United States History The Clash Of Political Parties
THE MEN AND MEASURES OF THE NEW GOVERNMENT
Friends of th...
President Wilson And The World War
"The welfare, the happiness, the energy, and the spirit of ...
The Formation Of The Constitution
THE PROMISE AND THE DIFFICULTIES OF AMERICA
The rise of ...
The Planting System And National Politics
James Madison, the father of the federal Constitution, afte...
The American Revolution
RESISTANCE AND RETALIATION
The Continental Congress
Social And Political Progress
Colonial life, crowded as it was with hard and unremitting ...
The Development Of Colonial Nationalism
It is one of the well-known facts of history that a people ...
The New Political Democracy
Women in Public Affairs
The social legislation enacted i...
The Political And Economic Evolution Of The South
The outcome of the Civil War in the South was nothing short...
America A World Power 1865-1900
It has now become a fashion, sanctioned by wide usage and b...
The New Course In British Imperial Policy
On October 25, 1760, King George II died and the British cr...
The Great Migration To America
The tide of migration that set in toward the shores of Nort...
The Rise Of The Industrial System
If Jefferson could have lived to see the Stars and Stripes ...
The New Economic Age
The spirit of criticism and the mea...
The Middle Border And The Great West
"We shall not send an emigrant beyond the Mississippi in a ...
Business Enterprise And The Republican Party
If a single phrase be chosen to characterize American life ...
Domestic Issues Before The Country 1865-1897
For thirty years after the Civil War the leading political ...
The Jeffersonian Republicans In Power
REPUBLICAN PRINCIPLES AND POLICIES
Opposition to Strong ...
The Development Of The Great West
At the close of the Civil War, Kansas and Texas were sentin...
The New England Federalists, at the Hartford convention, pr...
The New Political Democracy
Women in Public Affairs
The social legislation enacted in response
to the spirit of reform vitally affected women in the home and in
industry and was promoted by their organizations. Where they did not
lead, they were affiliated with movements for social improvement. No
cause escaped their attention; no year passed without widening the range
of their interests. They served on committees that inquired into the
problems of the day; they appeared before legislative assemblies to
advocate remedies for the evils they discovered. By 1912 they were a
force to be reckoned with in national politics. In nine states complete
and equal suffrage had been established, and a widespread campaign for a
national suffrage amendment was in full swing. On every hand lay
evidences that their sphere had been broadened to include public
affairs. This was the culmination of forces that had long been
A New Emphasis in History
A movement so deeply affecting important
interests could not fail to find a place in time in the written record
of human progress. History often began as a chronicle of kings and
queens, knights and ladies, written partly to amuse and partly to
instruct the classes that appeared in its pages. With the growth of
commerce, parliaments, and international relations, politics and
diplomacy were added to such chronicles of royal and princely doings.
After the rise of democracy, industry, and organized labor, the
transactions of everyday life were deemed worthy of a place in the pages
of history. In each case history was rewritten and the past rediscovered
in the light of the new age. So it will be with the rise and growth of
women's political power. The history of their labor, their education,
their status in society, their influence on the course of events will be
explored and given its place in the general record.
It will be a history of change. The superior position which women enjoy
in America to-day is the result of a slow evolution from an almost
rightless condition in colonial times. The founders of America brought
with them the English common law. Under that law, a married woman's
personal property--jewels, money, furniture, and the like--became her
husband's property; the management of her lands passed into his control.
Even the wages she earned, if she worked for some one else, belonged to
him. Custom, if not law, prescribed that women should not take part in
town meetings or enter into public discussions of religious questions.
Indeed it is a far cry from the banishment of Anne Hutchinson from
Massachusetts in 1637, for daring to dispute with the church fathers, to
the political conventions of 1920 in which women sat as delegates, made
nominating speeches, and served on committees. In the contrast between
these two scenes may be measured the change in the privileges of women
since the landing of the Pilgrims. The account of this progress is a
narrative of individual effort on the part of women, of organizations
among them, of generous aid from sympathetic men in the long agitation
for the removal of civil and political disabilities. It is in part also
a narrative of irresistible economic change which drew women into
industry, created a leisure class, gave women wages and incomes, and
therewith economic independence.
