History of the Women’s Rights Movement #1

The changes witnessed with the Women Rights Movement began in 1848 and continue today. Accomplishments of the Movement were achieved through meetings, petition drives, lobbying, public speaking and nonviolent resistance. Dramatic social and legal changes have been accomplished that are now so accepted that they go unnoticed by people whose lives they have utterly changed. The changes for women that have come about over seven generations in family life, religion, government, employment, education – these changes did not just happen spontaneously. Women themselves made these changes happen.

Women Rights Movement marks its official beginning as 13 July 1848. Elizabeth Stanton was invited to tea with four women friends. Stanton explained how the American Revolution was fought to attain the new democracy, but women had not gained freedom even though they took equally tremendous risks through those dangerous years. Her friends agreed with her. Within two days of their tea together, this small group had picked a date for a convention and found a suitable location. They would discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of woman on July 19 and 20, 1848 in Seneca Falls.

As the women set about preparing for the event, Elizabeth Cady Stanton used the Declaration of Independence as the framework for writing what she titled a “Declaration of Sentiments.” Stanton carefully enumerated areas of life where women were treated unjustly.

Stanton’s version read, “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.” Then it went into specifics:

  • Married women were legally dead in the eyes of the law
  • Women were not allowed to vote
  • Women had to submit to laws when they had no voice in their formation
  • Married women had no property rights
  • Husbands had legal power over and responsibility for their wives to the extent that they could imprison or beat them with impunity
  • Divorce and child custody laws favored men, giving no rights to women
  • Women had to pay property taxes although they had no representation in the levying of these taxes
  • Most occupations were closed to women and when women did work they were paid only a fraction of what men earned
  • Women were not allowed to enter professions such as medicine or law
  • Women had no means to gain an education since no college or university would accept women students
  • With only a few exceptions, women were not allowed to participate in the affairs of the church
  • Women were robbed of their self-confidence and self-respect, and were made totally dependent on men
  • That summer, change was in the air and Elizabeth Cady Stanton was full of hope that the future could and would be brighter for women.

    Source: History of the Women’s Rights Movement #1
    © National Women's History Project

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