They Showed The Way: The Way Leads On

They Showed The Way: The Way Leads On
Unitarian Universalist Women’s Heritage Society
Worship Service
General Assembly 1998
Rochester, New York


As our foremother, Universalist Phebe Hanaford once said: “Man was not made subject to woman, nor should woman be subject to man. Neither men’s rights nor women’s rights should be considered, but human rights— the rights of each, the rights of all.”

We welcome you to this service in celebration of 150 years of the movement for women’s rights.

The flame of our heritage lights the way to our future.

THE VISION (Ring chime.)
We begin with the vision.

150 years ago our foremothers articulated their vision in a document called “The Declaration of Sentiments.” The language and demands are patterned after the United States Declaration of Independence. In 1848, in Seneca Falls, New York, a small but brave group of women declared their rights and in so doing launched a movement that would change the world as they knew it. Here is a portion of that vision.

Reader 1: When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one portion of the family of man to assume among the people of the earth a position different from that which they have hitherto occupied, but one to which the laws of nature and nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes that impel them to such a course.

Reader 2: We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Reader 3: The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

Reader 1: He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise.

Reader 2: He had compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice.

Reader 3: He has made her, if married, in the eye of the law, civilly dead.

Reader 1: After depriving her of all rights as a married woman, if single and the owner of property, he has taxed her to support a government which recognizes her only when her property can be made profitable to it.

Reader 2: He has taken from her all right in property, even to the wages she earns.

Reader 3: He has made her morally, an irresponsible being.

Reader 1: He has monopolized nearly all the profitable employments.

Reader 2: He has denied her the facilities for obtaining a thorough education, all colleges being closed against her.

Reader 3: He has endeavored, in every way that he could, to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life.

Reader 1: Therefore be it resolved:

That all laws which prevent woman from occupying such a station in society as her conscience shall dictate, or which place her in a position inferior to that of man, are contrary to the great precept of nature and therefore of no force or authority.

Reader 2: That woman is man’s equal—was intended to be so by the Creator, and the highest good of the race demands that she should be recognized as such.

Reader 3: That the same amount of virtue, delicacy, and refinement of behavior that is required of woman in the social state, should also be required of man, and the same transgressions should be visited with equal severity on both man and woman.

All Readers That it is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.

Immediately following the historic meeting 150 years ago in Seneca Falls, New York, women began to hold similar gatherings across the continent and abroad. Universalist Frances Dana Gage put her vision of where this new movement would lead into a song, first sung at the 1852 convention held at the Universalist church in Akron, Ohio. Let’s sing it now.

QUESTIONS. (Ring chime.)
We go on with some questions.

How did this vision of the future reveal itself to these innovative women of the 19th century? When we reflect on the culture of the time, we can only wonder at the imagination and the creativity that led them to see beyond their social arrangements to a complete transformation of gender relations. The possibility of equality between men and women was the romantic dream of a few courageous women. Where did these notions come from? Could they be made real? Was there something in the upstate New York area that fed their ideas? What were the sources that were being explored which may have influenced our foremothers?

SOURCES (Ring chime.)
We examine some sources.

SOURCE 1: In 1776, Unitarian Abigail Adams knew from her study of English law and her observations of life that the new government of the United States should not perpetuate the mistakes of the past and continue to deprive women of their rights.

Abigail Adams’ husband was not only a signer of the Declaration of Independence, but also a drafter of the United States Constitution. She admonished him to “Remember the ladies,” especially after she learned that William Blackstone’s Code of English common law would likely be used as a basis for the new state constitutions. Blackstone had written that women’s “very being or legal existence was upended during marriage, or at least, incorporated or consolidated into that of the husband, under whose wing, protection and cover, she performs everything.” As she feared, under these laws, a single woman lost control of her property and her earnings when she married. She gave away all of her rights to any children she would bear. With the words, “I do,” a woman lost her legal identity. She lost her name, her right to control her own body, and to live where she chose. She could not make any contracts, sue or be sued. She was, in effect, dead in the law.

After her husband ignored her advice, Abigail wrote to her friend, Mercy Otis Warren. “I even threatened fomenting a Rebellion in case we were not considered and assured [my husband] we would not hold ourselves bound by any laws m which we had neither a voice nor representation.”
(in Alice Brown, Mercy Warren 1896)


CONGREGATIONAL RESPONSE: We are grateful for this gift to our heritage.

