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The History Of Women’s Rights Essay, Research Paper

This is no simple reform, it really is a revolution. Sex and race, because they are easy, visible differences, have been the primary ways of organizing human beings into superior, and inferior groups and into the cheap labor on which the system still depends. We are talking about a society in which there will be no roles other than those chosen or earned. We are really talking about humanism. (Gloria Steinem) Women have fought for equal rights continuously in the United States. They are equal citizens and should have all the same rights as men; however, even today, their rights are still limited. This is a situation that we need to work together in and make a difference for all women in this country! Women movements have worked hard since the early 1800 s and are still working together today. They have fought and gained for women s suffrage, women s right to vote, now they work for greater equality in the home, family and work place. To understand the history and struggle for women s rights we must first look at the early social roles of women.

Early Views and Social Roles

Historically women always held lower social calluses then men. They have been viewed intellectually inferior to men and are often mentioned as a source of evil and temptation. Early Roman law, Christian theology, Greek mythology, and Hinduism have all stated women as evil, full of unhappiness, and forever inferior to men. Differently, the middle Ages allowed women personal and intellectual freedom but not for long. In 1976 there where even marketplace records that women where sold in London for three and a half guineas! (Harris,71,21) The Victorian beliefs stated that women should participate in music, painting, and literature, and where born to serve men.

The belief that women are more emotional and less decisive, intelligent, and creative than men has been proved incorrect by test performed by sociologists and anthropologists. They believe that this is because of negative stereotypes that cultures have taught girls to behave according to. Actually, these tests have shown the women have a greater tolerance for pain, live longer, and have less of a chance of becoming ill.

Women traditionally have been expected to stay at home to take care of the children and depend on men to bring home the income. Girls learned from their mother s examples in cooking, cleaning, and childcare and had a limited education. In recent decades the trend has changed; however, women still continue to face barriers to many occupations. These roles were altered when the changes in women s rights began.

Changes in Women s Rights

Several developments during the late 1700s and into the 1800s began the many changes that would take place. The intellectual atmosphere helped justify women to a full citizenship.

To begin with, the Revolutionary War from 1775 to 1783, which fought for liberty and equality, raised hopes for some American women who supported the war by sewing, farming, and protesting British goods. In the end, though, it did not increase the rights of women. (Giele,97,387)

The Industrial Revolution of the 1800s moved the poorer class of women out of their homes and into factories. They earned good wages but their husbands controlled all of their earnings. Because of poorly ventilated, crowded rooms and long hours at the factories many states began passing laws in 1910 that limited the working hours and improved the conditions, but many women feel that this was just another way of restricting their rights.

Although this helped the working class of women it hurt the middle class. These women lost all sense of useful involvement in productive work and turned to needlework, craftwork, and religious or charitable activities. They worked on aiding the poor, promoting temperance, and sending missionaries to foreign countries; however, few groups worked on equal right movements.

The Industrial Revolution for women did not last long though. With an abundance of Irish immigrants

There were also many changes in women s education although they were still not considered capable of learning such subjects as math and science. Beginning in 1819, Emma Willard fought for the education of girls. After the Civil War, Boston and Philadelphia were the first cities to give free high school education to girls. Then in 1833 Oberlin College opened up and allowed all people no matter what their sex, religion, or race to attend. Between 1865 and 1885 Antioch College and Iowa, Wisconsin, and California State Universities permitted women to attend. Although some women now had a formal education it was still difficult to find decent jobs.

Even today the amount of women students continue to increase rapidly. In 1870 only 1/5 of the students were women but in the 1900s it increased to 1/3 of the students. (Sochen,96,271) From the beginning of the 19th century to the 20th century the college education has increased from 19 percent to 49 percent. (Sochen,96,271) Learning about women s movements will also show you how the roles of women have changed.

The Beginning of Women s Movements

Women were making great progress during the 1840s and 50s. They were now allowed to make contracts, own property, control legal earnings, and have joint custody of children. New laws aided widowed, deserted, and mistreated women. Women also formed many groups, which were the beginning of women s rights movements.

There were two types of groups; social or domestic and equal rights feminist groups. Social groups carried out religious, charitable, and social activities. The more important of the two were equal rights feminist groups. They worked to remove educational and political barriers and to change the role of women. Before 1860 many movements were social.

Then, in July of 1848 Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton organized the first rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York. (Cullen-Dupont,97,212)They adopted a Declaration of Sentiments. This stated all the rights and privileges that they believed they should have as citizens of the United States of America. The convention met every year from 1850 to 1861 and discussed the rights of women in divorce, custody of children, and suffrage, the right to vote. Suffrage will show you another reason why women s movements were formed.

A Struggle for Women s Suffrage

In the middle of the 1800s women realized that without suffrage, the right to vote, they could not make any changes for themselves or the country. This was the beginning of the struggle for suffrage that lasted 72 years.

Eventually, as suffrage became more important to women two organizations formed; the National World Suffrage Association (NWSA) and the American Women Suffrage Association (AWSA.) The NWSA, started in 1969 was led by Susan B. Anthony and demanded equal education, employment, and voting rights immediately. Lucy Stone and her husband, Henry Blackwell, led the AWSA, also started in 1969. This organization supported gradual advances such as limited suffrage in local elections.(Giele,97,386) The NWSA was considered radical unlike the more moderate AWSA.

