During the civil war, the order on the totem pole of society went as follows: men (of course), animals on the farm, slaves, then women. Women had no say in anything. They simply cleaned, cooked, and the other end of it needs no mention. As wives, they owned nothing. Their husbands were legally able to hit them to ensure their “obedience”. If they spoke in public, they were denounced in their church for “promiscuous activity.” They also received little or no education.
Most poor young girls learned domestic chores from their mothers, while wealthier school age females did receive basic schooling. Education can lead to the questioning of basic societal values and that could be dangerous for a woman. Keep in mind that during this time, attacking core attitudes regarding the family, the church, and the law was no small thing. To some extent, the same holds true today. It remained that way for quite some time until a few influential females decided to change things. Women began to speak out in the late 1840’s. (Albee Monsell)
The first women’s rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848. They went to Seneca Falls because of the strong reform community that emerged from western New York in the 1830’s and 1840’s. A two day convention was held from July 19-20 and was organized by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. They decided something needed to be done when they were denied seating at a World Anti-Slavery Convention they had attended in England. At Seneca Falls a declaration of Sentiments and Resolution was debated and signed by 68 women and 32 men. The agenda was also set for the women’s rights movement. They believed that if they gained the right to vote, they could gain rights to many other things. Critics for newspapers had said it was foolish and they were jeopardizing their reputations as “wives, belles, virgins and mothers” for something as trivial as equal rights. Susan B. Anthony did not initially attend, but attended the proceedings upon learning of them. (“The Path of the Women’s Rights Movement.”)
Susan B. Anthony had attended the New York state temperance convention and had attempted to speak but was told “the ladies have been invited to listen and to learn and not to speak.” She immediately formed a female temperance society. Susan met Elizabeth Cady Stanton at an anti- slavery meeting in Seneca Falls, beginning their historic friendship. Susan was the tactical genius and organizer of the movement. Elizabeth was the thinker and the writer. She worked in every aspect of women’s rights such as divorce reform, birth control, and challenging religious assumptions opposing women’s legal rights all while managing a house of seven children. (Albee Monsell)
African-American males gained the right to vote in the 15th amendment, but still nothing was done for females. During the next couple of years, nearly 150 women attempted to vote in about a dozen different jurisdictions across the country. While largely unsuccessful, their efforts still gave them a lot of leverage. Two national organizations were formed in 1869 to work for the right to vote, the National Woman Suffrage (led mostly by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony) and the American Women Suffrage Association. Susan B. Anthony and a few other women attempted to vote in the presidential election of 1872 in Rochester, New York. She was arrested and fined for voting illegally. . (“The Path of the Women’s Rights Movement.”)
A few questions went unanswered, such as “why?” Many will argue it was solely the era and the power men had at the time. I have read otherwise. Capitalism had much to do with it. The big industries in the north were the last to support the women’s rights movement, mainly because the movement had been recognized with labor reform from the start. At the time, women were cheap labor supply. Gaining the right to vote could have worked against that. . (Albee Monsell)
Next in line to want to prevent women from voting was no other then the southern states. They openly noted the similarities between the African-American and feminist struggles, practically parading their racism. They figured that it was bad enough that African- American males were granted their right to vote. They might as well raise the white flag of surrender if women were allowed to vote as well. (“The Path of the Women’s Rights Movement.”)
One block of opposition that did not surprise me was our own government. They knew how easily they could control male voters through bribery and association. Women were out to change things. They were not into the bribery behind it all. They were out to change child labor laws and worst of all in the government’s eyes, clean up politics. The presidents were of no help during any of it. The only attention paid was by William Howard Taft and he advised they collect more signatures on their petitions. Theodore Roosevelt did not include them in his campaign for the 1912 election, nor did Woodrow Wilson in his 1916 campaign. (Albee Monsell)
The church and family also voiced a strong opposition. Judeo-Christianity emphasized the inferiority of women and also pointed to Genesis for a female’s special role and her mission to be fruitful and multiply, and, after Eden, to be submissive towards man. During this time, the family structure consisted of the wife bearing children and performing domestic chores. The wife was also very submissive toward her husband, creating a threat to the sexual double standard by means of change. Men being men, they were relatively upset by the whole series of events. . (“The Path of the Women’s Rights Movement.”)
