Early Feminism & Women's Suffrage in America

Posted by Liz T. on

EQUAL SUFFRAGE IS THE BIRTHRIGHT OF WOMAN - a postcard by The Cargill Co. from 1910, from the Suffrage Postcard Project
"We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men and women are created equal."

In 1840, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were barred from attending the World Anti-Slavery Convention on the basis of their gender. This lead to the creation of the 1848 "Declaration of Sentiments" by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, which was presented at the first U. S. Women's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, NY. Nearly 200 years later, this document still remains a fascinating read, and was a key force in the movement for Women's Rights.

The 1848 Declaration of Sentiments by ELizabeth Cady Stanton - click to enlarge!

(full text of the 1848 Declaration of Sentiments by Elizabeth Cady Stanton - click to enlarge!)

Despite the popular perception of Susan B. Anthony and other early feminists as misandrist spinsters, many notable women's rights activists of the day chose to remain unmarried because to marry was to lose what rights they had. Rights in this era were frequently tied to one's status as a property owner. In many states, women were only permitted to own property if unmarried; the property of a married woman automatically became the property of her husband. 

A women's suffrage amendment was first proposed in the U. S. Congress in 1878. When the 19th Amendment finally passed in 1919, forty-one years later, it was worded exactly the same as this 1878 document. 

Even after women officially gained the right to vote, restrictions such as poll taxes and citizenship requirements kept many women away from the ballot box. Most Native American women couldn't vote until 1924, when all Native Americans were granted citizenship. Chinese immigrants did not gain citizenship rights and therefore voting rights until 1943. Poll taxes prevented people without financial means from voting for decades later, until after the passing of the 24th Amendment in 1964. Even today, there is still controversy around how "accessible for all" voting actually is.

Miss Rhoda Palmer, c. 1908Of the 100 people who signed the 1878 Declaration of Sentiments, 67 were women. Only one, Rhoda Palmer, lived long enough to legally vote. New York State enacted a women's suffrage law before the passage of the 19th Amendment, and as a result, Rhoda Palmer was able to vote in the November 1918 election at age 102. She passed away in August 1919.

For a more thorough look at the fight for women's rights in the US, check out the National Women's History Museum's detailed Timeline of Woman Suffrage.





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