19th at 100: Commemorating the Suffrage Struggle and Its Legacies in Northeast Ohio


When Frances Wright began speaking out against slavery in the 1820s, she was mocked. This political cartoonist called her “a downright gabbler, or a goose that deserves to be hissed.” But Wright didn’t just speak out against slavery; she bought land in Nashoba, Tennessee to create a refuge for freed slaves. Though the community was not successful, her speaking engagements drew huge crowds, and her message of equal rights provoked controversy. “Equality is the soul of liberty; there is in fact no liberty without it,” she declared. When Wright spoke about women’s rights, however, she didn’t focus on suffrage. Instead, she argued the women ought to be freed from marriage, since the laws of the time subsumed wives’ legal identity under their husbands’ name, denying them rights such as owning property and keeping their wages. Wright’s ideas were radical for the time, and while she inspired famous suffragists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, she spooked most of the conservative audiences who heard her. 

It is not clear how much women in northeast Ohio knew of Wright, since she retired in Cincinnati, Ohio. But reform movements in the area began to grow. The president of Western Reserve College, Charles Storrs, spoke out against slavery in 1833. In 1835, Oberlin College became the first college in the United States to allow people of color and women to attend classes, although women could not earn degrees until the 1840s. Noted suffragists Lucy Stone and Antoinette Brown (later Blackwell) met there and became lifelong friends. Many of the suffragists from northeast Ohio were first abolitionists, and their activism drew more women to join both the cause for equality for black people and for women. 

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