Later the two groups merged and formed the National American Women Suffrage Association (NAWSA.) They held conventions, campaigned, and gave out literature to gain support. They also used new methods like parades and outdoor speeches. (Giels,97,386)

Eventually, in 1900 women gained suffrage in four states; Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, and Utah. Then in 1907 Arizona, California, Illinois, Kansas, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska granted women s suffrage.(Cullen-Duppont,97,212)

Meanwhile Carrie Chapman came up with her winning plan. Her plan was to concentrate on winning suffrage in 36 states and then pressure the U.S. congressman to pass a constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote.(Giele,97,388)

At the same time, the National Women s Party (NWP), led by Lucy Burns and Alice Paul, Was picketing the White House. About 168 women served at least 6 months in jail.

Finally, on May 21, 1919 the House of Representatives passed the 19th Amendment, which would give women the right to vote. Next the Senate passed it on June 4, 1919. Then on August 26, 1920 women were finally given the right to vote.

As a result, women s suffrage had a great impact. It changed male and female roles in the workplace, family, and home. Election results also changed. There was a growing participation in the labor force; it had changed from 11 percent in 1900 to 28 percent in 1940.(Giele,97,389) After the gain of women s suffrage their was a great decline in women s movement.

The Decline After 1920

After suffrage was granted many people felt that the need for women s movements had disappeared. The NAWSA became the League of Women Voters and worked to educate women about current politics. A few women even held high political office. For example, Frances Perkins who was the Secretary of Labor Under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. More women participated in the work force during WWII

Women in World War Two

While World War Two took place from 1939 to 1945, many women took factory production jobs to aid the warfare. They filled the spots of 16 million men who left for the war. (Sochen,96,271) Consequently, when the war ended they were urged to leave so returning servicemen could find work. For this reason, many women became full time housewives and became devoted to their home and family. The next events to happen in the history of women s rights are the movements of the 1960s and 70s.

Women s Movements in the 1960s and 1970s

In the 1960s and 70s a new type of women s movement appeared. Two types of groups formed; small, informal women s liberation groups and large, formal organizations.

Small, informal women s liberation groups were formed by female college students and tended to be leaderless. They focused on members personal experiences to get rid of discrimination and promote equality between men and women in marriage, childcare, education, and employment. On the contrary, large, formal organizations campaigned for the passage and strict enforcement of equal rights laws. (Giele,97,388)

President John F. Kennedy s Commission on the Status of Women discovered many legal barriers to equality in 1961. These laws exclude women from jury service, certain occupations, and kept women from enjoying their full rights as U.S. citizens.

Next, in 1966, feminist leaders formed the National Women s Organization (NOW) to fight sexual discrimination. The Women s Equity Action League, formed in 1968, monitored education programs to find in equalities in faculty pay or promotion and drew attention to classes that discouraged female students participation. The National Women s Political Caucus, 1971, focused on finding and supporting women candidates for political office. (Giele,97,388)

At the same time, antifeminist groups formed. They worked in the opposite direction to stop equal rights movements. They believed these movements would damage the American family. (Cullen-Dupont,97,213)

On August 26, 1971, in New York City more than 10,000 women participated in the National Women s Strike Coalition. All types of women and organizations mat there to demand free childcare, equal opportunity laws, and to legalize abortion. (Harris,71,9) To understand these movements, you must also read about the legal gains of women.

Legal Gains

Laws passed during the 1960s and 1970s aimed at proving equal rights for women. The Equal Pat Act of 1933 requires equal pay for men and women performing the same work.

In addition, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 stopped job discrimination on the basis of sex, color, race, national origin, or religion. A company with 25 or more employees could be sued for going against this. (Giele,97,213) A 1972 Civil Rights Act prohibited discrimination in government and public institutions.(Cullen-duppont,97,213)

In 1972, Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment but failed it failed to become part of the constitution because not enough states approved by the deadline. This would have resulted in women being drafted into the army.

Beginning in the 1970s many women groups pushed for social welfare laws to be passes. Many women believed that this was the only way working mothers could have employment opportunities. Finally, in 1993, a law was passed that requires companies with 50 or more employees to offer at least 12 weeks of unpaid leave to employees with a sick family member, new born infant, or a recently adopted child. (Giele,97,388) Reading about birth control will also increase your understanding of the 1960s and 70s women s movements.

Women and Birth Control

Birth control became an issue became an issue in the 1900s. At first it was illegal to take a pill from of birth control but because it was believed to reduce poverty it became legal for doctors to prescribe it. This made it possible for women to limit their number of children and enter the work force instead.

In the 1970s, many Supreme Court rulings, such As Roe vs. Wade, legalized abortion. (Giele,97,388) On the contrary, NOW and other women s groups are conatantly making attempts to limit women s legal access to abortion. As you will read next, feminism today has changed very much.

Modern Feminism of the 1990s

While feminism was based on research and obsessed with social change in the 1960s and 70s, today it is based on the culture of celebrities and self-obsession. Women barely ever distribute literature or have out door speeches. Now women want a world in which they can choose to be anything.(McDowell,98,54)

Although women s movements have died down there are still some forms of feminism. For example, there are women who have been trying to stop the production of dolls or toys that set bad examples for young girls. They also try to stop such offensive shows as Ally McBeal from being produced. These are some forms of feminism today.(McDowell,98,54)

As you have seen, women have fought hard for suffrage and equal rights and they continue you this today. They have changed their social roles dramatically and worked together to make many legal gains. However, the problem of unequal rights and treatment is still not solved. I urge you to start noticing the inequalities that happen to all women today and to support the women who are working hard to make a difference. Women s rights have come a far way but there is still more to accomplish before men and women are totally equal.


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