VOICES OF COURAGE
Created by Nancy Arnold, Rose Edington and Mary Grigolia
for the Unitarian Universalist Women’s Heritage Society
Worship Service at General Assembly, 2001
courage courage courage courage courage courage courage courage courage courage courage
PRELUDE Marge Adler, Pianist, Medley of Service Music
INTROIT “Voices 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 strength.
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.
During today’s 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.
Left 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]
Left 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:
Left 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.” [Audre Lorde]
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.” [Margaret Mead]
LEFT 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]
UNISON: The 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 struggle.
OPENING HYMN “The Urge for Freedom” (Grigolia) The Hutchinsons
INTRODUCTION OF FRANCES DANA GAGE
“…[Francis Dana 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.”
Mrs. Gage’s “writing career took a more professional turn … when, as
‘Aunt Fanny,’ 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.”
(Source: Biography by Eugene H. Roseboom in Notable American Women)
FRANCES DANA GAGE’S SPEECH (1851)
…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 answer:
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 song
“One Hundred 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)
One hundred years hence, what a change will be made,
In politics, morals, religion and trade,
In statesmen who wrangle or ride on the fence
These things will be altered a hundred years hence.
All cheating and fraud will be laid on the shelf,
Men will not get drunk, nor be bound up in self.
But all live together, good neighbors and friends,
As Christian folks ought to, a hundred years hence.
Oppression and war will be heard of no more
Nor blood of a slave leave his print on our shore
Conventions will then be a useless expense
For we’ll go free-suffrage a hundred years hence.
Our laws then will be uncompulsory rules,
Our prisons converted to national schools,
The pleasure of sinning ‘tis alt a pretense
And people will find out a hundred years hence.
Then woman, man’s partner, man’s equal shall stand,
While beauty and harmony govern the land.
To think for oneself will be no offense,
The world will be thinking a hundred years hence.
Instead of speech-making to satisfy wrong
We’ll all join the chorus to sing Freedom’s song.
And if the Millennium is not a pretense,
We’ll 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 her!” etc]
INTRODUCTION OF 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.
SOJOURNER TRUTH’S SPEECH:
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 hand.
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 known.
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 (This 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 anti-oppression.
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 feel.
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 Philadelphia.
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 Walter Robinson)
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)
SONG: “Commitment to a Vision” (Grigolia)
The truth of human nature will only be revealed
When all are equal partners in creation
With God as co-creator in every time and place
We practice God by loving one another.
We’re witness to your calling, your talent and your gifts,
And we are here to nurture and support you
We sing our affirmation, all people, everywhere,
For everyone has valued gifts to offer.
CHORUS: And all of us must answer to a call,
A way of life, commitment to a vision.
Where all are called to share this gift of life,
To 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.
POSTLUDE “Safe Passage” (Grigolia) The Hutchinsons
A Musical Note: For tapes and music information about the songs by Mary Grigolia as sung by
the Hutchinsons, contact Rev. Mary Grigolia, Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship,
4907 Garrett Road, Durham, NC 27706; or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org