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The Womens Movement Essay, Research Paper

The Women’s Movement

“To have drunkards, idiots, horse racing rum-selling rowdies, ignorant foreigners, and silly boys fully recognized, while we ourselves are thrust out from all the rights that belong to citizens, is too grossly insulting to be longer quietly submitted to. The right is ours. We must have it” (Rynder 3). This quote from one of Cady Stanton’s speeches shows what great injustice women had to suffer. Stanton is saying that even the scum of the earth had more rights than highly cultured women. In many aspects of life, women’s rights were dramatically less than those of men. Women were not allowed to vote; yet they had to pay taxes. Women were subjects of their husbands, and expected to do all of the housework. Many women helped in the fight for women’s suffrage. When looking at the woman’s movement, one must look at what rights were denied, who helped fight for these rights, and what we can learn from the movement.

The first thing to look at is the aspect of which rights were denied to women. The most important civil right that women were denied of was the right to vote. When the United States became a country, women were never included in which people had the right to vote. The right to vote in our country was restricted to white men that owned property. Women wanted this right. The women’s movement was already in action before the civil war. Women were fighting for suffrage, the right to vote, and prohibition, which would outlaw alcohol. During the war, women’s attentions were diverted to war issues, but the movement was strong again after the war. In the United States, individual states decided who was allowed to vote. In the western frontier states men and women had to work equally hard to survive and men recognized this. In light of this fact, women were given the privilege of voting. When the civil war ended, all of the slaves were free. This was also the time when women strove their hardest to pass an amendment that would give women the right to vote (Sigerman 3). With all the slaves free, the men and women would want suffrage, and they joined in the fight. One of the largest blows the women’s movement had to suffer was on February 3, 1870 when the 15th amendment was passed. The amendment stopped states from denying citizens the right to vote “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” but said nothing about not discriminating based on sex. In this amendment, men were saying that the African-American men they had enslaved were of higher stature than their own wives (Stevenson 54). Despite this setback women continued to work for suffrage.

Besides not having the right to vote, women did not have the basic civil right of owning property. When a woman entered into marriage, it was believed that the husband and wife became one unit. The husband was considered the head of that unit. If a woman owned any property, when she was married, it would legally become her husbands. Besides owning plain property, women were not allowed to own businesses either. It was believed that it was the husband’s duty to make money for the family. A woman may have been able to sell a few goods out of her home, but that was the extent of it. Over time, some women, especially young women, began working in the mills. This gave them more freedom.

Along with civil rights, women’s social rights were not equal to those of men. Women were to be submissive to their husbands. As wives, women were expected to perform all of the household duties. They were expected to cook, clean, and take care of the children (Chafe 67). As the women’s movement went on, new methods of performing these duties became available. Catherine Beecher wrote The New Housekeeper’s Manual. showing women how to lay out their homes in order to save time, and create a cleaner, more comfortable home (Rydner 2). New appliances such as toasters and washing machines started becoming available to aid women with their chores. Today men and women do housework, and our society has a lot of new technology that helps with housework.

Before about 1900, women were still not able to control their own bodies, and were not allowed to use birth control. A woman was bound by law to her husband. She was forced to consent to his wishes. If she did not, it was legal for him to beat her as punishment (Rydner 34). A woman was not allowed to control whether or not she wanted children. Before 1873 women could learn about birth control through advertisements in women’s magazines. This right was taken away from women in 1873 when Congress passed the Comstock Act after Mr. Comstock’s prodding. This law prohibited selling distributing, or mailing obscene literature and defined contraceptive devices and any information about them as obscene. The new form of birth control was “voluntary motherhood” (Rydner 37). Supporters of this form stated that if women were able to have children when they wanted to, the women would have happier, healthier children because they were wanted. In order to use this form of birth control, women needed the right to say no to their husbands. Some religions encouraged this practice because it prevented “sexual excess.” It is not known to what extent this method worked, but from 1800 to 1900 the birthrate among American women declined by about one half (Ryder 39).

Many women helped in achieving women’s rights. Some of these women were Jane Addams, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Catharine Beecher.

The first woman to talk about was Jane Addams. Jane Addams was a progresser. She worked for the rights of the immigrants, the poor, and for urban reform. On September 18, 1889, Addams opened the Hull House. Hull House residents could live here and have many opportunities. When the house first started it included a nursery, a gymnasium, a playground, an art gallery, and a music school. At this time it was a great achievement for a women to start a project, especially one this big. Between the 1890’s and the 1900’s, the Hull House grew to thirteen buildings, including a working women’s cooperative house, apartments for married residents and their families, a coffeehouse, a soup kitchen that sold food cheaply to local working families, and other buildings.