SOURCE 2: In 1790, Universalist Judith Sargeant Murray knew that women were being treated unfairly by the way things were, so she wrote the first articles on women’s rights published in the United States.
Yes, ye lordly, ye haughty sex, our souls are by nature equal to yours; the same breath of God animates, enlivens, and invigorates us; and that we are not fallen lower than yourselves, let those witness who have greatly towered above the various discouragements by which they have been so heavily oppressed;… from the commencement of time to the present day, there hath been as many females, as males, who, by the mere force of natural powers, have merited the crown of applause; who, thus unassisted, have seized the wreath of fame.
(“On the Equality of the Sexes,” Massachusetts Magazine 1790)


CONGREGATIONAL RESPONSE: We are grateful for this gift to our heritage.

SOURCE 3: In 1792 in England, Unitarian Mary Wollstonecraft understood that the women’s lack of education was the major cause of any weaknesses they might exhibit. Her famous book, A Vindication of the Rights of Women, was written in response to the recommendation that girls be banned from attending school.

After considering the historic page, and viewing the living world with anxious solicitude, the most melancholy emotions of sorrowful indignation have depressed my spirits, and I have sighed when obliged to confess, that either nature has made a great difference between man and woman, or that the civilization which has hitherto taken place in the world has been very partial. I have turned over various books written on the subject of education, and patiently observed the conduct of parents and the management of schools; but what has been the result?—a profound conviction that the neglected education of my fellow-creatures is the grand source of the misery I deplore; and that women, in particular, are rendered weak and wretched by a variety of concurring causes…


CONGREGATIONAL RESPONSE: We are grateful for this gift to our heritage.
SOURCE 4: In 1845, Unitarian Margaret Fuller saw the struggle of women to gain respect and equality moved forward by the French Revolution, but the repression and violence that followed took away the gains. Her book, Women in the 19th Century, became a sort of “bible” for the incipient movement for women’s rights.
We would have every arbitrary barrier thrown down. We would have every path laid open to Woman as freely as to Man. Were this done, and a slight temporary fermentation allowed to subside, we should see crystallizations more pure and of more various beauty. We believe the divine energy would pervade nature to a degree unknown in the history of former ages, and that no discordant collision, but a ravishing harmony of the spheres, would ensue.


CONGREGATIONAL RESPONSE: We are grateful for this gift to our heritage.

SOURCE 5: The words of these foremothers helped to prepare women to organize to demand their rights, but it was the indigenous people of upstate New York—particularly the Onondaga and Seneca nations of the Iroquois Confederacy—who provided a model for balanced gender relations. In her book, Women, Church and State, Matilda Joslyn Gage recorded what had inspired women in the area to realize that a totally different form of society was not only possible but, in fact, a reality.
The famous Iroquois Indians, or Six Nations,,, showed alike in its form of government, and in social life, reminiscences of the Matriarchate (or Mother Rule). The line of descent, feminine, was especially notable in all tribal relations such as the election of Chiefs, and the Council of Matrons, to which all disputed questions were referred for final adjudication. No sale of land was valid without consent of the [women] and among the State Archives at Albany, New York, treaties are preserved signed by the “Sachems and Principal Women of the Six Nations.” The women also possessed the veto power on questions of war….


CONGREGATIONAL RESPONSE: We are grateful for this gift to our heritage.

THE EVENT (Ring chime.)
We recall the pivotal events that took place in New York, 150 years ago.

July 19, 1848, was a warm, sunny day in Seneca Falls, New York. Despite the busy needs of an agricultural community in the summer and the fact that there was almost no publicity, people came from far places to the Methodist Chapel to hear the speeches in which women demanded the right to vote. Elizabeth Cady Stanton spoke in a scholarly, eloquent way. She had been encouraged by the Negro abolitionist leader, Frederick Douglass, to persevere in her work toward this goal.

Many of those present signed the “Declaration of Sentiments and Purposes,” before the meeting adjourned and participants agreed to reconvene two weeks later at the Unitarian Church in Rochester. That meeting was larger, and although the husband of Lucretia Mott had presided in Seneca Falls, the Committee for Arrangement decided that a woman should preside in Rochester. Susan B. Anthony was teaching in eastern New York at the time, but members of her family attended the Rochester meeting and she joined the new movement as soon as she returned home.

The energy and determination generated by these meetings grew into a national movement for women’s suffrage and equality. Although it thought to speak for all women, in reality many were overlooked or even intentionally excluded.

LIMITATIONS (Ring chime.)
We recognize some limitations.

Despite the vision, the rich sources, and the inspiring events that moved women forward in the struggle for equal rights, we know now that they had limits in their understanding of justice. We cannot fault them for being products of their time, but we can acknowledge the effect their limitations have on us today.