THE RISE OF THE WOMAN MOVEMENT
Protests of Colonial Women
The republican spirit which produced
American independence was of slow and steady growth. It did not spring
up full-armed in a single night. It was, on the contrary, nourished
during a long period of time by fireside discussions as well as by
debates in the public forum. Women shared that fireside sifting of
political principles and passed on the findings of that scrutiny in
letters to their friends, newspaper articles, and every form of written
word. How widespread was this potent, though not spectacular force, is
revealed in the collections of women's letters, articles, songs, dramas,
and satirical "skits" on English rule that have come down to us. In this
search into the reasons of government, some women began to take thought
about laws that excluded them from the ballot. Two women at least left
their protests on record. Abigail, the ingenious and witty wife of John
Adams, wrote to her husband, in March, 1776, that women objected "to all
arbitrary power whether of state or males" and demanded political
privileges in the new order then being created. Hannah Lee Corbin, the
sister of "Lighthorse" Harry Lee, protested to her brother against the
taxation of women without representation.
The Stir among European Women
Ferment in America, in the case of
women as of men, was quickened by events in Europe. In 1792, Mary
Wollstonecraft published in England the Vindication of the Rights of
Women--a book that was destined to serve the cause of liberty among
women as the writings of Locke and Paine had served that of men. The
specific grievances which stirred English women were men's invasion of
women's industries, such as spinning and weaving; the denial of equal
educational opportunities; and political disabilities. In France also
the great Revolution raised questionings about the status of women. The
rights of "citizenesses" as well as the rights of "citizens" were
examined by the boldest thinkers. This in turn reacted upon women in the
Leadership in America
The origins of the American woman movement are
to be found in the writings of a few early intellectual leaders. During
the first decades of the nineteenth century, books, articles, and
pamphlets about women came in increasing numbers from the press. Lydia
Maria Child wrote a history of women; Margaret Fuller made a critical
examination of the status of women in her time; and Mrs. Elizabeth Ellet
supplemented the older histories by showing what an important part women
had played in the American Revolution.
The Struggle for Education
Along with criticism, there was carried
on a constructive struggle for better educational facilities for women
who had been from the beginning excluded from every college in the
country. In this long battle, Emma Willard and Mary Lyon led the way;
the former founded a seminary at Troy, New York; and the latter made the
beginnings of Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. Oberlin College in
Ohio, established in 1833, opened its doors to girls and from it were
graduated young students to lead in the woman movement. Sarah J. Hale,
who in 1827 became the editor of a "Ladies' Magazine," published in
Boston, conducted a campaign for equal educational opportunities which
helped to bear fruit in the founding of Vassar College shortly after the
The Desire to Effect Reforms
As they came to study their own history
and their own part in civilization, women naturally became deeply
interested in all the controversies going on around them. The temperance
question made a special appeal to them and they organized to demand the
right to be heard on it. In 1846 the "Daughters of Temperance" formed a
secret society favoring prohibition. They dared to criticize the
churches for their indifference and were so bold as to ask that
drunkenness be made a ground for divorce.
The slavery issue even more than temperance called women into public
life. The Grimke sisters of South Carolina emancipated their bondmen,
and one of these sisters, exiled from Charleston for her "Appeal to the
Christian Women of the South," went North to work against the slavery
system. In 1837 the National Women's Anti-Slavery Convention met in New
York; seventy-one women delegates represented eight states. Three years
later eight American women, five of them in Quaker costume, attended the
World Anti-Slavery Convention in London, much to the horror of the men,
who promptly excluded them from the sessions on the ground that it was
not fitting for women to take part in such meetings.
