Caroline Severance and Women's Rights Associations
Cleveland resident Caroline Seymour Severance also actively participated in the temperance, abolition, and women’s rights movements, probably influenced by her husband’s socially and politically active Severance family. But it was Sojourner Truth’s fiery words at the 1851 Ohio state convention that drew her to help found the Ohio Women’s Rights Association and lead their first convention in 1853. A year later, Severance spoke to the Ohio legislature, advocating for women’s rights to inherit property and control their wages.
While female activists continued to speak, write, and organize locally in the years leading up to the Civil War, no national women’s rights movements emerged until after the war ended. Severance was part of helping Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and other reformers to found the American Equal Rights Association (AERA), an association that formed in the foment over the 14th amendment, which introduced sex discrimination into the Constitution for the first time. From 1866-1867, the AERA agitated on behalf of universal suffrage for women and people of color alike, working in multiple states to remove sex discrimination from their constitutions. Over the next decade, however, the organization became increasingly divided over suffrage activism and eventually split in May of 1869. Later that month, Anthony and Stanton formed the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), which focused primarily on gaining suffrage for women through a federal amendment. On the other hand, Lucy Stone, Henry Brown Blackwell, and Julia Ward Howe formed the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA), focused first on both black suffrage and female suffrage (the latter largely through changes to state constitutions). Severance allied herself with the AWSA, attending the first convention held in Cleveland on November 24-25, 1869, and helping to organize support for the association. Throughout the 1870s, local suffrage groups sprang up in Ohio, numbering about 31 by the end of the decade.