Women's Rights
Special History Study
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When Jane Hunt invited Elizabeth Cady Stanton to take tea with her on July 13, 1848, she certainly had no idea that she would end the day as one of the originators of this country's first Women's Rights Convention. Indeed, her mind was probably more preoccupied with the acrimonious debate then dividing the local Quakers in which she and her three other afternoon guests were deeply embroiled. Relatively little is known about Jane Hunt, but her involvement with Waterloo's Progressive Quakers, and her husband's well-known social and commercial activities help to explain their sympathy for the early women's rights movement, and their active involvement in it.

Richard P. Hunt first arrived in Waterloo in 1821 as a 24-year-old Quaker settler from Westchester, New York. [1] Waterloo at the time was a burgeoning settlement of 500 inhabitants with an optimistic future. (See Appendix I and Appendix K.) There were three flour mills on the Seneca River, three sawmills, a distillery, six taverns, and six stores. [2] Hoping to take advantage of the brisk traffic in and out of the Eagle Tavern on the corner of Main and Virginia Streets, Hunt established Waterloo's seventh store in the tavern's front room. [3] He stocked his store with dry goods he had brought with him, and presumably took a partner, for the store was known as Hunt & Hoyt's. [4] Hunt must have been a very persuasive salesman, or else he had brought a sizeable nest egg with him, for he soon began to acquire additional property and assume a prominent place among Waterloo's leading citizens.

In 1823, he moved out of the Eagle tavern and built himself a new frame store with attached living quarters on the site where the Semtner Building now stands. [5] That same year, he married Matilda Kendig, the daughter of another early Waterloo settler. In 1824, he was one of the six town representatives who submitted a successful petition to the state legislature requesting the incorporation of the settlement as the village of Waterloo. [6]

These were not particularly easy years for the new village, as widespread sickness and overspeculation in business and real estate ventures began to take their toll. One local historian noted that "from the number of mortgage, foreclosure and sheriff sales advertised in the papers between these dates, [1817-1827] the people had a hard struggle to keep the improvements they made." [7]

Richard Hunt had apparently found a way to profit from the unsettled times, however, because by 1829 he had acquired enough capital to enable him to sell his business and concentrate on more lucrative commercial and real estate ventures. He sold his store and stock to Elijah Quinby and his brother-in-law D.S. Kendig, and began building his impressive new brick home on the outskirts of the village. [8] (See Illustration 11.) Through a series of shrewd business deals, he soon owned most of the land in the eastern half of town. [9] The home farm alone encompassed 145-1/2 acres at the time of his death in 1856. [10]

Hunt House
Illustration 11. Undated 19th century view of Hunt House. SFHS #1309.

During the 1830s Hunt began making significant improvements on the properties he owned. In 1836, he constructed a three-store commercial block on Main Street, adding two more next to it in 1854 and 1856-1858. [11] (All three buildings are still standing today and are generally known as the Semtner Block, the Odd Fellows Building, and the Mazzoli Building. See Illustration 12.) In that same year, he also became the principal stockholder and managing partner in the new Waterloo Woolen Manufacturing Company. [12]

Commercial blocks
Illustration 12. Commercial blocks built by Richard Hunt in Waterloo. All three are still standing. From A History of Waterloo, John Becker.

Hunt was the major supporter of this company, and is generally given the credit for its conception and subsequent success. It became a vital component of the Waterloo economy for the next hundred years, operating as a textile plant until 1936. [13] (One of the buildings is still in use today as Evans Chemetics.) The establishment of the mill was a risky venture in such a far off rural area, and Hunt had to call upon all his vaunted powers of persuasion to interest investors in the scheme. He also had to convince local farmers of course, that it would be worth their while to raise sheep to provide the raw material for the factory. His arguments must have been convincing, for the mill was soon a bustling success, processing raw wool into finished cloth. One early resident remembered that "it was no incommon sight to see fifty teams at a time standing around the grounds of the company, waiting for their turn to be served. People came from Monroe, Genesee, Ontario, Wayne, Yates, Cayuga and other counties, as well as our own, with wool, for which they received cash or goods in return." [14]