In other spheres of activity, especially social service, women steadily
enlarged their interest. Nothing human did they consider alien to them.
They inveighed against cruel criminal laws and unsanitary prisons. They
organized poor relief and led in private philanthropy. Dorothea Dix
directed the movement that induced the New York legislature to establish
in 1845 a separate asylum for the criminal insane. In the same year
Sarah G. Bagley organized the Lowell Female Reform Association for the
purpose of reducing the long hours of labor for women, safeguarding "the
constitutions of future generations." Mrs. Eliza Woodson Farnham, matron
in Sing Sing penitentiary, was known throughout the nation for her
social work, especially prison reform. Wherever there were misery and
suffering, women were preparing programs of relief.
Freedom of Speech for Women
In the advancement of their causes, of
whatever kind, women of necessity had to make public appeals and take
part in open meetings. Here they encountered difficulties. The
appearance of women on the platform was new and strange. Naturally it
was widely resented. Antoinette Brown, although she had credentials as a
delegate, was driven off the platform of a temperance convention in New
York City simply because she was a woman. James Russell Lowell, editor
of the "Atlantic Monthly," declined a poem from Julia Ward Howe on the
theory that no woman could write a poem; but he added on second thought
that he might consider an article in prose. Nathaniel Hawthorne,
another editor, even objected to something in prose because to him "all
ink-stained women were equally detestable." To the natural resentment
against their intrusion into new fields was added that aroused by their
ideas and methods. As temperance reformers, they criticized in a caustic
manner those who would not accept their opinions. As opponents of
slavery they were especially bitter. One of their conventions, held at
Philadelphia in 1833, passed a resolution calling on all women to leave
those churches that would not condemn every form of human bondage. This
stirred against them many of the clergy who, accustomed to having women
sit silent during services, were in no mood to treat such a revolt
leniently. Then came the last straw. Women decided that they would
preach--out of the pulpit first, and finally in it.
Women in Industry
The period of this ferment was also the age of the
industrial revolution in America, the rise of the factory system, and
the growth of mill towns. The labor of women was transferred from the
homes to the factories. Then arose many questions: the hours of labor,
the sanitary conditions of the mills, the pressure of foreign
immigration on native labor, the wages of women as compared with those
of men, and the right of married women to their own earnings. Labor
organizations sprang up among working women. The mill girls of Lowell,
Massachusetts, mainly the daughters of New England farmers, published a
magazine, "The Lowell Offering." So excellent were their writings that
the French statesman, Thiers, carried a copy of their paper into the
Chamber of Deputies to show what working women could achieve in a
republic. As women were now admittedly earning their own way in the
world by their own labor, they began to talk of their "economic
The World Shaken by Revolution
Such was the quickening of women's
minds in 1848 when the world was startled once more by a revolution in
France which spread to Germany, Poland, Austria, Hungary, and Italy.
Once more the people of the earth began to explore the principles of
democracy and expound human rights. Women, now better educated and more
"advanced" in their ideas, played a role of still greater importance in
that revolution. They led in agitations and uprisings. They suffered
from reaction and persecution. From their prison in France, two of them
who had been jailed for too much insistence on women's rights exchanged
greetings with American women who were raising the same issue here. By
this time the women had more supporters among the men. Horace Greeley,
editor of the New York Tribune, though he afterwards recanted, used
his powerful pen in their behalf. Anti-slavery leaders welcomed their
aid and repaid them by urging the enfranchisement of women.
The Woman's Rights Convention of 1848
The forces, moral and
intellectual, which had been stirring among women, crystallized a few
months after the outbreak of the European revolution in the first
Woman's Rights Convention in the history of America. It met at Seneca
Falls, New York, in 1848, on the call of Lucretia Mott, Martha Wright,
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Mary Ann McClintock, three of them Quakers.
