Constitution of the Massachusetts Female Emancipation Society

Constitution of the Massachusetts Female Emancipation Society. Abolition, Women's Activism.
Constitution of the Massachusetts Female Emancipation Society
Constitution of the Massachusetts Female Emancipation Society
Constitution of the Massachusetts Female Emancipation Society
One of the only surviving documents from a group committed to diverse membership and intersectional activism
Constitution of the Massachusetts Female Emancipation Society

[Boston]: [N.P.], [1840]. First edition. Bifolium, 2 printed pages on recto and verso. Uniformly toned, with two small snags affecting two words on page 1. Horizontal fold lines. A pleasing example of an exceedingly scarce activist document, which has appeared once at auction (over a decade ago) and is unrecorded in OCLC. The present is the only copy on the market and poses a unique opportunity for studying the group's founding ideas and membership. "Many of the sources and documents connected to the Massachusetts Female Emancipation Society have been lost or are not legible" (Hansen).

Emerging out of the chaos and in-fighting that disbanded the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society (1833-1840), the Massachusetts Female Emancipation Society was founded by a splinter faction of women who remained committed to an inclusive membership and an intersectional mission. The present is the earliest governing document for this group, laying the foundations of what would become a highly effective and influential activist organization. And it is one of the few of such documents to survive. "Many of the sources and documents connected to the Massachusetts Female Emancipation Society have been lost or are not legible, so exact dates are difficult to find on when the group formally disbanded" (Hansen).

Chafing at the socio-economic privileges touted by a majority of BFAS members, the women of the MFES were largely middle or lower income white and Black women from a wide set of age ranges. These demographics were reflected in their membership, with the present governing document not only declaring that "any lady may become a member," but also in their leadership, with Lucy M. Ball and Julia Rugg as inaugural officers. Ultimately, the Constitution reveals a more populist approach to activism, "pointedly reinscribing the language from the BFAS constitution that emphasized the importance of 'freely given' opinions and of majority vote" (Jeffreys). In part due to their more diverse experiences, the women of the MFES also committed from the start to take a broad view of emancipation and to "aid and assist in this righteous cause as far as lies in our power." This meant that while the immediate abolition of slavery was of the utmost importance, they also sought to improve life for women oppressed by other white supremacist or misogynist systems. Fighting for "rights and privileges of motherhood and womanhood that [Black] women were being denied," they founded educational assistance programs and family charities, including taking over the Samaritan Asylum for Colored Indigent Children; and recognizing how all women were affected by limited economic and legal options, they founded houses "to assist prostitutes and homeless women" (Hansen).

A critical founding document, one of few such to survive, from an important group committed in word and action to intersectional activism.
Near Fine (Item #4377)

Price: $6,750