The Women's Reform Movement


From the colonial period through the American Revolution a woman was considered a domestic figure. Her duty revolved around the house and her children, while the male was considered the head authority figure. In the early 19th century universities for women were organized, but the percent of women who graduated was lox. In the early 1800's The Women's Reform Movement, a movement centered mainly around northern, white, educated, and middle class women began to take shape. The movement grew out out of the abolitionist movement and temperance movement, where women finally began to see that they didn't have a voice in society nor in government. Many of the main leaders of the movement had previously been part of various Anti-Slavery and Temperance Societies. The American Revolution became a comparison. Just as Britain had controlled the colonists, women were controlled by men. Some women felt the men that had fought in the revolution were hypocrites. The pinnacle point of the movement was the Seneca Falls Convention. Elizabeth Stanton formed the Decleration of Sentiments, which addressed many of the complaints and concerns women had, just as the Decleration addressed the concerns the colonists had with King George. After the convention various suffrage Associations formed and worked hard on both state and national level to get many of the rights women were withheld from. The Women's Reform Movement took place in phases. In the first phase of the movement the main focus was on suffrage, the right to vote. But they also fought for property, inheritance, and divorce rights. Women were gearing up to fight the existing social order in society, which was definitely not going to be easy.

Guiding Questions:

  • Historical forces/factors that led to development of movements
  • Obstacles/challenges reformers faced
  • Tools/Methods used to overcome obstacles
  • To what degree were the movements successful?
  • Why is this issue still provoking thought today?

Leaders of the Movement

Susan Brownell Anthonyexternal image brown_susan-b-anthony.jpg
Susan Brownell Anthony was born on Feburary 15, 1820 in Adams, MA and died March 13 1906, in Rochester NY.
  • She campaigned for the abolition of slavery and supported the temperance movement. In fact she formed the Women's Temperance Society, this is what catapulted her into the women's reform movement.
  • She was focused mainly on suffrage. Many have said, "Anthony was the catalyst for this work, covering the first 50 years of the suffrage movement."
  • She was the co-founder of The National Woman Suffrage Association (1869).
  • She was also the editor of her, extremely controversial, suffragist newspaper known as The Revolution. Along with discussing the role of women in society and politics, the newspaper supported labor unions, civil service reform, and the abolition of child labor. It dared to discuss abortion and prostitution.

Julia Ward Howe
Julia Ward Howe was born on May 27, 1819 in NY, and died October 17, 1910 in Rhode Island.
  • In her early life she had witnessed devastating effects of the Franco-Prussian war. To do the distress, she created and became president of the International Women's Peace Association in 1871. Of course it didn't live on because "women were not ready for this type of work". But through this she launched herself into the women's reform movement
  • She joined The National American Women Suffrage Association (1890).
    Julia Ward Howe
    Julia Ward Howe
  • She is also known for is writing the "Battle Hymn of the Republic", which was soon to become the anthem of the Women's Reform Movement.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Elizabeth Cady Stanton was born on November 12, 1815 in Johnstown, NY, and died October 26, 1902 at her home in New York City.
  • Her father was a judge and she became a feminist after hearing her father tell women that it was perfectly just that their fathers and husbands were beating them. The young age at which she became a feminist strengthened her motivation during the woman suffrage movement.
  • She was not able to support women's suffrage for many years after she was married, due to her responsibilities as a mother of five.
  • She organized the Seneca Falls Convention, America's first woman's rights convention in 1848.
  • She wrote the Declaration of Rights and Sentiments in 1848, and it was first presented at the Seneca Falls Convention.
  • She wrote the History of Woman Suffage and edited The Woman's Bible. It evaluated the Judeo-Christian legacy and its impact on women through history.
Lucy Stone
Lucy Stone

Lucy Stone
Lucy Stone was born on August 13, 1818 in West Brookfield, MA and died from stomach cancer on October 19, 1893.
  • Her father refused to pay for her education, so she started working at a school when she was 16 to raise money for a college education. When she was 25 she had enough money to attend Oberlin College.
  • A year after graduating she started lecturing for the Antislavery Society, but still supported women's rights when possible.
  • She held the first national Women's Rights Convention in 1850 and continued to do so annually.
  • Although she did marry, Lucy Stone kept her maiden name in support of women's rights.
  • While the 15th Amendment was pending, she and her husband tried to get the word "male" removed from the bill.
  • She and her husband were very active in nearly a dozen woman's rights activist groups.

