The Movement Of Womens Rights Essay, Research Paper
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” That was Margaret Mead’s conclusion after a lifetime of observing very diverse cultures around the world. Her insight has been borne out time and again throughout the development of this country of ours. Being allowed to live life in an atmosphere of religious freedom, having a voice in the government you support with your taxes, living free of lifelong enslavement by another person. Many once considered these beliefs about how life should and must be lived outlandish. But visionaries whose steadfast work brought about changed minds and attitudes fervently held these beliefs. Now these beliefs are commonly shared across U.S. society.
1998 marks the 150th Anniversary of a movement by women to achieve full civil rights in this country.
The staggering changes for women that have come about over those seven generations in family life, in religion, in government, in employment, in education – these changes did not just happen spontaneously. Women themselves made these changes happen, very deliberately. Women have not been the passive recipients of miraculous changes in laws and human nature. Seven generations of women have come together to affect these changes in the most democratic ways: through meetings, petition drives, lobbying, public speaking, and nonviolent resistance.
Throughout 1998, the 150th anniversary of the Women’s Rights Movement is being celebrated across the nation with programs and events taking every form imaginable. Like many amazing stories, the history of the Women’s Rights Movement began with a small group of people questioning why human lives were being unfairly constricted.
The Women’s Rights Movement marks July 13, 1848 as it?s beginning. On that sweltering summer day in upstate New York, a young housewife and mother, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, was invited to tea with four women friends. When the course of their conversation turned to the situation of women, Stanton poured out her discontent with the limitations placed on her own situation under America’s new democracy. Surely the new republic would benefit from having its women play more active roles throughout society. Stanton’s friends agreed with her, passionately.
Today we are living the legacy of this afternoon conversation among women friends. Throughout 1998, events celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the Women’s Rights Movement are looking at the massive changes these women set in motion when they daringly agreed to convene the world’s first Women’s Rights Convention.
These were patriotic women, sharing the ideal of improving the new republic. As the women set about preparing for the event, Elizabeth Cady Stanton used the Declaration of Independence as the framework for writing what she titled a “Declaration of Sentiments.” In what proved to be a brilliant move, Stanton connected the nascent campaign for women’s rights directly to that powerful American symbol of liberty.
Married women were legally dead in the eyes of the law
Women were not allowed to vote
Women had to submit to laws when they had no voice in their formation
Married women had no property rights
Divorce and child custody laws favoured men, giving no rights to women
Women had to pay property taxes although they had no representation in the levying of these taxes
Most occupations were closed to women and when women did work they were paid only a fraction of what men earned
Women were not allowed to enter professions such as medicine or law
Women had no means to gain an education since no college or university would accept women students
With only a few exceptions, women were not allowed to participate in the affairs of the church
Women were robbed of their self-confidence and self-respect, and were made totally dependent on men
Strong words… Large grievances… That summer, change was in the air and Elizabeth Cady Stanton was full of hope that the future could and would be brighter for women.
The convention was convened as planned, and over the two-days of discussion, the Declaration of Sentiments and 12 resolutions received unanimous endorsement, one by one, with a few amendments. The only resolution that did not pass unanimously was the call for women’s enfranchisement. That women should be allowed to vote in elections was almost inconceivable to many. Even the heartfelt pleas of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a refined and educated woman of the time, did not move the assembly. Woman, like the slave, he argued, had the right to liberty. Newspaper editors were so scandalized by the shameless audacity of the Declaration of Sentiments, and particularly of the ninth resolution-women demanding the vote!
That they attacked the women with all the vitriol they could muster. The women’s rights movement was only one day old and the backlash had already begun! Many of the women who had attended the convention were so embarrassed by the publicity that they actually withdrew their signatures from the Declaration. People in cities and isolated towns alike were now alerted to the issues, and joined this heated discussion of women’s rights in great numbers!
The Seneca Falls women had optimistically hoped for “a series of conventions embracing every part of the country.” Women’s Rights Conventions were held regularly from 1850 until the start of the Civil War.
The women’s rights movement of the late 19th century went on to address the wide range of issues spelled out at the Seneca Falls Convention. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and women like Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, and Sojourner Truth traveled the country lecturing and organizing for the next forty years. The story of diligent women’s rights activism is a litany of achievements against tremendous odds, of ingenious strategies and outrageous tactics used to outwit opponents and make the most of limited resources. It’s a dramatic tale, filled with remarkable women facing down incredible obstacles to win that most basic American civil right – the vote. Lucy Stone. They were pioneer theoreticians of the 19th-century women’s rights movement. Esther Morris, the first woman to hold a judicial position, who led the first successful state campaign for woman suffrage, in Wyoming in 1869. Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Mary Church Terrell, organizers of thousands of African-American women who worked for suffrage for all women. Alice Paul, founder and leader of the National Woman’s Party, considered the radical wing of the movement. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, now a Supreme Court Justice, learned the story of the Women’s Rights Movement. Today she says, “I think about how much we owe to the women who went before us – legions of women, some known but many more unknown.
After the vote was finally won in 1920, the organized Women’s Rights Movement continued on in several directions. While the majority of women who had marched, petitioned and lobbied for woman suffrage looked no further, a minority – like Alice Paul – understood that the quest for women’s rights would be an ongoing struggle that was only advanced, not satisfied, by the vote.
In 1919, as the suffrage victory drew near, the National American Woman Suffrage Association reconfigured itself into the League of Women Voters to ensure that women would take their hard-won vote seriously and use it wisely.