In addition to developing his many commercial ventures, Richard Hunt actively participated in local governmental proceedings. At various times he served as treasurer for the tax assessor's board, was named the first superintendent of the town of Junius, and sat on the Board of Trustees for the Waterloo Academy. In addition to these responsibilities, he was the first vice-president of the Seneca County bank and on its Board of Directors from 1833-1844. [15]

At first glance, Richard Hunt could be the archetypical early 19th century entrepreneur who made a personal fortune on the western frontier through shrewd business deals and extensive land speculation. Such a judgment would be incorrect though, for Hunt was much more than just a country schemer out to make as much money as the situation would allow. Hunt's firm commitment to liberal Quaker philosophies gave meaning to all of his multitudinous interests.

No one in Waterloo, least of all Hunt himself, could claim that he was not a wealthy man. (See "Architectural Survey of Women's Rights National Historical Park" for 1856 inventory of Hunt estate.) Early residents remembered how his large brick home was "one of the social centers of the vicinity. On occasion the equipages of the so called 'better families' of Waterloo and neighboring villages, with their well groomed horses, shiny harnesses, and attending footmen, thronged the approaches to and roadways near the Hunt homestead, bringing the 'elite' to parties and social gatherings." [16]

Few seemed to begrudge the Hunts their success, for it was commonly acknowledged that they returned to the village as much as they received. Richard Hunt's three commercial blocks were the pride of the downtown area, and the woolen mill had revitalized the local economy. One commentator paid a tribute to Hunt's public service by asserting that he always "used his dividends [from the mill] in making improvements in other parts of the village." [17]

He also noted that Hunt made special efforts to provide housing for the laborers and their families who had been attracted to the area by his mills. He built substantial homes on the many lots he owned about town, and arranged low interest, long term payment schedules for his buyers. It was said that he "sold more [homes] to machinists and laborers on time, than any one man here." [18]

Hunt and at least the last three of his four wives, were radical Quakers who firmly believed in the power of practical humanitarianism and social reform. When the "Great Separation" of 1827 occurred, dividing Quakers into Orthodox and Hicksite groups, the Hunts associated themselves with the more liberal Hicksites. The break had occurred over several issues, but the main conflict was over Elias Hicks' assertion that an individual's conscience constituted a personal communion with God, and that its dictates therefore took precedence over any which the Society's Elders might impose. The issue which had brought this disagreement to a head was slavery.

Strong abolitionists, such as Hicks and Lucretia and James Mott, felt compelled by their consciences to fight actively the evils of slavery through any means at their disposal—lecturing, petitioning, or the refusal to buy goods produced through slave labor. The Philadelphia Elders disapproved of this involvement with the "outside world," and sought to discipline the more liberal members of the Society. Refusing to abandon their belief in "practical righteousness" for the sake of theological conformity, the Hicksites disassociated themselves from the Philadelphia Society and formed new, vigorously reform-minded meetings. [19]

It was with one of these Hicksite Meetings that Richard Hunt, and presumably his first two wives, associated themselves in Waterloo. From the very earliest years of its settlement, Waterloo had attracted Quaker families. The first Quaker Meeting was established in the area sometime between 1803 and 1806 (the sources disagree on this point), and was apparently composed of the members of three to six separate families. [20] As more Friends moved into the area, the small pioneer meeting was formally organized into the Junius Monthly Meeting of the Farmington Quarterly Meeting, a member of the Genesee Yearly Meeting. When the Hicksite separation occurred, the Junius Meeting adopted the Hicksite stance.

Inherent in the Hicksite position was involvement in practical reform. Less concerned with doctrines and worship services, the Hicksites advocated active commitment to effect widespread social reform. Though their main concern was the abolishment of slavery, they also worked on behalf of the various reform movements of the day: temperance, women's rights, humane treatment for prisoners, and numerous others. As a fervent Hicksite, Richard Hunt was at the forefront of Quaker activity in Waterloo. One individual bluntly described him as "a rather belligerant Quaker who believed in accomplishment." [21]