Accustomed to take part in church meetings with men, the Quakers
naturally suggested that men as well as women be invited to attend the
convention. Indeed, a man presided over the conference, for that
position seemed too presumptuous even for such stout advocates of
The deliberations of the Seneca Falls convention resulted in a
Declaration of Rights modeled after the Declaration of Independence. For
example, the preamble began: "When in the course of human events it
becomes necessary for one portion of the family of man to assume among
the people of the earth a position different from that which they have
hitherto occupied...." So also it closed: "Such has been the patient
suffering of women under this government and such is now the necessity
which constrains them to demand the equal station to which they are
entitled." Then followed the list of grievances, the same number which
had been exhibited to George III in 1776. Especially did they assail the
disabilities imposed upon them by the English common law imported into
America--the law which denied married women their property, their wages,
and their legal existence as separate persons. All these grievances they
recited to "a candid world." The remedies for the evils which they
endured were then set forth in detail. They demanded "equal rights" in
the colleges, trades, and professions; equal suffrage; the right to
share in all political offices, honors, and emoluments; the right to
complete equality in marriage, including equal guardianship of the
children; and for married women the right to own property, to keep
wages, to make contracts, to transact business, and to testify in the
courts of justice. In short, they declared women to be persons as men
are persons and entitled to all the rights and privileges of human
beings. Such was the clarion call which went forth to the world in
1848--to an amused and contemptuous world, it must be admitted--but to a
world fated to heed and obey.
The First Gains in Civil Liberty
The convention of 1848 did not make
political enfranchisement the leading issue. Rather did it emphasize the
civil disabilities of women which were most seriously under discussion
at the time. Indeed, the New York legislature of that very year, as the
result of a twelve years' agitation, passed the Married Woman's Property
Act setting aside the general principles of the English common law as
applied to women and giving them many of the "rights of man." California
and Wisconsin followed in 1850; Massachusetts in 1854; and Kansas in
1859. Other states soon fell into line. Women's earnings and
inheritances were at last their own in some states at least. In a little
while laws were passed granting women rights as equal guardians of their
children and permitting them to divorce their husbands on the grounds of
cruelty and drunkenness.
By degrees other steps were taken. The Woman's Medical College of
Pennsylvania was founded in 1850, and the Philadelphia School of Design
for Women three years later. In 1852 the American Women's Educational
Association was formed to initiate an agitation for enlarged
educational opportunities for women. Other colleges soon emulated the
example of Oberlin: the University of Utah in 1850; Hillsdale College in
Michigan in 1855; Baker University in Kansas in 1858; and the University
of Iowa in 1860. New trades and professions were opened to women and old
prejudices against their activities and demands slowly gave way.
THE NATIONAL STRUGGLE FOR WOMAN SUFFRAGE
The Beginnings of Organization
As women surmounted one obstacle
after another, the agitation for equal suffrage came to the front. If
any year is to be fixed as the date of its beginning, it may very well
be 1850, when the suffragists of Ohio urged the state constitutional
convention to confer the vote upon them. With apparent spontaneity there
were held in the same year state suffrage conferences in Indiana,
Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts; and connections were formed among the
leaders of these meetings. At the same time the first national suffrage
convention was held in Worcester, Massachusetts, on the call of
eighty-nine leading men and women representing six states. Accounts of
the convention were widely circulated in this country and abroad.
English women,--for instance, Harriet Martineau,--sent words of
appreciation for the work thus inaugurated. It inspired a leading
article in the "Westminster Review," which deeply interested the
distinguished economist, John Stuart Mill. Soon he was the champion of
woman suffrage in the British Parliament and the author of a powerful
tract The Subjection of Women, widely read throughout the
English-speaking world. Thus do world movements grow. Strange to relate
the women of England were enfranchised before the adoption of the
federal suffrage amendment in America.
The national suffrage convention of 1850 was followed by an
extraordinary outburst of agitation. Pamphlets streamed from the press.
