During the nineteenth century, many accomplishments in women's rights occurred. As a result of these early efforts, women today enjoy many privileges. They are able to vote and become candidates for political elections, as well as own property and enjoy leadership positions.
During the early nineteenth century, the women's rights movement came into effect. Women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony created many organizations for equality and independence. However, even with these activist groups, victory would not be fast or easy.
Changing social conditions for women during the early nineteenth century, combined with the idea of equality, led to the birth of the woman suffrage movement. For example, women started to receive more education and to take part in reform movements, which involved them in politics. As a result, women started to ask why they were not also allowed to vote.
The Start of the Revolution
In July 13, 1848, the Women's Rights Movement began (Degler). Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a housewife and mother, discussed the status of women during a tea with four female friends. Stanton expressed her dissatisfaction regarding the limitations placed on women under America's new democracy.
She wondered aloud why women did not enjoy the same freedom as men, despite the fact that they had taken equal risks during the American Revolution (Degler, p. 96). Stanton and her friends agreed that the new republic would benefit from having women play greater roles in society. The women create a plan to change things on this day.
A few days later, Stanton and her friends placed an advertisement in the Seneca County Courier inviting women to "a convention to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of woman." (p. 99) The convention was held at Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls on July 19 and 20, 1848. This was the first public meeting for women's rights.
Stanton used the Declaration of Independence to write the "Declaration of Sentiments." She wisely connected the budding campaign for women's rights directly to that powerful symbol of liberty in America.
She used the words of the Declaration of Independence to strengthen her goals: "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men and women are created equal that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." (p. 101)
In her Declaration of Sentiments, Stanton outlined specifically how women were treated unjustly. She included eighteen ways that women were discriminated against in American society. According to Stanton, "The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world." (p. 114)
The Unjust Treatment of Women
During the nineteenth century, there were many areas of life in which women received unjust treatment (Ryan). Basically, married women had few legal rights. They were not allowed to vote and were expected to submit to laws when they had no voice in creating legislation.
Married women were not allowed to own property. They were viewed as the property of their husbands, who were allowed to beat them and keep them at home. Divorce and child custody laws were in the favor of men. In addition, single or divorced women were forced to pay property taxes although they had no representation in how these taxes were formed.
Women were allowed to work but only in certain fields. For example, women could not work in the legal or medical fields. Working women received only a fraction of the pay that men received.
Women were denied education, as well. There were no colleges or universities that would accept women students during the nineteenth century. Additionally, they were not allowed to participate in the affairs of the church
Basically, for most of the nineteenth century, women were robbed of their self-confidence and self-respect and made completely dependent on men (Pessen). When Stanton wrote her Declaration of Sentiments, she clearly stated these injustices so that women would realize that changes needed to be made.
Declaration of Sentiments
In her declaration, Stanton stated, "Now, in view of this entire disenfranchisement of one-half the people of this country, their social and religious degradation, -- in view of the unjust laws above mentioned, and because women do feel themselves aggrieved, oppressed, and fraudulently deprived of their most sacred rights, we insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of these United States." (Degler, p. 115) This declaration would later become famous.
During the two-day convention, Stanton's Declaration of Sentiments and twelve resolutions received incredible endorsement, one by one, with a few amendments. The only resolution that did not pass unanimously was the call for women's enfranchisement. At the time, the idea that women would have the right to vote in elections was inconceivable. When Stanton suggested this, the attendees were shocked and a heated debate resulted from her words.
At this point, Frederick Douglass, a respected Black abolitionist, argued in support of women's right to liberty. "Suffrage," he stated, "is the power to choose rulers and make laws, and the right by which all others are secured." Finally, the resolution barely won enough votes to carry, but managed to squeeze by. (p. 116)
Stanton ended her Declaration of Sentiments with these words: "In entering upon the great work before us, we anticipate no small amount of misconception, misrepresentation, and ridicule but we shall use every instrumentality within our power to effect our object. We shall employ agents, circulate tracts, petition the State and national Legislatures, and endeavor to enlist the pulpit and the press in our behalf. We hope this Convention will be followed by a series of Conventions, embracing every part of the country." (p. 119)
Ridicule Turns to Power
Stanton expected "misconception, misrepresentation, and ridicule" and that is exactly what she got (Welter, p. 42). The media harshly criticized the Declaration of Sentiments as shameless and audacious. At the earliest stages of the Women's Rights Movement, women were subject to the abuse and criticism of American society. Oddly enough, the criticism and ridicule worked to the advantage of women.
The Declaration of Sentiments was frequently published in its entirety, with the names of the signers, as a subject of ridicule. At first, many of the signers were so embarrassed that they withdrew their signatures from the document. However, eventually these publications had a positive impact. People from around the nation became informed of the movement and united in greater numbers than Stanton and her friends could have ever imagined.
As a result of the Seneca Falls Conference, Women's Rights Conventions were held regularly from 1850 until the beginning of the Civil War. Often, the large crowds of attendees were unable to be accommodated by the meeting spaces.
In the late nineteenth century, the Women's Rights Movement of the late 19th century began to initiate changes for the issues outlined at the Seneca Falls Convention. Elizabeth Cady Stanton was joined by many women, including Susan B. Anthony and Lucy Stone, who traveled around the nation lecturing and organizing plan for change over the next forty years.
During the late 1800's, the right to vote became the central issue of the movement, as the vote would provide the means to achieve many other reforms. However, the campaign for woman suffrage met such powerful opposition that it took 72 years for women's rights to achieve their first great success (Welter).
Susan B. Anthony
Susan B. Anthony's Quaker background strongly influenced the role she played in the nineteenth-century Women's Rights Movement (Ryan, p. 27). Quakers were among the first groups to develop equal rights between men and women.
Many American women did not experience the freedom and respect Anthony had, so they could not imagine some of the changes she suggested. However, Anthony became a leader in the crusade for women's rights, determined to change this forever.
When Anthony was denied the chance to speak at a Sons of Temperance meeting simply because she was a woman, she founded the Daughters of Temperance, the first woman's temperance organization. She started writing temperance articles for The Lily, the first women-owned and operated newspaper in the United States (Ryan, p. 52).
Through The Lily's editor, Anthony developed relationships with women involved in the abolitionist movement and the woman's suffrage movement. In 1851, Anthony met Stanton. The two formed a friendship and a political bond that would last for the rest of their lives.
For the rest of the century, Anthony fought hard for the women's suffrage movement. She traveled the nation, lecturing on women's rights and organizing a series of state and national conventions. She also gathered signatures for a petition to grant women the right to vote and own property.
Her efforts were eventually rewarded. In 1860 the New York state legislature passed the Married Women's Property Act, which…