Women’s Movement Towards EqualityThe Women??s Movement Towards Equality
For centuries, all over the world, women have been forced to stand in the shadow of man because they were seen as weak individuals not worthy of equality. And for centuries, all over the world, women have fought to prove them wrong.
In early 15th century Venice, young girls were only give three options for the pathways of their lives when they reached womanhood: marriage, prostitution, or becoming a bride of Christ (a nun). ??Marriage placed a woman in virtually the only acceptable position that society allowed??marriage defined the life of a woman.?? (Ruggiero,11)
Females were seen as sexual beings, which led to numerous cases of sexual violence. ????For society as a whole it seems to have been a wise policy in light of the fact that women, especially women of lesser status, were viewed as inferior and lustful creatures who could change from lover to victim with alarming ease.?? (Ruggiero, 32) Young girls were often times sexually abused by male family members, friends, and strangers alike. ??Virginity was a meaningful ideal for unmarried women; without it a woman could have trouble being accepted into marriage.?? (Ruggiero, 25) Due to this fact, it was not uncommon for many women to marry their rapists because of the fear of no longer being an acceptable wife to another.
Within the marriage, adultery was also a problematic regular occurrence, an issue that once again divided the levels of responsibility amongst males versus females. Women, during this time, were considered the property of their husbands and therefore any crimes the wife committed were the responsibility of the husband. When it came to adulterous crimes committed by the wife, the husband was also sometimes considered to be at fault. There was an instance during the Renaissance society where a woman ran off with her lover and her husband was blamed because he was constantly traveling in order to support his family monetarily. The courts sustained that because he was too poor to support his wife, she had the right to run off with another man. (Rugerrio, 50-53)
These laws and beliefs were not constricted to the boundaries of Italy. All around the world women were not seen as equal to man, whether it was the value of their honor, the validity of their words, or their level of intelligence. The years have brought about many women that have proved that vision wrong.
During the late 19th century and into the early parts of the 20th
Century, the issue of women??s rights in America became a battle for equality and a tumultuous road to reformation.
In earlier times, the women??s role in American society placed the woman in the home, with her duty to cleaning and bearing children. The occurrence of World War I changed the role of women from homemakers to factory workers. Advertisements everywhere showed women that they could aid the war effort by helping to replace the male jobs that were now vacant. A clear and defiant move from the once ??simple?? role that had been previously embraced.
The Progressive Era in American history marks a period in time where possible solutions to the problems of urbanization, industrialization, and immigration came to light. One significant aspect of this period was the participation and full support of women. Most significantly, however, is the fact that this was a time where the idea of women??s suffrage became a reality. Through organizations such as the Young Women’s Christian Association, the National Consumers’ League, professional associations, and trade unions, female reformers were at the vanguard of the women’s suffrage campaign.
There are a number of remarkable women in history who have paved the way for the later female generations:
Jane Addams- Born in 1860, Addams was a progressive social reformer who later became recognized as ??the most influential woman in Chicago history.?? In 1889 she founded the Hull House settlement home in Chicago, which gave housing to immigrants and helped to aid with the social problems of society. In 1931, she became the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her international efforts in world peace. She was internationally respected as a social reformer, pacifist, author, peace and suffrage leader. Addams was the first vice-president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association.
Susan B. Anthony- Born in 1820, Anthony was one of the forerunners of the movement for women??s equality. She was an advocator of equal pay for equal work and vigorously encouraged women to form unions. In turn, Stanton was one of the leading ladies behind the National Women Suffrage Association (1869-1890). She was known as ??the Napoleon of the women??s rights movement.??
Inez Milholland Boissevain- Born in 1886 , Boissevain was a lecturer, lobbyist, and a labor lawyer. She was viewed as the model of the ??new woman.?? A socialist and pacifist, became a suffrage martyr when she died at 30 while urging women in the western states to defeat President Wilson for not endorsing suffrage.
Nannie Helen Burroughs- Born in 1883, Burroughs served as President of the Women’s Auxiliary of the National Baptist Convention. After experiencing job discrimination because of her skin-color from the school boards in Washington D.C., Burroughs opened her own school in which she preached the belief that all females should be given fair and equal opportunity. She also firmly believed in the integration of religion and education, teaching her pupils to achieve ??the highest level of Christian womanhood.??
Lucretia Coffin Mott- Born in 1793, Mott was easily seen as the leading women’s rights pioneer. She loudly boycotted products of slave labor and was a leading Philadelphia abolitionist. In 1848, Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton organized the first women??s rights convention in Seneca Falls, NY, which allowed for women to openly discuss their views on inequality. She was later named president of the American Equal Rights Association 1866.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton- Born in 1815, Stanton was an extraordinary woman’s rights leader. The fact that her father was a prominent leader in society gave her more credibility when it came to voicing her beliefs. Along with Lucrecia Mott, she called the first woman’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York 1848. Stanton also went on to write the Declaration of Sentiments which declared, men and women are created equal. Proposed that women should be given the right to vote, which caused her to suffer ridicule and much criticism. As a popular public speaker and forceful writer, she drafted numerous resolutions to the problems of society and later ran for Congress 1866. Stanton held her position as president of the National Woman Suffrage Association for 21 years.
Sojourner Truth- Born into slavery in 1797, Isabella Van Wagenen (in 1843 she changed her name to Sojourner Truth) dedicated her life to the abolishment of slavery and to the equality of women. Although she was illiterate, her infamous ??Ain??t I a Woman?? speech made her one of the most well known black women??s suffrage movement reformers. In the 1850??s, Truth spoke at several women??s rights meetings, encouraging brotherly love.
By the late 19th century, the aforementioned women (and countless others) helped to afford women advancement in property rights, employment and educational opportunities, divorce and child custody laws, and increased social freedoms. The early 20th century also saw a successful push for the vote through a coalition of suffragists, temperance groups, reform-minded politicians, and women’s social welfare organizations.
In today??s society women have been recognized for their previous efforts to change the proverbial ??mold??. The National Museum of American History in Washington D.C. recently held an exhibit in dedication to the women of the past that paved the way for the women of the future. ??From Parlor to Politics: Women and Reform in America, 1890-1925,?? traced the lives of the leaders and revolutionaries of the Women??s Suffrage Movement and exhibited various memorabilia from the time period. Walking through it makes one realize just how far society has come, and made one wonder how much further it will go.
1) Davis, Allen Freeman. American Heroine: The Life and Legend of Jane Addams. New York: Oxford, 1973.
2) Ruggiero, Guido. The Boundaries of Eros. AU Custom Course Packet for Cities and Crime, Viano, 2000.
3) Ware, Susan. Modern American Women: A Documentary History. New York: McGraw Hill, 1997.
4) http://www.inform.umd.edu (search for women??s suffrage ), University of Maryland, 1999.
5) http://www.history.rochester.edu/class/SUFFRAGE/HOME.html , University of Rochester, 1995.
6) Smithsonian National Museum of American History. From Parlor to Politics: Women and Reform in America, 1890-1925. Washington D.C., 2000.