Petitions to legislative bodies were drafted, signed, and presented.
There were addresses by favorite orators like Garrison, Phillips, and
Curtis, and lectures and poems by men like Emerson, Longfellow, and
Whittier. In 1853 the first suffrage paper was founded by the wife of a
member of Congress from Rhode Island. By this time the last barrier to
white manhood suffrage in the North had been swept away and the woman's
movement was gaining momentum every year.
The Suffrage Movement Checked by the Civil War
Advocates of woman
suffrage believed themselves on the high road to success when the Civil
War engaged the energies and labors of the nation. Northern women became
absorbed in the struggle to preserve the union. They held no suffrage
conventions for five years. They transformed their associations into
Loyalty Leagues. They banded together to buy only domestic goods when
foreign imports threatened to ruin American markets. They rolled up
monster petitions in favor of the emancipation of slaves. In hospitals,
in military prisons, in agriculture, and in industry they bore their
full share of responsibility. Even when the New York legislature took
advantage of their unguarded moments and repealed the law giving the
mother equal rights with the father in the guardianship of children,
they refused to lay aside war work for agitation. As in all other wars,
their devotion was unstinted and their sacrifices equal to the
necessities of the hour.
The Federal Suffrage Amendment
Their plans and activities, when the
war closed, were shaped by events beyond their control. The emancipation
of the slaves and their proposed enfranchisement made prominent the
question of a national suffrage for the first time in our history.
Friends of the colored man insisted that his civil liberties would not
be safe unless he was granted the right to vote. The woman suffragists
very pertinently asked why the same principle did not apply to women.
The answer which they received was negative. The fourteenth amendment to
the federal Constitution, adopted in 1868, definitely put women aside by
limiting the scope of its application, so far as the suffrage was
concerned, to the male sex. In making manhood suffrage national,
however, it nationalized the issue.
This was the signal for the advocates of woman suffrage. In March, 1869,
their proposed amendment was introduced in Congress by George W. Julian
of Indiana. It provided that no citizen should be deprived of the vote
on account of sex, following the language of the fifteenth amendment
which forbade disfranchisement on account of race. Support for the
amendment, coming from many directions, led the suffragists to believe
that their case was hopeful. In their platform of 1872, for example, the
Republicans praised the women for their loyal devotion to freedom,
welcomed them to spheres of wider usefulness, and declared that the
demand of any class of citizens for additional rights deserved
Experience soon demonstrated, however, that praise was not the ballot.
Indeed the suffragists already had realized that a tedious contest lay
before them. They had revived in 1866 their regular national convention.
They gave the name of "The Revolution" to their paper, edited by
Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. They formed a national
suffrage association and organized annual pilgrimages to Congress to
present their claims. Such activities bore some results. Many eminent
congressmen were converted to their cause and presented it ably to their
colleagues of both chambers. Still the subject was ridiculed by the
newspapers and looked upon as freakish by the masses.
The State Campaigns
Discouraged by the outcome of the national
campaign, suffragists turned to the voters of the individual states and
sought the ballot at their hands. Gains by this process were painfully
slow. Wyoming, it is true, while still a territory, granted suffrage to
women in 1869 and continued it on becoming a state twenty years later,
in spite of strong protests in Congress. In 1893 Colorado established
complete political equality. In Utah, the third suffrage state, the
cause suffered many vicissitudes. Women were enfranchised by the
territorial legislature; they were deprived of the ballot by Congress in
1887; finally in 1896 on the admission of Utah to the union they
recovered their former rights. During the same year, 1896, Idaho
conferred equal suffrage upon the women. This was the last suffrage
victory for more than a decade.
The Suffrage Cause in Congress
In the midst of the meager gains
among the states there were occasional flurries of hope for immediate
action on the federal amendment. Between 1878 and 1896 the Senate
committee reported the suffrage resolution by a favorable majority on
five different occasions. During the same period, however, there were
nine unfavorable reports and only once did the subject reach the point
of a general debate. At no time could anything like the required
two-thirds vote be obtained.
