The Great Awakenings gave birth to most of the social reform and missionary movements of the late nineteenth century. Galvanized into action by the revivals and the growing Abolitionist movement, white women ascended public platforms to speak against the evils of slavery. In 1833, Margaretta Forten and Lucretia Mott formed the interracial Female Anti-Slavery Society in Philadelphia, which worked alongside the American Anti-Slavery Society founded by Quakers. Women such as Sarah and Angelina Grimké, raised in South Carolina, came north to work for abolition. Their speaking tour through New England in 1837 resulted in petitions to Congress signed by over 70,000 people.
Free blacks created their own networks of temperance, antislavery, and moral improvement societies, worked with white organizations, and spoke out. In 1859 Sojourner Truth preached a powerful anti-slavery and womens rights message: "I have borne thirteen children, and seen them most all carried off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mothers grief, none but Jesus heard me. And aint I a woman?" Maria Stewarts tracts were printed by William Lloyd Garrison in his militant anti-slavery journal, The Liberator. Frances Harper and Abby Kelley Foster spoke throughout New England.
Women made the clear connection between abolishing slavery and the need for womens rights. Sarah Grimké realized the links between the misuse of Scripture to endorse slavery and the demand for submission of women, and wrote about it. In 1840, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott attended the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London. After a long debate, male delegates voted to bar female participation, and women were refused seats. Stanton vowed action: "My experiences at the World Anti-Slavery Convention, all I had read of the legal status of women, and the oppression I saw everywhere, together swept across my soul, intensified by many personal experiences....I could not see what to do or where to begin--my only thought was a public meeting for protest and discussion." The first Womens Rights Convention was born.
Three hundred people gathered on July 19 and 20, 1848 at the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, New York, where Stanton read the Declaration of Sentiments--demands and resolutions that called for changes leading to womens full participation in every aspect of society. Among the 31 male attendees was Frederick Douglass, the former slave who advocated actively for the abolition of slavery and womens rights through public speaking, organizing, and use of his periodical The North Star. The struggle in the 1800s for womens rights and suffrage had begun with the leadership of Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Lucy Stone, Sojourner Truth, Martha Wright, Jane Hunt, and Mary Ann MClintock, soon to be joined by Susan B. Anthony, Frances Willard, Amelia Bloomer and hosts of others. Seventy-two years after this first convention, womens persistence and political organizing yielded results when the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granted women the right to vote.
Interpretation of the Bible was, and continues to be, central to the struggles around race and gender. Elizabeth Cady Stanton shocked both critics and supporters in 1895 when she published her Womans Bible, in which she removed all Scripture passages that she felt restricted the role of women, or implied their inferiority. Although her method did not gain acceptance, Stanton opened the door to womens thinking about the Bible in new ways.
In the 1860s to 1880s, Protestant women saw the need for mission evangelism among women and children whose needs for education, health care, skills, and training were largely neglected. Excluded from participating in their denominational mission boards and frustrated in their desire to do active mission work, women organized themselves into large, independent mission organizations. They developed schools, hospitals, orphanages and homes for immigrant girls, and sent missionaries to India, China, parts of Africa and Latin America.
Protestant missionary expansionism inspired by the revival movements paralleled in many ways the colonialist expansion to Africa, Asia, and Latin America by European countries and the United States. On the one hand, some missionaries resisted the worst aspects of colonialism in their commitment to spread the Gospel, and served in places that held no interest for colonialists. On the other hand, they sometimes transported American prejudices, and religious triumphalism, and participated in the destruction of indigenous culture that helped pave the way for Western domination. In all cases the lives of both the missionaries and the people they served were transformed by the message and experience of freedom in Christ-- sometimes in spite of greed, racism, sexism and arrogance.