Wednesday Oct 15. Julia has been here again to day and fitted
the waist to Susans dress and got my dress so
that I can finish it Have been to the sewing
Circle to Mrs Elijah Howards. Lavinia came
home with us and went back with Oakes A.
and Frank to spend the evening Mrs J Willis
buried in the new cemetery funeral in the
meeting house I did not attend it
In Worcester today, some fifty miles north and west of Easton, the National Women’s Rights Convention opened in the same Brinley Hall that it had been held in the previous year. A roster of high profile figures, including Lucy Stone, Lucretia Mott and Pauline Kellogg Wright Davis, oversaw the two-day event which covered such topics as suffrage, equal pay and marriage reform. Guest speakers included abolitionists Wendell Phillips and Lloyd Garrison, and feminist Ernestine Rose, who spoke passionately against the secondary legal and emotional status of married women:
“At marriage she loses her entire identity, and her being is said to have become merged in her husband. Has nature thus merged it? Has she ceased to exist and feel pleasure and pain? When she violates the laws of her being, does her husband pay the penalty? When she breaks the moral law does he suffer the punishment? When he satisfies his wants, is it enough to satisfy her nature?…What an inconsistency that from the moment she enters the compact in which she assumes the high responsibility of wife and mother, she ceases legally to exist and becomes a purely submissive being. Blind submission in women is considered a virtue, while submission to wrong is itself wrong, and resistance to wrong is virtue alike in women as in man.”*
Was Evelina aware of this potent gathering in Worcester? Did she have any interest in the issues being debated? Did she ever resent her secondary legal status, or wish to vote? At no point in her diary did she write about women’s rights; she made no mention of the convention. She was not a feminist and yet, by participating in the monthly Sewing Circle, which she did today, she and others inadvertently proved the point that women could meet independent of men and, on their own accord, do work that addressed existing social concerns. In her generation, she was doing something her mother never would have done. In a modest way, she helped strike a path for women to move outside their strict, domestic realm. As modern historian Carolyn Lawes has stated, “Through the sewing circle women laid claim to the right to participate in the political and social development of the community, the nation, and the world.” **
Meanwhile, far from the foment in Worcester, Old Oliver “finisht the dam to day at the great pond.”
•Brandeis University. Women’s Studies Research Center.Ernestine Rose’s speech at the Women’s Rights Convention in Worcester, Massachusetts in October 15, 1851. Retrieved on April 1, 2009.
**Carolyn Lawes, Women and Reform in a New England Community 1815 – 1860, University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, KY, 1999