LIMITATION 1: The Boston Female Antislavery Society had at least one black woman member, but for the most part, in spite of their common goals, black and white women activists worked in separate groups. In their book, Divided Sisters, Midge Wilson and Kathy Russell suggest that white women could have learned a lot from black women who were free of notions of passivity that hampered whites. Black women had no illusions about the value of marriage and often had more self-confidence than their white sisters. Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman courageously freed their enslaved people and also spoke out for women’s rights.


CONGREGATIONAL RESPONSE: We acknowledge the limitations of our heritage.

LIMITATION 2: Lucy Stone and Henry Blackwell are cherished icons of gender equality to most feminists, and they also advocated full enfranchisement for all African Americans. It comes as a shock, then, to read Sally Roesch Wagner’s book, A Time of Protest—Suffragists Challenge the Republic and find that Henry Blackwell used racist tactics. In 1866, realizing that black males would get the vote, he tried to convince white southern men to give women the vote in order to maintain white dominance.


CONGREGATIONAL RESPONSE: We acknowledge the limitations of our heritage.

LIMITATION 3: Women who feel left out of the development of feminist theory and practice have spoken out in recent years. Yet middle-class privilege continues in subtle ways. In her book, Inessential Women, Problems of Exclusion in Feminist Thought, Elizabeth V. Spelman notes that even though women acknowledge differences of race and class, white middle- class women often claim that gender discrimination should unite all women and give less importance to racism and classism.


CONGREGATIONAL RESPONSE: We acknowledge the limitations of our heritage.

LIMITATION 4: One reason for the widening gap between working class women and the more privileged women of the suffrage movement was the wave of immigration that brought people with patriarchal family patterns and conservative views. As Eleanor Flexner points out in Century of Struggle, power-hungry political machines could easily influence these new arrivals to oppose women’s suffrage. Thus many of our foremothers expressed anti-immigrant sentiments rather than aligning themselves with the struggles of those who had newly arrived on these shores.


CONGREGATIONAL RESPONSE: We acknowledge the limitations of our heritage.

LIMITATION 5: In our national mythology we subscribe to the view that colonialism ended with the American Revolution. In reality another kind of empire building continued on in the expansion of the United States to the west. How could such colonialism proceed without the awareness of the citizens who had fought so valiantly for freedom? One answer is in the role of missionaries. The Enlightenment had laid the groundwork for a concept of civilization versus savagery which made empire building seem dictated by religious, i.e., Christian, concerns.

In 1795 the Philadelphia Meeting of the Society of Friends formed the Center to Promote Civilization Among the Indians. The Quakers own records show clearly that they considered the Iroquois gender system savage. They wrote only about the men and rendered Iroquois women invisible. Their goal was to educate the Iroquois in farming, though the Iroquois women already did crop production. They had to draw both Iroquois women and men away from their traditional roles in order to “civilize” them. They worked to break up larger living groups and to create nuclear families, because work in groups, such as farming, didn’t have clear possessive boundaries. Praise was given as an “incentive” for work done in isolation and for the establishing of “private property.” The Iroquois understanding of ownership of land by women who held it in trust for the next generation was ignored. The Iroquois were also encouraged to marry for life, rather than continuing with their practice of divorce initiated by women.

Although Lucretia Mott was upset by the missionaries’ approach, white women who were working for suffrage failed to make the connection between the destruction of Iroquois culture and their own struggle for equality.
(from a talk by Carol Karlsen, at Harvard Divinity School, April 30, 1998)


CONGREGATIONAL RESPONSE: We acknowledge the limitations of our heritage.

We join our hearts and minds in prayer.

Spirit of Life, we are humbled by all that has led us to this moment: the vision of the foremothers who found a way to move their oppressive society toward equality for women; their courage in speaking up against what they saw as wrong; their persistence in continuing to work toward their goal, even when they knew it would not be achieved in their lifetimes.

We are grateful for our rich heritage, for the visions of the foremothers who conceived of a world of equality, even though their rights were being denied. We are grateful for the wisdom of the indigenous people of this land, who showed the foremothers a way of life where women and men could live in balance with each other and with the earth. We are grateful for the courage of those who came before who dedicated their lives to the campaign for women’s rights.

Nevertheless, we also recognize that no matter how great the vision, no matter how significant the achievement, mistakes were made. Many of the white foremothers we admire did not know how to reach beyond the boundaries of race and class to work in solidarity with others.

As we learn more about both the achievements and the failings of those who came before, help us develop a more inclusive vision. Help us learn to work with those who are different from us. Grant us the perspective to understand the interrelationship of oppressions, that we may move our world toward greater justice and equality for all.

