By Julia Flynn, Evanston Women’s History Project, Research Volunteer
In the late 1860’s, the Civil War had ended and the Reconstruction Era was well under way, attempting to redress the inequalities arising from the legacy of slavery. The Fourteenth Amendment passed in 1868 recognizing all US-born and naturalized individuals, including slaves emancipated after the Civil War, as U.S. Citizens. This, combined with anticipation of the Fifteenth Amendment, granting the vote to all U.S. Citizens, led to the emergence of two camps within the woman’s suffrage movement. Many, including the American Woman’s Suffrage Association (AWSA), continued to support the Fifteenth Amendment. Others, including the National Woman’s Suffrage Association (NWSA), withdrew support for the Fifteenth Amendment, which they believed sacrificed the right of women to give the vote to recently emancipated men alone.
Although suffrage meetings and conventions had been held in the U.S. for several decades, it was February 1869 when the first suffrage conventions were held in Chicago. Two conventions were held in the city, at the same time, on February 11th and 12th. One by the Sorosis Club at Crosby’s Music Hall and the other by the Illinois Woman’s Suffrage Association (IWSA) at Library Hall. One important result of these conventions was the formation of the first statewide suffrage organization in Illinois – the Illinois Woman’s Suffrage Association. For the purposes of this post, the IWSA convention will be the focus, as a particular speaker, Naomi Talbert Anderson, is worthy of being put in the spotlight again.
Naomi Bowman Talbert Anderson was born in 1843 in Michigan City, Indiana to one of only two black families in the town. Her mother fought to have Naomi admitted to the local school where she developed a skill for writing poetry. Sadly, her father didn’t share the same regard for education and, after Naomi’s mother died, he withdrew her from school to help with family and domestic responsibilities. At twenty, she married and moved to Chicago with her husband and quickly became involved in temperance and women’s suffrage. She spoke eloquently on the second day of the suffrage convention and said she represented “colored” women of Chicago and Illinois. She argued passionately that “she was an American because she was born in this country and was true to the starry banner,” deserving of the right to vote.
Proceedings of the conventions were published in Chicago newspapers and unfortunately some misinformation was reported. Anderson played a key role in correcting the record, though at significant personal cost. It was widely reported that a speaker at the convention, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, had said she did not want black men to vote without white women being afforded the same right. Anderson wrote to the Chicago Tribune, setting the record straight that Stanton had actually implored black men not to oppose women’s suffrage, citing references from the Bible in related to universal suffrage. Anderson suffered private and public backlash but remained committed to the fight for universal suffrage.
A slew of personal tragedies befell Anderson and, prioritizing the welfare of her family, she was forced to leave Chicago. Fighting for equality and women’s rights remained a passion and she continued to give lectures, write books and submit articles to further the cause. She died in 1899.
Text of Talbert’s Speech as printed in The Revolution, March 4, 1869 (page 139).
‘A Colored Woman’s Voice’
“I present myself to you as a composition of humanity, for there flows through my veins a combination of the blood of four distinct nations, of which the greater part is Dutch, part Indian, part African and the lesser part Irish. I am an American because I was born here. I am true because I love the dear old flag. I am on the right side of the question, because I believe woman was made a helpmate for man; that he is but half a man without woman, and you need her help as well in political affairs as you do in private or domestic affairs. And gentlemen, I warn you no longer to stand out in refusing the right for which we contend; in trying to withhold from these noble ladies here and their darker sisters the franchise they now demand.
Miss Anthony and Mrs Stanton, with their high moral and intellectual power have shaken the states of New England and the shock is felt here to-day. The echo comes back from St Louis and all through the west; a sensation is aroused in England; and soon the whole world will be awakened to a sense of the value and importance of our cause. Woman has a power within herself, and the God that reigns above, who command Moses to lead the children of Israel from out the land of Egypt, from out the house of bondage, who walked the waters of the Red Sea, who endowed Samson with power to slay his enemies with the jaw-bone of an ass, who furnished Abraham Lincoln with knowledge to write the emancipation proclamation, whereby four millions of blacks were set free – that God, our God is with and for us and will hear the call of woman, and her rights will be granted, and she shall be permitted to vote.”
Given February 11, 1869
Talbert, N. Chicago Tribune (1860-1872); Chicago, Ill. [Chicago, Ill] March 8, 1869
The Revolution March 4, 1869