The Changing Status of Women
While the suffrage movement was
lagging, the activities of women in other directions were steadily
multiplying. College after college--Vassar, Bryn Mawr, Smith, Wellesley,
to mention a few--was founded to give them the advantages of higher
education. Other institutions, especially the state universities of the
West, opened their doors to women, and women were received into the
professions of law and medicine. By the rapid growth of public high
schools in which girls enjoyed the same rights as boys, education was
extended still more widely. The number of women teachers increased by
leaps and bounds.
Meanwhile women were entering nearly every branch of industry and
business. How many of them worked at gainful occupations before 1870 we
do not know; but from that year forward we have the records of the
census. Between 1870 and 1900 the proportion of women in the professions
rose from less than two per cent to more than ten per cent; in trade and
transportation from 24.8 per cent to 43.2 per cent; and in manufacturing
from 13 to 19 per cent. In 1910, there were over 8,000,000 women
gainfully employed as compared with 30,000,000 men. When, during the war
on Germany, the government established the principle of equal pay for
equal work and gave official recognition to the value of their services
in industry, it was discovered how far women had traveled along the road
forecast by the leaders of 1848.
The Club Movement among Women
All over the country women's societies
and clubs were started to advance this or that reform or merely to study
literature, art, and science. In time these women's organizations of all
kinds were federated into city, state, and national associations and
drawn into the consideration of public questions. Under the leadership
of Frances Willard they made temperance reform a vital issue. They took
an interest in legislation pertaining to prisons, pure food, public
health, and municipal government, among other things. At their sessions
and conferences local, state, and national issues were discussed until
finally, it seems, everything led to the quest of the franchise. By
solemn resolution in 1914 the National Federation of Women's Clubs,
representing nearly two million club women, formally endorsed woman
suffrage. In the same year the National Education Association, speaking
for the public school teachers of the land, added its seal of approval.
State and National Action
Again the suffrage movement was in full
swing in the states. Washington in 1910, California in 1911, Oregon,
Kansas, and Arizona in 1912, Nevada and Montana in 1914 by popular vote
enfranchised their women. Illinois in 1913 conferred upon them the right
to vote for President of the United States. The time had arrived for a
new movement. A number of younger suffragists sought to use the votes of
women in the equal suffrage states to compel one or both of the national
political parties to endorse and carry through Congress the federal
suffrage amendment. Pressure then came upon Congress from every
direction: from the suffragists who made a straight appeal on the
grounds of justice; and from the suffragists who besought the women of
the West to vote against candidates for President, who would not approve
the federal amendment. In 1916, for the first time, a leading
presidential candidate, Mr. Charles E. Hughes, speaking for the
Republicans, endorsed the federal amendment and a distinguished
ex-President, Roosevelt, exerted a powerful influence to keep it an
issue in the campaign.
After that, events moved rapidly. The great
state of New York adopted equal suffrage in 1917. Oklahoma, South
Dakota, and Michigan swung into line the following year; several other
states, by legislative action, gave women the right to vote for
President. In the meantime the suffrage battle at Washington grew
intense. Appeals and petitions poured in upon Congress and the
President. Militant suffragists held daily demonstrations in Washington.
On September 30, 1918, President Wilson, who, two years before, had
opposed federal action and endorsed suffrage by state adoption only,
went before Congress and urged the passage of the suffrage amendment to
the Constitution. In June, 1919, the requisite two-thirds vote was
secured; the resolution was carried and transmitted to the states for
ratification. On August 28, 1920, the thirty-sixth state, Tennessee,
approved the amendment, making three-fourths of the states as required
by the Constitution. Thus woman suffrage became the law of the land. A
new political democracy had been created. The age of agitation was
closed and the epoch of responsible citizenship opened.
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