From Ohio History Central
File:Coweles, Betsey Mix.html|
Portrait of Betsey Mix Cowles (1810-1876) from the 1909 edition of Henry Howe's "Historical Collection of Ohio." She was known for her contributions to education, abolitionism, and women's rights in Ohio.
During the nineteenth century, many women joined charitable organizations. These groups allowed women to expand their roles in American life without challenging society's expectations for women. During this era, many people believed that women should be homemakers, but increasingly, women joined reform organizations, hoping to enhance moral values in their fellow Americans. The Female Moral Reform Society was one such organization. The Society existed across the United States. Ohio women founded several chapters at the local level in the 1830s.
One of the most successful chapters of the Female Moral Reform Society was founded in Oberlin, Ohio, in 1835. Ultimately, the Oberlin group became the fourth largest chapter in the country. Its success was based on its recruitment of women students from nearby Oberlin College. Many of the students were concerned that if they did not join they would be viewed as having low morals. Oberlin's chapter of the Society, like others, stressed the importance of its member's behavior and standards of dress. Members agreed not to do anything that might have a negative effect on their reputation or corrupt their morals, such as dancing or reading novels.
The various Ohio chapters of the Society met in Cleveland in 1840 to agree on goals. In the early 1840s, the Female Moral Reform Society in Ohio focused on issues such as temperance and legal reform. In 1842, the Society submitted petitions to the Ohio legislature demanding that politicians make adultery a crime punishable with prison time. State legislators subsequently voted against the bill.
In the 1850s and 1860s, membership in the Female Moral Reform Society declined. Women were drawn into a number of other organizations, such as local benevolent associations. During the Civil War, the society disappeared entirely as women participated in organizations that provided aid for troops and their families.
While the Female Moral Reform Society only lasted approximately thirty years, the organization's impact was immense. It was one of the first national organizations for women. It allowed women to escape the private sphere and to play a role in the public sphere. The group united many women together and helped convince them to play an active role in bettering the United States. Many of the Female Moral Reform Society's members eventually became active in the women's rights movement, the abolitionist movement, the temperance movement, and other attempts to reform America. This organization helped show both men and women that women could and should play an active role in American life.
- Booth, Stephane Elise. Buckeye Women: The History of Ohio's Daughters. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2001.
- Roseboom, Eugene H. The Civil War Era: 1850-1873. Columbus: Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, 1944.
- Weisenburger, Francis P. The Passing of the Frontier: 1825-1850. Columbus: Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, 1941.