In 1920, the Women’s Bureau of the Department of Labour was established to gather information about the situation of women at work, and to advocate for changes it found were needed. Many suffragists became actively involved with lobbying for legislation to protect women workers from abuse and unsafe conditions.
In 1923, Alice Paul, the leader of the National Woman’s Party, took the next obvious step. She drafted an Equal Rights Amendment for the United States Constitution. Such a federal law, it was argued, would ensure that “Men and women have equal rights throughout the United States.” The idea of woman’s right to control her own body, and especially to control her own reproduction and sexuality, added a visionary new dimension to the ideas of women’s emancipation. This movement not only endorsed educating women about existing birth control methods. For decades, Margaret Sanger and her supporters faced down at every turn the zealously enforced laws denying women this right.
So it’s clear that, contrary to common misconception, the Women’s Rights Movement did not begin in the 1960s.
First: Esther Peterson was the director of the Women’s Bureau of the Dept. of Labour in 1961. She considered it to be the government’s responsibility to take an active role in addressing discrimination against women. With her encouragement, President Kennedy convened a Commission on the Status of Women, naming Eleanor Roosevelt as its chair. The report issued by that commission in 1963 documented discrimination against women in virtually every area of American life. State and local governments quickly followed suit and established their own commissions for women, to research conditions and recommend changes that could be initiated. In it she documented the emotional and intellectual oppression that middle-class educated women were experiencing because of limited life options. The book became an immediate bestseller, and inspired thousands of women to look for fulfillment beyond the role of homemaker. Betty Friedan, the chairs of the various state Commissions on the Status of Women, and other feminists agreed to form a civil rights organization for women similar to the NAACP. In 1966, the National Organization for Women was organized, soon to be followed by an array of other mass-membership organizations addressing the needs of specific groups of women, including Blacks, Latinos, Asians-Americans, lesbians, welfare recipients, business owners, aspiring politicians, and tradeswomen and professional women of every sort.
During this same time, thousands of young women on college campuses were playing active roles within the anti-war and civil rights movement. It wasn’t long before these young women began forming their own “women’s liberation” organizations to address their role and status within these progressive movements and within society at large.
These various elements of the re-emerging Women’s Rights Movement worked together and separately on a wide range of issues. Small groups of women in hundreds of communities worked on grassroots projects like establishing women’s newspapers, bookstores and cafes. They created battered women’s shelters and rape crisis hotlines to care for victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence. They came together to form childcare centres so women could work outside their homes for pay. Women health care professionals opened women’s clinics to provide birth control and family planning counselling-and to offer abortion services – - for low-income women. The number of women doctors, lawyers, engineers, architects and other professionals has doubled and doubled again as quotas actually limiting women’s enrolment in graduate schools were outlawed.
In society at large, the Women’s Rights Movement has brought about measurable changes, too. In 1972, 26% of men and women said they would not vote for a woman for president. In 1996, that sentiment had plummeted to just over 5% for women and to 8% for men. Do you realize that just 25 years ago married women were not issued credit cards in their own name? That most women could not get a bank loan without a male co-signer? That women working full time earned fifty-nine cents to every dollar earned by men?
Help-wanted ads in newspapers were segregated into “Help wanted – women” and “Help wanted- men.” Pages and pages of jobs were announced for which women could not even apply. The National Organization for Women (NOW), had to argue the issue all the way to the Supreme Court to make it possible for a woman today to hold any job for which she is qualified. To many women’s rights activists, its ratification by the required thirty-eight states seemed almost a shoo-in.
The campaign for state ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment provided the opportunity for millions of women across the nation to become actively involved in the Women’s Rights Movement in their own communities. Women’s organizations of every stripe organized their members to help raise money and generate public support for the ERA. Generous checks and single dollar bills poured into the campaign headquarters, and the ranks of NOW and other women’s rights organizations swelled to historic sizes. Seventy-five percent of the women legislators in those three pivotal states supported the ERA, but only 46% of the men voted to ratify. Historically speaking, most if not all the issues of the women’s rights movement have been highly controversial when they were first voiced. Allowing women to go to college? Employ women in jobs for pay outside their homes? Cast votes in national elections? The people attending that landmark discussion would not even have imagined the issues of the Women’s Rights Movement in the 1990s.
Today, young women proudly calling themselves “the third wave” are confronting these and other thorny issues. While many women may still be hesitant to call themselves “feminist” because of the ever-present backlash, few would give up the legacy of personal freedoms and expanded opportunities women have won over the last 150 years.
In the 150 years since that first, landmark Women’s Rights Convention, women have made clear progress in the areas addressed by Elizabeth Cady Stanton in her revolutionary Declaration of Sentiments. Not only have women won the right to vote we are being elected to public office at all levels of government. Jeannette Rankin was the first woman elected to Congress, in 1916. By 1971, three generations later, women were still less than three percent of our congressional representatives. Today women hold only 11% of the seats in Congress, and 21% of the state legislative seats. Yet, in the face of such small numbers, women have successfully changed thousands of local, state, and federal laws that had limited women’s legal status and social roles.
In the world of work, large numbers of women have entered the professions, the trades, and businesses of every kind. More than three million women now work in occupations considered “non traditional” until very recently. Substantial barriers to the full equality of America’s women still remain before our freedom, as a Nation can be called complete.
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