Lucretia Mott
Lucretia Mott
Lucretia Mott

Lucretia Mott was born on January 3, 1793 and died on November 11, 1880
  • The second child of seven she completed her schooling at Nine Partners Quaker Boarding School.
  • She was an active supporter of the abolition movement. She refused to use cotton cloth, cane sugar, and other slavery-produced goods.
  • In 1840 another convention of of the Anti-Slavery Society in London, England didn't allow her to speak (similar incident happened with Susan B. Anthony) or participate in the discussion.
  • She was responsible, along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton for the Seneca Falls convention of 1848.
  • As most of the women's rights leaders at the time she fought for women suffrage, but she also fought for women divorce rights. At the time women weren't allowed to set conditions of divorce. It was very difficult to obtain a divorce, and even if a woman succeeded the husband would usually get custody of the children. She sought to make divorce easier to obtain, and guard her rights of custody of the children.
    Sojourner Truth
    Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth
Sojourner Truth was born in 1797 in upstate New York and died November 26, 1883 in Michigan.
  • She was born into slavery and served a number of families, including the Van Wagenen's family, under the name Isabella Baumfree.
  • While serving under one of her families she was forced to marry another slave named Thomas, and had 5 children. Before the New York law emancipated all slaves in 1872, she had ran away with her infant daughter, and found refuge with a Quaker family. Not to long after she legally got her son Peter back, who had been illegally sold into slavery in the south and was set free.
  • In 1843 she took the name Sojourner Truth. She felt it was the instruction form the holy spirit, after which she began preaching.
  • In the 1840's she started to become a part of the abolitionist movement. Pretty soon she was known as a famous speaker, who spoke about the social injustice experienced by African American Women. One of the things she campaigned for was that she wanted land set aside in the west for free African Americans.
  • In 1850 she began speaking about women suffrage with her most famous speech, "Ain't I a Woman". Her speech was supported greatly by both white and black women.

Historical Forces/Factors that led to Development of the Movement

American Revolution
Some women believed that men who fought in the revolution against Britain were hypocrites. A reason why America fought Britain was for equal representation in parliament. Revolutionists said, "no taxation without representation". Britain was controlling America. Women felt the same way. Women weren't represented in any legislation in the American government. Women were still to submit to the laws without any complaint, laws they had no say in. Just like Britain had controlled the colonists, men controlled women.

Temperance Movement
Many women were part of temperance societries. It was seen as an extension of the role of a women. With the expansion of education, women began to question their role. Many women rights leaders were temperance supporters, like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Stanton. In one of the Temperance Society meetings in 1852, Susan B. Anthony wasn't allowed to speak because of her position as a woman. Due to this she founded the Women's Temperance society with Elizabeth Stanton. One of the speeches, given by Elizabeth Stanton at the Women's Temprance Society, addressed this unfairness. She said, "instead of listening to what we had to say on temperance, they have questioned the right of a woman to speak on any subject." In time Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Stanton would transform the Women's Temperance Society to a "forum for feminism and a campiagn for women's suffrage. Other women temperance societies were founded that would also later help in the fight for women suffrage, like Frances Willard's Women's Christian Temperance Union.

Abolition Movement
The Women's Rights Movement grew out of the abolitionist movement. Most of the leaders of the movement were first active abolitionists. Initially the American Anti-Slavery Society split over the issues of women's rights in 1840. Men were opposed to women taking active roles in the meetings. Women were forced to listen behind curtains, they weren't allowed to take main speaking roles in the meetings, nor were they allowed to vote with the majority. These unfair rules lead Elizabeth Stanton and Lucretia Mott to hold the first woman's rights convention in Seneca Falls. Sarah and Angelina Grimke were active abolitionists from the south that also addressed the issue of women's rights. There speaking for women's rights angered mostly clergy and conservative men, and worried male abolitionists. A lot of male abolitionists tried to prevent women's rights from getting in the way of abolition, but as Angelina Grimke has said in their letter to Theodore Weld and John Greenleaf Whittier, "God hath joined [them] together." She wrote about how the clergy had attacked them. The clergy had said, “it is a shame for a woman to speak in the churches.” She made the comparison that this invasion on their rights was the same as the invasion on abolitionist rights, when they were told they had no right to discuss the issue of slavery. Angelina Grimké made an important statement that said, "We must establish this right for if we do not, it will be impossible for us to go on with the work of Emancipation." Through Participation in the Anti-Slavery Society, women's rights leaders learned how to organize, publicize and articulate political protests and other tactics.
list of people at convention
list of people at convention

Seneca Falls Convention of 1848
One of the major events that started off the women's rights movement was the convention in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York called by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. The purpose of the convention was to call BOTH men and women to come together and discuss the various issues facing women in society. An important figure present at the convention was Fredrick Douglas. A very important document to come out of the convention was The Declaration of Sentiments, which was drafted by Elizabeth Candy Stanton, based off of the Declaration of Independence. It demanded rights for women. Rights that, "he has withheld her from rights which are given to most ignorant and degraded men, both natives and foreigners." They wanted property and inheritance rights. They wanted to be treated equally under the law, even in the circumstances of a crime. Women also made the complaint that they were forced to submit to the law without representation in government. They also addressed the issues of suffrage, concluding that it was the woman's responsibility to gain that right. A newspaper article in the New York Times from 1852, the reporter recorded a convention that took place in Pennsylvania. In conventions following the Seneca Falls a lot of the same issues were discussed.

