(WOMENSENEWS)–Pennsylvania Hall was a splendid gas-lit building in Philadelphia, with “Virtue, Liberty, Independence” spelled out in gold letters over its stage. It was an appropriate venue for celebrating the values of the American Revolution in the city that claimed to be its birthplace. But by 1838, a movement was underway demanding that the Republic live up to those values–that “liberty” apply to humans being held in bondage and that “independence” describe the political status of women. The anti-slavery movement combined two great “causes”–abolishing slavery and promoting women’s rights.
The fiery speaker Abigail Kelley Foster announced that she refused to pay taxes on her farm because it was taxation without representation. The next day, Angelina Grimke, a white Southerner who denounced slavery, came to the platform. Outside, a mob of angry white men had been gathering.
“Do you ask what has the North to do with slavery?” Grimke said. “Hear it, hear it! Those voices without tell us that the spirit of slavery is here . . . “
“Fire!” someone shouted. Grimke kept speaking as flame licked the walls, but escaped before the building burned down.
Louise Bernikow is the author of nine books, including “The American Women’s Almanac.” She takes her women’s history slide show to communities and campuses all over the country.