We know that even as we seek to learn from the past, we too will make our share of mistakes. Grant us the grace to learn from them as we go along, that we may pass to generations to come the accumulated wisdom and strength of our heritage. Ground us in faith for the work ahead, as we seek to carry forward what the foremothers began, that we might build a future of justice and peace for all.

Amen. Blessed Be.

We celebrate the achievement of women’s suffrage.

Despite the limitations, the legalization of women’s right to vote was a great achievement, the result of many long years of work towards social change. Around the world women were achieving this important right.

1. Suffrage was achieved first in New Zealand, in 1893.
2. Then in Finland in 1906.
3. In Canada the right was achieved province by province, beginning in 1916.
4. Germany, Austria and Poland granted women the right to vote in 1918, the same year that women over 30 gained that right in Britain.
5. Finally, on August 22, 1920, the 19th amendment to the Constitution of the United States granting women to right to vote was ratified. Congress called this “the Anthony amendment.”

Here’s what it took to win this right in the United States.
• a 72-year campaign!
• 56 separate referenda to male voters
• campaigns in 19 successive United States Congresses
• 47 campaigns to get state constitutional conventions to write women’s suffrage into state constitutions
• 277 campaigns to get political parties to put women’s suffrage into party planks at state conventions
• 30 campaigns to get suffrage in party planks at presidential conventions
(from Parade Magazine, August 6, 1995)

How can any woman not vote?

In honor of this great achievement, and in the hopes that principles of equality and justice will continue to be applied on an ever-widening basis, let us sing together “The Song of Equal Suffrage.” The words were composed by Unitarian Charlotte Perkins Gilman in the last decade before suffrage was achieved. Those who had worked so long and hard for this great goal could see the possibility of victory ahead, and this song helped keep them going.

THE WORK AHEAD (Ring chime.)
We are called by the work ahead.

Building upon the past, we carry with us the heritage of our foremothers. Let us leave feeling empowered and encouraged by their words.

In 1902, Unitarian Anthony wrote to her friend and co-worker Elizabeth Cady Stanton:
We little dreamed when we began this contest, optimistic with the hope and buoyancy of youth, that half a century later we would be compelled to leave the finish of the battle to another generation of women. But our hearts are filled with joy to know that they enter upon this task equipped with a college education, with business experience, with the fully admitted right to speak in public – all of which were denied to women fifty years ago. They have practically but one point to gain – the suffrage; we had all. These strong, courageous, capable young women will take our place and complete our work. There is an army of them where we were but a handful. Ancient prejudice has become so softened, public sentiment so liberalized and women have so thoroughly demonstrated their ability as to leave not a shadow of doubt that they will carry our cause to victory.

In 1893, Unitarian Frances Ellen Watkins addressed the World Congress of Representative Women with this plea:
O women of America! Into your hands God has pressed one of the sublimest opportunities that ever came into the hands of the women of any race or people. It is yours to create a healthy public sentiment; to demand justice, simple justice, as the right of every race; to brand with everlasting infamy the lawless and brutal cowardice that lynches, bums, and tortures your own countrymen.

Let the hearts of the women of the world respond to the song of the herald angels of peace on earth and good will to [all]. Let them throb as one heart unified by the grand and holy purpose of uplifting the human race, and humanity will breathe freer, and the world grow brighter. With such a purpose Eden would spring up in our path, and Paradise be around our way.

Go in peace. Work for justice. Blessed Be. Amen.


Song for Equal Suffrage

Day of hope and glory! After slavery and woe,
Comes the dawn of woman’s freedom,
and the light shall grow and grow
Until every man and woman equal liberty shall know,
In Freedom marching on!
Glory, glory, hallelujah,
Glory, glory, hallelujah,
Glory, glory, hallelujah,
In Freedom marching on!

Not for self, but larger service, has our cry for freedom grown;
There is crime, disease and warfare in a world of men alone,
In the name of love we’re rising now to serve and save our own,
As Peace comes marching on!
Glory, glory, hallelujah, etc.

By every sweet and tender tie around our heartstrings curled,
In the cause of nobler motherhood is woman’s flag unfurled,
Till every child shall know the joy and peace of mother’s world— As Love comes marching on!
Glory, glory, hallelujah, etc.

We will help to make a pruning hook of every outgrown sword,
We will help to knit the nations in continuing accord,
In humanity made perfect is our goal and our reward.
The World is marching on!
Glory, glory, hallelujah, etc.

words by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Unitarian (1794-1888) sung to the tune of the Battle Hymn of the Republic