Suffrage Associations
A final factor that led to the development of the movement are all the different organizations and their branches that were formed. Most of the groups' main focus was on suffrage at that time. One of the main organizations was the National Woman Suffrage Association, founded by Anthony and Stanton. This organization worked on the federal level to get an amendment passed, and pressed for more extensive "institutional changes", such as the granting of property rights to married women. Stone and Howe created the American Woman Suffrage Association. They tried to secure woman suffrage through state legislation.

Challenges Faced by the Movement

men opposed to women suffrage
men opposed to women suffrage

Criticism Among Men
After the movement started gaining momentum it was met with plenty criticism by men. There were many "anti-suffrage" groups opened all over the US. The headquarters for the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage was in New York. Men felt if women were given a lot of the rights they demanded then, "the concept of male protection over women" would be lost. Education wasn't encouraged among women, most women were uneducated. They even thought putting the vote into hands of uneducated women would be dangerous.

Government Doesn't Take the Cause Seriously
In 1887 for the first time the US senate voted on women suffrage after Susan B. Anthony had gotten petitions from 26 states with around 10,000 signatures. It lost to a vote of 34 to 16, where 26 senators did not bother participating. The government didn't take this cause seriously. They kept telling women to be patient and that their time would come, but right now politics wasn't the place for women. They thought that women were emotionally, morally, and physically weren't capable of contributing to American politics.

"Negro's Hour" vs. "Woman Hour"
After the civil war period, one of the legal challenges facing the union was defining an American citizen. African American men were on the verge of getting an amendment passed (15th amendment) for their suffrage. Women worked hard to try to achieve the exclusion of the word male to to make it applicable to both white and black woman. They failed in that, and the original amendment was

Image of gavel
Image of gavel

passed in 1868. At that time many African Americans along with white men believed that it wasn't time for women to fight for suffrage, rather it was the "Negro's hour" to fight for suffrage.

Criticism Among Women
Surprisingly many of the anti-suffrage groups were led by women, many of whom were uneducated. They felt that their voice was better heard inside the house rather than in public affairs. Others were afraid to come out into the open and compete with men in the same "rugged fields." Still others felt that women would loose their characteristic of femininity.

Differences in Views in the Suffrage Association
Many different women joined the associations. But along with that the leaders of the associations were met with varying views and perspectives on the issue by its members. From the beginning there was a division. Susan Anthony and Elizabeth Stanton wanted to focus on political and social issues hitting the women community as well as suffrage. Julia Howe and Lucy Stone were considered conservative "activists". Their focus was on woman suffrage, and they felt after this main goal was accomplished could women gain other rights. Howe and Stone also felt that men played a big role in movement, and their support was necessary. Susan and Elizabeth firmly disagreed. In 1868 the 15th amendment was passed. This amendment stated that, "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied...on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude." Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton refused to endorse the amendment. Other leaders like Julia Ward Howe and Lucy Stone were more patient, they felt that once African American men could vote only then could women achieve their goal.Factions grew bigger in the 1890's when newer and younger women came into movement. Sometimes their views and goals for the movement were different from the goals of the older women. Views clashed at times, which also made the change of emphasis in the organizations inevitable.

African American Women in the Movement

Specific differences lay in the issue of African American women in the movement. Southern women were opposed to black women joining the movement. In a women's rights convention in Ohio on May 29, 1851 a few men came to voice their opinion about superiority of men over women in intellect and the "manhood of Christ". Sojourner Truth, a famous African American women's rights activist and abolitionist gave her famous "Ain't I Women" speech. Her speech addressed the opinions of the men. She responded to comment about intellect, "What's intellect got to do with women's rights or black folks' rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint and yours holds a quart, wouldn't you be mean not to let me have my little half-measure full?". And she responded to the comment about the "manhood of Christ" by saying, "Where did your Christ come from? A God and a woman!" Her speech got support from both black and white women. But when it came down to it African American Women had different goals, they needed to fight for the better treatment of their people before they went onto fight for suffrage. Because of the differences in goals, in 1890 The Colored Woman's League split off from the National American Women Suffrage Association.

