her dresses did not come from
slave labor. On the other hand, for a time, Anthony’s father
owned a textile mill.
I must confess that
until reading Watkins Harper’s comments n the difficulty of
finding clothes I had not given a thought to the dynamic of
determining the origin of one’s clothing at that time, but now
it seems like an obvious one to be aware of. It serves to remind me
that I am probably more blind to dynamics going on around me today
than I’d like to admit.
While White women did
not have to worry about being nabbed by slave catchers, they did have
to worry about having adequate rights in their home, the same rights
Black women wanted in their lives and enslaved women would need when
not living in slavery. One such right was the right to inherit
property in a woman’s own name.
At the 1851 Convention
where Frances Dana Gage was elected to preside, the other
presidential contestant was Jane Grey Swisshelm, who edited her own
newspaper, The Pittsburgh Visiter (sic). To outer appearances
Swisshelm was well-off and powerful. Although by 1850 most states had
passed laws giving women the right to own property, there were
difficulties with receiving an inheritance. When Swisshelm’s
mother died, she wanted to leave Swisshelm an inheritance her husband
could not touch. Mr. Swisshelm did not like this arrangement so he
sued the executors of his mother-in-law’s estate for the wages
his wife had spent nursing her mother.
Women at that time also
could not have custody of their children if they wanted to leave
their husband, nor did they have the right to control their earnings.
This was especially difficult for women whose husbands took their
earnings and drank them away. For this reason, issues of temperance
and prohibition are entwined with women’s rights and abolition.
The politics of these dynamics are too complex to go into right now,
but the learning is that it is important to follow the sources of who
is funding an issue and what they stand to gain from it. And to
realize that there was an active “religious right” then
as well as now.
The final dynamic I
want to lift up this morning is that of women in the labor movement.
These were young, predominantly White women from New England who came
to work in the textile mills, turning wool and cotton into cloth.
Yes, they worked with slave cotton, ... and some of their working
conditions bordered on slavery. But, unlike a slave woman, and as
risky as it was, a White woman in a northern factory could go out on
strike. In their early strikes, women wanted a ten-hour limit to
their day’s labor without having to suffer a cut in pay.
Issues of labor,
temperance, abolition and suffrage for Black men as well as for all
women were swirling around the 1851 Convention. It is important to
remember that White women who opposed slavery and went to antislavery
conventions realized that they needed to stand up for their own
rights when the men wouldn’t allow them to speak and banished
them to the galleries. To sum up, those rights included control of
their own property and earnings, the right to guardianship and
divorce, and the opportunity for education and employment.
With such needs as
these not all women put the right to vote as their top priority. Not
until the Civil War years did women know they needed to make suffrage
their priority. Politics became more blatant then, as some of the
White men in control reasoned that since women didn’t have the
right to vote perhaps they should not be allowed the right to
petition. And some Whites, both women and men, were saying that White
women needed the right to vote to retain White power when freed Black
men began voting.
In spite of the racism
that was part of the Women’s Suffrage movement, it is
impossible to separate the nineteenth century movements of abolition
and women’s rights. They had the same end - empowerment for all
citizens in a democracy - that we are still working on today.
“Come On Up, I’ve
Got a Life line!” The Hutchinsons
(words and music by
In this time of
meditation and silence, may we open our hearts to the different
lifelines that are needed today. (pause)
May we look within
ourselves and find the lifelines we can offer to our own self in its
time of need. (pause)
As we look within, may
we be aware of the lifelines we can offer to our sisters and brothers
in their times of need. (pause)
May we be open to the
lifelines our sisters and brothers offer us when we are in need, and
when we would be sustained in our efforts to be voices of courage in
our world today. (pause)
to a Vision” (Grigolia)
truth of human nature will only be revealed
all are equal partners in creation
God as co-creator in every time and place
practice God by loving one another.
witness to your calling, your talent and your gifts,
we are here to nurture and support you
sing our affirmation, all people, everywhere,
everyone has valued gifts to offer.
And all of us must answer to a call,
of life, commitment to a vision.
all are called to share this gift of life,
celebrate and pass it on to others.
One hundred years
hence, let a change be made, in politics, morals, religion and trade
May we sing Freedom’s song without pretense in a world where
all sisters and brothers
have the courage and
the love to practice equality.
Passage” (Grigolia) The Hutchinsons
A Musical Note: For
tapes and music information about the songs by Mary Grigolia as sung
contact Rev. Mary Grigolia, Eno River Unitarian Universalist