When philanthropist Helen LaKelly Hunt discovered the spiritual depth that fueled the early American feminists of the 19th Century, she wasn’t particularly surprised. She had never really believed that feminism was a merely secular phenomenon as some of her peers asserted. She knew that it must have taken unusual strength of commitment to galvanize a movement that would eventually end slavery and give women the right to vote—which is exactly what a handful of women did.
In this informative conversation, Hunt talks with WIE senior editor Elizabeth Debold about her investigation into the spiritual roots of America’s first feminists. Hunt, author of Faith and Feminism: A Holy Alliance, gives an inspiring portrait of these courageous women who stepped outside the inhibiting roles society had prescribed for them. They began as abolitionists, daring to speak out against slavery and even facing a mob of angry opponents who set fire to their headquarters. In later years, it was the empathy they felt for the suffering of the slaves that ignited the recognition of their own inequality.
Filling in the picture of this little known chapter of American history, Hunt describes women’s lives under “the cult of true womanhood.” She introduces women such as Lucretia Mott, a prominent spokesperson who found inspiration in her Quaker practice of sitting in silence, and the mother-daughter duo of Grace and Sarah Douglas who were black leaders in this bi-racial effort. Bringing to life the spirited resolve of these overlooked women, Hunt makes it clear that their example is as timely now as it was nearly two hundred years ago.