In addition to his myriad humanitarian efforts among the Waterloo residents, he was said to have maintained a room in his carriage house for the use of weary or needy travelers passing along the Seneca Turnpike which ran in front of his house. When the Underground Railroad was established to assist runaway slaves to reach freedom in Canada, this room above the carriage house was reportedly turned into a way station where numerous fugitive slaves waited to make their dash for freedom. [22]

As the agitation over the slavery issue grew in the 1840s, a new controversy began to divide the Quakers of the Junius Meeting. A prime figure in this episode was Thomas McClintock, Richard Hunt's latest brother-in-law. After his first wife died in 1832, Hunt had married Ann Underhill, who unfortunately, had died only five months later. In September of 1837, he took a third wife, Sarah McClintock, the sister of Thomas McClintock. [23]

McClintock had moved to Waterloo from Philadelphia in 1835-1836 with his wife, son, and four daughters. We do not know when Hunt and Sarah McClintock first met, whether she came to Waterloo with her brother and first met him there, or whether they knew each other from an earlier meeting elsewhere. In any case, they were soon wed, and Thomas McClintock was comfortably settled in a store and a house both of which he rented from his new brother-in-law.

Thomas McClintock was a Hicksite Quaker minister, and a Biblical scholar of some renown. He had played a prominent part in the Hicksite schism in Philadelphia, and would now be at the center of another split among the Waterloo Quakers. As liberal as the Hicksites were, McClintock, Hunt, and many other members of the Junius Meeting felt that they were still not doing enough to effect the necessary social and political reforms.

They were particularly upset by the refusal of certain Quakers in the Farmington Monthly Meeting to open their meeting houses to abolitionist speakers, and asked the Meeting to look into the matter:

Being satisfied that in some parts of this monthly meeting our meeting houses have been closed against the friend of the slave, and also against the slave himself, and feeling that so doing is wrong in every possible light we can view it and a very great reproach to our profession of Christianity, we wish the monthly meeting to take the subject into consideration, and if way opens, refer the subject to a committee. [24]

Much to their dismay, the proposition was tabled for one month, and the subject "dismissed for the present." [25] Similar resolutions and letters expressing concern over the lack of social commitment in the community were ignored or dismissed by the Elders. After several years of agitation and disagreements, the issue finally came to a head at the Yearly Meeting in 1848. The McClintocks, the Hunts, and about 200 other sympathizers walked out of the Yearly Meeting and proceeded to establish the radical Meeting known as the Congregational or Progressive Quakers. [26] It is important to look at what these militant Quakers believed, as four of the women who organized the Seneca Falls Convention and at least a quarter of the signers of the Declaration of Sentiments were members of this group. They were obviously particularly receptive to the idea of women's rights.

Six months after the walkout at the Yearly Meeting, the Progressive Quakers adopted the "Basis of Religious Association" as their guideline. [27] (See Appendix G.) The "Basis" had been written by Thomas McClintock and advocated an exceedingly liberal, universalist type of religious association. According to McClintock, the sole object of religion was "the promotion of rightousness—of practical goodness—love to God and man." [28] Man needed no ministers, liturgies, or doctrines to accomplish this. True spirituality was not praying in a church, but going out and working for the practical reform and betterment of the world. The Progressives did not restrict their Association to Quakers only but openly welcomed "all who seek truth . . . without distinction of sex, creed, or color. We open our doors to all who wish to unite with us in promoting peace and good will among men. We ask all who are striving to elevate humanity to come here and stand with us on equal terms." [29] They also took the pains to note that "women are by nature entitled to equality with men in all the relations of human life, whether social, civil, religious, educational, or pecuniary." [30]

This then was the philosophy which activated the four Quaker women meeting with Elizabeth Cady Stanton in Jane Hunt's parlor on July 13. Equal rights for women was an issue with which they were already acquainted, and on which they held strong views. Stanton's frustration and determination found a sympathetic audience in the reform-minded Quaker women gathered around the Hunt's tea table.

