Models for Reformation: The Women’s Suffrage Movement (1800s)

Coupled with the abolitionist movement was a growing women’s rights movement, which demanded that the same rights guaranteed in the Constitution to men be extended to women also. The women’s movement in America was birthed out of the ranks of the abolitionists. As Christian women began to speak out for the rights of blacks in their country, they began to realize that they, too, were victims of slavery.

In a recent study of 51 of the major women leaders of the abolition-feminist movement, 48 came from Christian backgrounds.1 Some of these women included Lucretia Mott, an evangelical Quaker who helped to found the Anti-Slavery Society in 1833; Angelina Grimké, who presented female anti-slavery petitions to the Massachusetts state legislature; as well as Lucy Stone and Susan B. Anthony.

Popularized by New Awakening evangelicals, the women’s movement gained momentum when people began to realize that there was no biblical support for inequality between the sexes. In Jesus’ encounter with Mary and Martha, they found proof that Jesus valued women’s roles as disciples. Jesus’ rebuke to Martha clearly showed that women were not to be relegated to works of service toward men.2

In the fifth chapter of Genesis, they found evidence that God had created men and women as equals: “In the day when God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female, and He blessed them and named them ‘Man’ in the day when they were created.“3

The fight for justice and equality was the direct result of action taken by those with a Christian worldview. Most of these women suffered mistreatment, yet their courageous stance was shaped by a biblical view of sin and righteousness. They were willing to risk their honor to take up the work of both abolition and women’s suffrage.

They often pointed to the example of Jesus who died to bring salvation to the world. Their great courage and willingness to sacrifice was expressed in the words of Lucy Stone, writing in a letter to her mother, “Without the shedding of blood, there is not remission for sin.“4

1 Blanche Glassman Hersh, The Slavery of Sex: Feminist-Abolitionists in America (Urbana: University of Illinois, 1978), p. 138.
2 Luke 10:38-41.
3 Genesis 5:1,2.
4 Ibid, p. 84.

2 Comments

Thank you so much for this post! I’ve been doing some study of the influence of Jesus on Western culture. This is great! Thanks again!

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