Truth-Telling: Frances Willard and Ida B. Wells

19th Century Reform Movements

The three main nineteenth century social reform movements – abolition, temperance, and women’s rights – were linked together and shared many of the same leaders. Its members, many of whom were evangelical Protestants, saw themselves as advocating for social change in a universal way. Though they may have focused on one reform rather than another, leaders in all three movements were connected and shared ideas and strategies. Temperance and abolition were tied through the connection of the global slave trade to the trade in alcohol – and the need to abolish both of them together.

In the years immediately preceding the Civil War, the abolition movement took center stage and was the main focus of reform work. Leaders in both the temperance and women’s rights movements consciously stepped aside while anti-slavery work took precedence.

After the war concluded the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments abolished slavery, guaranteed citizenship for black men, and prohibited denying citizens the right to vote on the basis of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. Many abolitionists now saw their work as completed and moved on to focus on other reform needs. Some women’s rights activists who had been abolitionists felt that it was unfair that restrictions on voting and other rights for African-American men had been removed, while remaining in place for women. They turned their attention to gaining suffrage for women and fighting other legal and social restrictions on women’s lives.

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