On a warm July day in 1848 in Waterloo New York five quite ordinary women gathered around a tea table in Jane Hunt’s parlor to discuss their dissatisfaction with woman’s life in general. Led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, they decided to call for a Women’s Rights Convention to discuss the “social, civil and religious condition and rights of woman.” One of the women sipping tea that day was Martha Coffin Wright.
Martha Coffin was born in Boston on Christmas Day, 1806, the youngest child of Anna Folger and Thomas Coffin, a merchant and former Nantucket ship captain. The Coffin family moved to Philadelphia, and Martha received her education there at Quaker schools. In 1824 she married Peter Pelham, but Peter died in 1826, leaving Martha a young widow with an infant daughter to support. She moved to upstate New York to teach in a Quaker school, and married David Wright in 1829; the couple had six more children.
The work of Martha’s older sister Lucretia Coffin Mott often overshadowed hers; Lucretia was married to famous abolitionist James Mott, and was already active in the women’s rights movement when the Convention of 1848 was convened. But Martha’s contributions were no less sincere and important. She usually worked behind the scenes, organizing and presiding over women’s rights conventions, creating a platform for the speeches and activities of her sister and others, thus illustrating the importance of the unsung workers in the movement. She was an ardent abolitionist; before slavery was abolished the Wright home in Auburn, NY was an active stop on the Underground Railroad, and the family helped many escaped slaves find freedom in Canada.
In 1874 she was elected the President of the National Woman Suffrage Association and worked tirelessly for the woman suffrage movement until her death in 1875. Susan B. Anthony called her “clear-sighted, true and steadfast almost beyond all other women.”*
Happy Birthday, Martha Coffin Wright!
*Gurko, The Ladies of Seneca Falls, Pg. 258