Another question was “why did the first round of the women’s rights movement fail?” Essentially, it did not, depending on how you view it. Many say it was delayed for “more important issues” and other will argue those who began in the late 1800’s failed and the ones of the early 1920’s succeeded. Though I do not believe they failed by any means, it was halted for some time for the civil rights movement and women trying to prove their patriotism by helping with war efforts during World War I. (Albee Monsell)
American was not the only country to experience discrimination towards women. Until the 20th century, many western European countries held the same laws we did, especially in England. They did not allow equal pay until the 1960’s. Nor were they recognized as land owners even through marriage. New Zealand was the first country to allow women to vote. (“The Path of the Women’s Rights Movement.”)
The battle slowly but surely began to turn in favor of the women. In 1850, Quaker physicians established the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania, allowing women to enhance their knowledge in the field of medicine. In 1855, the University of Iowa became the first state school to admit women. For the first time in the history of jurisprudence, women served on juries in the Wyoming territory in 1870. Also in 1870, the 15th amendment attains final ratification so that women are not specifically excluded from the vote. Congress then passed a law in 1872 to give women federal employees’ equal pay for equal work. . (Albee Monsell)
It took more conventions, speeches, and protests before any change in congress came about. In 1878, the Susan B. Anthony Amendment was first introduced to the U.S. congress. The first and only time in the 1800’s congress voted on women’s suffrage was in 1887 and the measure lost 34-16 with 25 members not voting. Finally in 1919, the House of Representatives passed the women’s suffrage amendment, winning by only two votes. The women fought for this for 70 years. These efforts were not paid for by rich and powerful men. The money for all of this progress came from the nickels and dimes of housewives and laundresses. Sadly enough, neither Susan B. Anthony nor Elizabeth Cady Stanton lived to see women gain the right to vote, despite the 50 years they put in to try and gain it. For the first time ever, an equal number of women and men voted in 1957. All was not won yet. In 1968 Pennsylvania was one of the few states to void a law which stated any female convicted of a felony must receive the maximum penalty. (Albee Monsell)
What I find interesting about this movement, along with many other movements, is how little we are informed of what really occurred. As children, we are taught that a few women sat around and protested and voila! thanks to them we can vote. This, along with the civil rights movement, has been far too long kept under “mum’s word”. They both expose white male power in all its hypocrisy and greed. The hundreds of campaigns the early women’s movement had to endure, the many losses, the years of tireless effort, only to win by the skin on their teeth, left many of these pioneers discouraged. I find it rather appalling when women today choose not to vote, essentially ignoring the sacrifices made by women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. What those women went through so we could voice our opinion through our vote should be celebrated every election, whether it is held to elect the dog- catcher or the President. Enough women do not take advantage of the fact that we can vote. . (Albee Monsell)
The women’s rights movement occurred during a time of realism. Realism was more or less an opposing reaction towards romanticism. It showed a large interest in scientific method as well as philosophy. Realists William Harmon and Hugh Holman once said “where romanticists transcend the immediate to find the ideal, and naturalists plumb the actual or superficial to find the scientific laws that control its actions, realists center their attention to a remarkable degree on the immediate, the here and now, the specific action and the verifiable consequence.” The best example I could find of this would be “Barren Ground” by Ellen Glasgow. It tells the story of a young girl who lived in southern Virginia. She begins to notice the change in the south as she struggles to find herself. This makes the connection with realism in that it parallels what is going on in her life .It could be reality and is in fact closely related to Ellen Glasgow’s life. Other realist writers include Mark Twain, William Dean Howells (he believed “realism is nothing more and nothing less than the truthful treatment of material.”), Rebecca Harding Davis, and Henry James. Twain and James were critically acclaimed for their works while Howells was not popular.
Over the 70 years it took women to gain voting rights, women grew as a country and as a gender. Many still feel the suffragettes opened a can of worms and others feel they did an amazing thing. The fight they put up was unprecedented and will forever be remembered despite the lack of knowledge of what really went on. To see them start at having barely twenty people at Seneca Falls to having an entire country of women ban together and win over congress by two votes is an amazing thing no matter how long it took. With the obstacles they faced, along with the strong male-dominated moral beliefs of this country, I’m surprised it did not take longer. They faced their churches, their own families, the government, and an entire nation against them. I do feel that women gaining the right to vote opened a gate of opportunities for women. Not only is there now the possibility of a female U.S. president but Germany recently elected a female chancellor. This was not even thought to be possible 20 years ago. These early women were heroes regardless of whether a woman today takes advantage of the right to vote or receives equal pay for the same work done by her male counterpart. She can thank these women.