Tool/ Methods Used to Overcome Obstacles

The Declaration of Rights and Sentiments
Decleration of Sentiments
Decleration of Sentiments

Before Woman Suffrage, women had very few rights and were often mistreated. They were denied the right to vote and then required to follow laws that they had no say in. Once a woman was married she became her husband's property and he could do with her and her things whatever he wanted. The happiness of women was disregarded completely, while men had the right to degrade her to the extent that she was willing to be oppressed. Elizabeth Stanton voiced these complaints in the Declaration of Rights and Sentiments. After listing these complaints, many resolutions are made, most of which are goals that women wanted to achieve in order to overcome the oppression of men. One of their main goals was to stop women from remaining ignorant or content with their suffering. They also listed the rights they were withheld from, such as property, inheritance, and divorce rights. One technique used in the Declaration of Rights and Sentiments to gain support for the cause was formatting the document and including lines very similar to the Declaration of Independence. By comparing the rights of women to the rights of the first Americans and the values upon which our country was formed, and proving that the way women were treated defied those essential values, Elizabeth Stanton made women suffrage easier to understand and support.

Susan B. Anthony Petitions the Government

After the 15th amendment was passed, Susan B. Anthony intentionally tested the law in the election of 1872. She voted for Ulysses S. Grant. As suspected she was then convicted in New York of illegal voting. She was fined $100, but she refused to pay a single penny. On January 12, 1874, Anthony petitioned the Congress of the United States requesting "that the fine imposed upon your petitioner be remitted, as an expression of the sense of this high tribunal that her conviction was unjust."

After the 15th Amendment
After the 15th amendment a voting rights petition was sent to both the House of Representatives and Senate to extend the right to vote to women, and allow women to be represented in congress. It was signed by Susan B. Anthony and other activists.

Unification of the Two Main Suffrage Associations
In 1890 the two main suffrage associations, American Woman Suffrage Association and The National Suffrage Association, joined together to create the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Elizabeth Stanton became president, Susan B. Anthony became vice president, and Lucy Stone became chairman of executive committees. The unification of these two biggest organizations was important in solving the sectionalism in the organizations.

Parades and Marches
Many parades and marches took place throughout the Women's Rights Movement. It was a way for women to display their cause to the public. Through parades and marches suffrage associations gained female supporters. And a key benefit from the marches was publicity. these demonstrations would at times land on the front page of newspapers. Publicity helped spread knowledge about the movement. A very famous march took place in 1913 in Washington. Hundreds of women marched to the nation's capital, holding banners, demanding the right to vote.

women picketing for women suffrage
women picketing for women suffrage

Civil Disobedience/Speeches
Later on in the struggle tactics like picketing, hunger strikes, and other forms of disobedience were used to publicize their cause. Famous suffragist leaders gave speeches encouraging women and educating them about the cause. Some of the most famous speeches were given by Susan B. Anthony in her court trial, when she refused to pay the fine she was charged for illegal voting. Elizabeth Cady Stanton addressed the women and men in the Seneca Falls Convention, which was her most famous speech.

The Revolution
The Revolution was a suffragist paper that promoted women suffrage and talked about other issues hitting the women society. The paper dared to discuss prostitution and abortion extremely controversial topics back then. She was opposed to those roles played by women saying that they were "a product of bad conditions, rather than bad women." It not only advocated for women suffrage but also supported labor unions. Her paper supported and pressed for an 8-hour work day and equal pay for working women. She even promoted immigration. She wanted equality for women in the workplace, marriage, and society in general. The paper empowered women who were scared to stand up for themselves and actually support the movement. It provided publicity and educated women about the movement. The paper was first published in 1868.

Result of the Women's Rights Movement/ Impact

19th Amendment
In 1920 the 19th amendment was passed and signed by president Woodrow Willson. This amendment guaranteed suffrage to all American citizens regardless of sex. Women had finally achieved what they had struggled and fought for. Tennessee was the 36th state to ratify the amendment on August 18, 1920. The amendment passed its final hurdle of getting 3/4 of the states to ratify it. By gaining the right to vote women had gained a new self respect in the eyes of men in society. Those women are the reason that women today, that are over 18, can proudly go to the voting polls in their town an cast their vote, knowing their voice is heard in government.

Marriage Women Property Bill
Not only did women gain suffrage, but they brought some change in property, inheritance, and divorce rights. Susan Anthony petitioned and campaigned for women property righths reform in New York. She collected petitions and gave speeches. Significantly due to her efforts and Elizabeth Cady Stanton the Marriage Women Property Bill became a law in 1860. The law stated that women could own property after marriage, keep their own wages, and have custody of children after divorce.

Position of Women Today
Today women head large companies, serve in government offices all around the world, and are in positions that women back then didn't even dream of. How different life for us today would have been if those women didn't go against the norms of society. They completed, what seemed to be, an impossible goal.

Battle for Abortion Rights and Equal Pay
The Women's Reform Movement is thought provoking today because the battle isn't over. Still today women are struggling and fighting for rights such as abortion and equal pay as men. It seems as though equality is a never ending struggle that continues even today.

women celebrating the 19th amendment
women celebrating the 19th amendment