We do not know when Elizabeth Cady Stanton first met the Hunts. She probably never knew Sarah McClintock Hunt, for by the time that Stanton arrived in Seneca Falls in 1847, Sarah Hunt had already died, leaving Richard Hunt a widower for the third time. The 48-year-old Hunt waited three years before remarrying again in 1845 to Jane Master, a Quaker from Philadelphia who was 15 years his junior. [31] In 1848, the Hunt family consisted of three young children from Hunt's third marriage, (a nine-year-old boy, an eight-year-old girl, and a seven-year-old girl) and a year-old baby boy. [32] Jane Hunt would later bear two more children, a boy and a girl, and survive her husband by 33 years. [33] At least in the area of child rearing burdens, she could fully identify with Elizabeth Cady Stanton. (See Illustrations 13 and 14.)

Jane Hunt Richard Hunt
Illustration 13. Jane Hunt. From A History of Waterloo, John Becker. Illustration 14. Richard Hunt. From A History of Waterloo, John Becker.

Stanton was apparently much in the habit of visiting back and forth with the Quaker families of Waterloo, for it was there that she claimed she found "the most congenial associations." [34] Knowing of her friend's special interest in reform movements and personalities, Jane Hunt invited Elizabeth to spend the afternoon of July 13 at her house when Lucretia Mott and several other Quaker women would also be there. [35] Stanton had been a deep admirer of Mott ever since she had first met her at the 1840 World Anti-Slavery Convention in London. Mott and the other women delegates had been deeply humiliated at that Convention when they were not allowed to participate because of their sex. Stanton recalled that "As the convention adjourned, the remark was heard on all sides, 'It is about time some demand was made for new liberties for women.' As Mrs. Mott and I walked home arm, in arm, commenting on the incidents of the day, we resolved to hold a convention as soon as we returned home, and form a society to advocate the rights of women." [36]

Between family cares and attention to other reform movements, the proposed convention was never organized. As soon as Elizabeth Cady Stanton saw her old friend in Waterloo again, however, she immediately returned to the issue they had so passionately discussed eight years before. Stanton's views were, if anything, even more fervent now, as her recent careworn life in Seneca Falls had forcibly brought home to her the injustice of her position as a woman. She recalled in her autobiography that "I poured out, that day, the torrent of my long-accumulating discontent, with such vehemence and indignation that I stirred myself, as well as the rest of the party, to do and dare anything . . . we decided, then and there, to call a 'Woman's Rights Convention.'" [37]

It is important to remember that the "rest of the party" consisted of four very liberal Quakers. Lucretia Mott, her sister Martha Wright, Jane Hunt, and Mary Ann McClintock were all associated with the reform minded Progressive Quakers who had just broken off from the Annual Meeting the month before. (See Illustration 15.) Part of the reason that Lucretia Mott was even in the area was to attend that gathering. She had remained in the region to visit her sister in Auburn and to inspect conditions in prisons and Indian reservations in upstate New York. [38] It was a fortuitous blend of circumstances that brought these four Quakers together with Elizabeth Cady Stanton just at the time when they were fighting a battle for equality within the Friends, and she was waging one at home. Their heightened sensibilities made them particularly receptive to the idea of a convention.

Richard Hunt is generally not included in the accounts which detail the events of July 13, but according to the Hunt family tradition, that belligerant Quaker who believed in accomplishment" helped to spur the women on to action. In 1948, Hunt's grandson told an interviewer that his father had passed along the following story as part of the family tradition.

Illustration 15. The five women (Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Martha Wright, Lucretia Mott, Jane Hunt, Mary Ann McClintock) who issued the call for the Convention. Photographs taken from A History of Waterloo, John Becker.

. . . the ladies were indignant and very much excited about the wrongs being borne by women, when my grandfather came into the room. They explained their ideas to him. Grandfather Hunt was a Quaker, but a Quaker who thought, 'Faith without works, is dead.' His reply was, 'Why don't you do something about it?' They thereupon resolved upon with a fixed intention to obtain a change in laws and customs governing women, and to call a convention to consider steps to take in order to carry out their determination and to assert women's rights. [39]

Regardless of who prompted the action, the women seated themselves around Jane Hunt's tea table, "and before the twilight deepened into night," composed the following announcement for inclusion in the next day's issue of the Seneca County Courier:

