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Frederick Douglass to Gerrit Smith, January 1, 1856


Rochester[, N.Y.] 1 January 1856.



Your letter1 Douglass alludes to a 1 December 1855 letter from Gerrit Smith to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, which was printed as a public circular. Stanton had earlier questioned Smith on his support for women’s rights, and Smith replied that that movement was ill prepared for the work to be done: “It is not in the proper hands; the proper hands are not to be found. The present age, although in advance of any former age, is nevertheless very far from being sufficiently under the sway of reason to take up the cause of woman and carry it forward to success.” Smith went on to endorse dress reform and woman suffrage, but despaired that most women reformers were still too timid to battle for such radical reforms. Harlow, Gerrit Smith, 106–07. has made quite a flutter among the long Skirts—and I fear the consequences. Mrs Gage2Matilda Joslyn Gage (1826-98), a suffragist and author, was born in Cicero, New York. She was exposed to reform movements early in life, since her family’s home served as a gathering place for suffragists, abolitionists, and temperance activists, as well as a stop on the Underground Railroad. Gage attended the Clinton Liberal Institute and eventually settled in Fayetteville, New York, with her husband, Henry, a successful dry goods merchant. She began her public activism as a suffragist at the National Women’s Rights Convention in Syracuse, in 1852. Gage befriended Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who encouraged her to lecture and organize support for the women’s rights movement. An original member of the National Woman Suffrage Association and the New York State Woman Suffrage Association, Gage became vice president and secretary of the latter in 1869, and the president of both in 1875. In 1870 she published the pamphlet Woman as Inventor, which credited women with inventing the cotton gin, medical science, and bread. Along with Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, she drafted the Woman’s Declaration of Rights in 1876, and the three coauthored the first three volumes of the magisterial six-volume History of Woman Suffrage (New York, 1881–1922). She campaigned for Ulysses S. Grant in 1872, and tried unsuccessfully to vote for him. Throughout her career, she published extensively, promoting the suffrage movement and calling attention to what she believed to be the inherently misogynistic nature of the doctrines of Christianity. Leila R. Brammer, Excluded from Suffrage History: Matilda Joslyn Gage, Nineteenth-Century American Feminist (Westport, Conn., 2000); Edward T. James et al., eds., Notable American Women, 1607–1950: A Biographical Dictionary, 3 vols. (Cambridge, Mass., 1971), 2:4–6 Seems to think that Mrs Stanton3Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815–1902) was the best-known feminist of her day. Born in Johnstown, New York, and educated at Emma Willard’s Troy Female Seminary, Stanton developed an interest in abolition and other reforms during visits to the home of her cousin Gerrit Smith. Stanton become determined to advance the status of women when she and other female delegates were barred from the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840. Eight years later, Stanton, along with Lucretia Mott, organized the first-ever women’s rights convention, held in Seneca Falls, New York, where Stanton had settled with her husband, Henry B. Stanton, the antislavery politician. During Reconstruction, she opposed the ratification of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments because they granted equal rights and suffrage to black males but ignored all females. She publicly expressed these opinions in the Revolution, the woman suffrage weekly that she edited with Parker Pillsbury, and on the platform of the National Woman Suffrage Association, which she and Susan B. Anthony founded in 1869. Besides presiding over the last organization for more than two decades, Stanton wrote numerous articles and several books, including the multivolume History of Woman Suffrage, in collaboration with Anthony and Matilda Gage. Alma Lutz, Created Equal: A Biography of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 1815–1902 (New York, 1940); Lois W. Banner, Elizabeth Cady Stanton: A Radical for Woman’s Rights (Boston, 1980); NAW, 3:342–47. is not a match for you, and Summons all the sisterhood to Stand forth against the common foe. If but one in a thousand Shall respond to her call, my poor paper will have little room for aught else than their Contributions. I Shall publish Mrs—Stanton’s this week—and draw the Curtain. In truth, I think you were was a little hard upon us all in that letter—Yet I cannot Say more against it—than that it was the truth over Strongly Stated. I have just returned from a Short tour in Ohio—I have had good meetings. Accept from me the heartiest Compliments of the Season—for yourself and Dear family, Yours most truly FREDERICK DOUGLASS—

[P. S.] I leave home to Spend a month in lecturing, in Maine—Saturday—

ALS: Gerrit Smith Papers, NSyU.



Douglass, Frederick, 1818-1895


January 1, 1856


Yale University Press 2018


Gerritt Smith Manuscripts, Syracuse University



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