Frederick Douglass was one of the few men present at the pioneer woman’s rights convention held at Seneca Falls, New York, in July 1848. His support of women’s rights never wavered although in 1869 he publicly disagreed with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony who called for women’s suffrage simultaneously with voting rights for black men, arguing that prejudice and violence against black men made their need for the franchise more pressing. Nonetheless, Douglass remained a constant champion of the right of women to vote. In April 1888, in a speech before the International Council of Women, in Washington, D.C., Douglass recalls his role at the Seneca Falls convention although he insists that women rather than men should be the primary spokespersons for the movement. The full text of his speech appears below.
Mrs. President, Ladies and Gentlemen:— I come to this platform with unusual diffidence. Although I have long been identified with the Woman’s Suffrage movement, and have often spoken in its favor, I am somewhat at a loss to know what to say on this really great and uncommon occasion, where so much has been said.
When I look around on this assembly, and see the many able and eloquent women, full of the subject, ready to speak, and who only need the opportunity to impress this audience with their views and thrill them with “thoughts that breathe and words that burn,” I do not feel like taking up more than a very small space of your time and attention, and shall not. I would not, even now, presume to speak, but for the circumstance of my early connection with the cause, and of having been called upon to do so by one whose voice in this Council we all gladly obey. Men have very little business here as speakers, anyhow; and if they come here at all they should take back benches and wrap themselves in silence. For this is an International Council, not of men, but of women, and woman should have all the say in it. This is her day in court. I do not mean to exalt the intellect of woman above