Religion and the Suffrage Movement
The 1848 Seneca Falls convention is typically seen as the start of the U.S. women’s suffrage movement. But the roots of feminism can be found in church-based movements, like evangelicalism, abolitionism, missions, and philanthropic societies.
Faith communities provided crucial support to women's emancipation efforts. When twelve women founded the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association (MWSA) in 1881, they gathered at the First Presbyterian Church of Hastings. Churches, chapels, and synagogues provided meeting space and organizing networks. Many women honed their organizing skills in church auxiliaries and learned to fund-raise in missionary societies. Sunday sermons provided oratorical models.
Minneapolis's Unitarian, Methodist, Congregational, Swedenborgian and Christian Scientist churches frequently opened their doors to suffrage events. These Christian denominations took a more progressive stance on women's public roles. According to a list of the ministers of Minneapolis churches assembled by MWSA in 1911, the Episcopalian, Lutheran, and Catholic pastors were less supportive.
One of the most frequently used spaces was the Unitarian Church at Eighth Street and Mary Place, between Nicollet and Hennepin. The congregation hosted traveling lecturers and fund-raising events. On April 4, 1900, the MWSA used the space for an intercollegiate oratorical contest to get young people interested in suffrage (first prize was $25.) When Susan B. Anthony died in March 1906, the Unitarian Church hosted a memorial service for her.
MWSA also sponsored speaking appearances by celebrity preachers who supported suffrage. In 1911, they paid the expenses of the famous Rev. R. J. Campbell, from London's City Temple, when he spoke at St. Paul's Park Congregational Church.