Living at the Hull House wasn’t a free ride. Many of the residents often became involved in projects, such as battles for factory inspections and industry safety, child labor laws, better working conditions, and higher wages for women. Also they worked for the recognition of labor unions, compulsory school attendance, and improved city sanitation. The residents really worked for what they believed in. The residents had several well-known people help them achieve their goals, such as William James, John Dewy, and Theodore Roosevelt. By successfully undertaking such a large challenge, Jane Addams proved that women were just as capable as men.

The next women to talk about are Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Stanton. When Anthony voted in the election of 1872, she did so illegally. When Susan registered at a shoe store, they tried to stop her. Susan then presented her argument for the right to vote, they listened to her and let her have her way. In that election, sixteen women voted. The government found out about Susan’s vote, and they arrested her on Christmas Eve. Susan was arrested under the fourteenth amendment. This stated that anyone who voted without legal rights would face penalties. The amendment was put there for rebels to keep them from voting without getting pardon for their treason in the Civil War. This amendment did not apply to women who were loyal to the government. Susan gave her testimony and was very convincing, yet the judge was not on her side. This judge told the jury to state that she was guilty, then, the judge got up and left, forgetting to give Susan a sentence, which was a mistake. When he found out about this he came back, fined her $100, and the costs of prosecution. Susan refused to pay it. She was hoping to go to jail for it. Then, her lawyer would appeal to the United States Supreme Court. There, she would have been discharged for not receiving a trial by jury. She was never forced to pay the fine.

Susan was fifty years old when all this happened. This was only one of the things she did. In 1850 Susan meet Elizabeth Stanton. Together they lead the American Women’s movement for the next half a century. Ms. Anthony supported the temperance movement. She formed the Women’s State Temperance Society of New York. She published a weekly journal, The Revolution, which demanded equal rights for women. Stanton and others also wrote the Sentiments and Resolution 9 in order to get more people to join the fight. Many woman worked hard to achieve suffrage, and finally they got it. In 1920, the 29th amendment was finally passed giving women the most important civil right, the right to vote.

Another woman in the women’s movement was Catherine Beecher. Beecher had a somewhat different tactic. She felt girls should be educated, and gave glory to women’s duties. Ms. Beecher founded the American Women’s Educational Association to promote the need for schools and teachers. In 1833 Oberline Collegiate Institute in Ohio became the first coeducational college. Also in 1841 Oberline became the first college to award degrees to women.

Thinking back on the women’s movement, a lot can be contemplated and learned. When presented with the facts, it would have been very easy to foresee a women’s suffrage movement. The women were good enough to raise the children, but they were not able to vote on the schools the children would attend. When women’s roles at home declined, women often felt useless and bored, so they went out in search of other things to do. As women started making a difference in communities and finding meaning in their lives, they began to realize that they were of equal stature to men. One of the things that is the most difficult to understand is how the men could give slaves the right to vote before their own wives. One of the most interesting facts to be learned is that Susan B. Anthony voted illegally. That takes great courage and determination.

The women’s movement changed women’s civil and social rights; also, it gave all women for generations to come endless opportunities. In the past, a woman may have gone off to work her 10-hour shift, and when she returned home she was still expected to go right to the kitchen to make dinner and clean the house. She would have to pay taxes because she worked; yet she was not allowed to have a say in how they were spent, because she did not have the right to vote. The women’s movement changed all of that. Through hard work and determination, women like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton achieved their goal and won suffrage for women. Along with this change came many other such as women having the right to own property, use birth control, and be separate people from their husbands. Today many women still work long hours and come home and take care of a family, but many also have husbands that help. Women are also able to vote on government issues. The story of the women’s movement shows us that through hard work and determination anything is possible. Let us remember the quote of Susan B. Anthony, “Failure is impossible” (Rynder 2).


Chafe, William. The American Woman. New York: Oxford University Press, 1972.

Eisenburg, Bonnie. “A Short Story of the Movement.” 1999. http://www.thehistorynet.com/womenshistory/articles/19964_cover.htm/ (3 Mar. 1999).

Rynder, Constance. “All Men and Women Are Created Equal” 1999. http://www.thehistorynet.com/AmericanHistory/articles/1999/04992_texthtm/

(3 Mar. 1999).

Sigerman, Harriet. Laborers For Liberty. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. Stevenson, Janet. Women’s Rights. New York: Franklin Watts, 1972.

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