Facial Hair Friday: Frederick Douglass, Woman Suffrage Activist

100 years ago in August, the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote, became law after decades of work from both female and male suffragists. Visit our website to learn more about the history of the woman suffrage movement. 

While Frederick Douglass is perhaps most well known as an abolitionist (and for his salt-and-pepper beard), he was also a champion of woman suffrage. 

Male allies were critical to woman suffrage, and while many men supported the movement by writing, speaking, or signing petitions in support of voting rights for women, Frederick Douglass did all of these.

Douglass was the only African American to attend the 1848 Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, NY. He spoke during the convention about women being born with equal rights to men and was one of 32 men to sign the convention’s Declaration of Sentiments.

Shortly after the convention, Douglass published the following editorial in an issue of his newspaper, the North Star:

In respect to political rights, we hold woman to be justly entitled to all we claim for man. We go farther, and express our conviction that all political rights which it is expedient for man to exercise, it is equally so for women. All that distinguishes man as an intelligent and accountable being, is equally true of woman; and if that government is only just which governs by the free consent of the governed, there can be no reason in the world for denying to woman the exercise of the elective franchise, or a hand in making and administering the laws of the land. Our doctrine is, that “Right is of no sex.” 

After the Civil War, Douglass, along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Lucretia Mott, founded the American Equal Rights Association to promote universal suffrage. When Congress began to consider a constitutional amendment to give Black males the right to vote, Douglass split with Stanton and Anthony. Stanton and Anthony opposed the amendment because it didn’t include voting rights for women; Douglass supported it knowing adding women would most likely doom the amendment’s already tenuous chance of passing. 

However, he continued to be a steadfast supporter of woman suffrage for the remainder of his life. On February 20, 1895, after returning to his house in Anacostia from a meeting of the National Council of Women in Washington, DC, Douglass died of a heart attack at age 77. It was another 25 years before a national woman suffrage amendment was passed.

Read more about Frederick Douglass in post Bienvenue à Port-au-Prince, Monsieur Douglass.

2 thoughts on “Facial Hair Friday: Frederick Douglass, Woman Suffrage Activist

  1. Douglass was definitely ahead of his time in terms of his thinking. It’s clear he shared some empathy and knew what it felt like to be marginalized in society. It’s sad that he fell short when it came time to stand with women in their final hour and opposed an ammendment that would have given them the right to vote 25 years earlier. I’m not saying that it’s clear one way or another whether or not African American people wouldn’t have been given the right to vote at the time, but it was clearly a defining moment in which he felt his ultimate agenda for African Americans would be compromised by supporting Anthony & Stanton.

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