WOMAN'S RIGHTS CONVENTION.—A Convention to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of woman, will be held in the Wesleyan Chapel, at Seneca Falls, N.Y., on Wednesday and Thursday, the 19th and 20th of July, current; commencing at 10 o'clock A.M. During the first day the meeting will be exclusively for women, who are earnestly invited to attend. The public generally are invited to be present on the second day, when Lucretia Mott of Philadelphia, and other ladies and gentlemen, will address the convention. [40]

Although all five women are generally recognized as the originators of the Seneca Falls Convention, the History of Woman Suffrage seems to imply that Jane Hunt did not assist in the writing of the call. Stanton states in that volume that "this call, without signatures, was issued by Lucretia Mott, Martha C. Wright, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Mary Ann McClintock. [41]

As the lady of the house, it is quite possible that Jane Hunt was simply called away to deal with meals and children's bedtimes as the others labored on through the evening at composing the call. Stanton does list her as one of "the chief movers and managers" in her autobiography. [42] We do not know either whether she met the others at the McClintocks a few days later to write the Declaration of Sentiments. Stanton recorded only that they met, without providing names.

Jane and Richard Hunt's support for the women's rights movement is without question. They both attended the Convention and signed the Declaration of Sentiments, though it appears that neither made any formal presentation, as did Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Mary Ann McClintock and Martha Wright. [43] We do know that they attended subsequent women's rights lectures in an amusing letter from Lucretia Mott to Elizabeth Cady Stanton:

He [Hunt] says some of their respectable inhabitants were well pleased [with your lecture]. He would have preferred the headdress a little different—it looked rather Theatrical he thought—a kind of turban and bows'—when thou come here we can give thee an example of Quaker simplicity. I rejoice however that thou wast willing to deliver that lecture. [44]

The Hunts continued to be active in the Progressive Quakers, joining with them in passing resolutions against slavery, war, and alcohol, and calling for equal rights for women, humane treatment of prisoners, and equal educational opportunities. With their strong commitment to practical humanitarianism, we can be fairly certain that they did more than just pass resolutions, and continued to actively aid and support the various reform movements of the day. As noted earlier, Hunt even appears to have donated $100 to the building of the Wesleyan Chapel. (See chapter on Wesleyan Chapel.) Records documenting the Hunt's activities are very scarce, and except for scattered references to them in Quaker records, we can say very little about the details of their lives. Richard Hunt died in 1856 at the age of 59, leaving the house to his wife Jane. [45] She continued to live there until her death in 1889. [46]

Though we know little more than the commercial transactions and general religious beliefs of Jane and Richard Hunt, they are important figures in the development of the women's rights movement. Their position as community leaders, and commitment toward practical reform helped to create a climate in Waterloo which made its residents particularly supportive of such a cause.

The Hunts' strong sense of individual involvement insured that they personally, would assist any cause dedicated to the betterment of the human condition. By providing the support and sympathy that Elizabeth Cady Stanton needed to organize the Convention, they insured that the movement would get off to a good start. As Susan B. Anthony once reminded Jane and Richard Hunt's son, "You should be proud that this whole movement started at your mother's tea table." [47]

Important Sources of Information and Suggestions for Further Research

1. There are no known Hunt Family Papers in existence. Information for this report has all been drawn from public records, Quaker records, and oblique references by others. There is a possibility though that such papers exist. In A History of Waterloo, published by John Becker in 1949, there are some Hunt family photographs said to be "taken from Jane C. Hunt's own personal album now in possession of her grandson, Richard P. Hunt, Clyde, N.Y." (p. 152). Efforts should be made to determine the current whereabouts of this album as well the location of other Hunt descendants who might have personal family papers.

2. Quaker Records. Further information on the split in the Junius Monthly Meeting and the activities of the Progressive Quakers can be found in the Records Library of the New York Yearly Meeting, The Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore, and The Quaker Collection at Haverford.

3. "Women's Rights, Free Soil, and Quakerism: The Seneca Falls Women's Rights Convention." Paper prepared by Judith Wellman and delivered at the SHEAR Conference, 1981. Copy available at Women's Rights National Historical Park. Examines the role of the Waterloo Progressive Quakers in foreshadowing and supporting the Women's Rights Convention of 1848.

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Last Updated: 10-Dec-2005