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Considering life today in the United States, it may be hard to believe that women once had to fight for basic rights such as being able to own property and the right to vote. The struggle for women's equality was organized in the 1800s and continues today. One of the many interesting facts about women's rights is that not only men but also women resisted the suffrage movement.
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Abolition and Suffrage
Activists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott were banned from the 1840 World’s Anti-Slavery Convention in London, England and had to listen from behind a screen. As a result, the women spent much time together discussing the troubles of women. They decided to organize a convention on women’s rights but did not pursue the idea for another eight years. The African-American fight for equality became the model for the women’s rights movement.
Early Firsts in Women’s Rights
The Women’s Rights Convention held in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848 was attended by about three hundred people, including abolitionist Frederick Douglas. The convention is widely considered the beginning of the organized women’s movement for equality in the U.S. The first campaign women organized specifically to further their own rights was the Married Women’s Property Act of New York that passed in 1848. Stanton along with Ernestine Rose and Paulina Wright Davis successfully campaigned to end laws that forced a woman to give up everything they owned to their husband when they married.
The Civil War put the issue of women’s rights on hold. Women’s rights activists in the northern states worked hard for the Union cause and were deeply disappointed when the 14th amendment was ratified in 1868. This amendment made African-American men citizens, but not women. The issues of women’s suffrage and abolition became separate from then on.
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The Nineteenth Amendment
Suffrage made headway in many states, especially those in the west. There were often restrictions though, such as they could only vote for women candidates and local elections. A strong anti-suffrage movement countered the women's rights campaign. Anti-suffragettes thought suffrage equaled divorce and that the social norms of a woman’s place in the family needed protection.
The National American Women Suffrage Association (NAWSA) was formed in 1890. NAWSA widely published women’s contributions to the war effort. President Wilson used this argument to persuade Congress to pass suffrage. The Nineteenth Amendment was ratified in 1920, granting women the right to vote. However, two out of every three women failed to vote in the 1920 election.
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Feminism is revived in the 1960's and women once again begin to speak out against oppression. Many women were entering the workforce and equal pay became an important issue. Women made up 1/3 the workforce in 1960 but only made 59 cents for every dollar a man made in the same job.
In 1963, The Equal Pay Act required employers to provide equal pay for equal work. In 1964 women were included in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination in employment due to race or sex.
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The National Women’s Party first suggested a constitutional amendment protecting the equality of women in 1923. Leader Alice Paul felt more than the Nineteenth amendment was needed to protect women while Carrie Chapman Catt and others were not at all interested in the issue.
The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which would guarantee that men and women having equal rights, was introduced to congress in 1923 and reappeared in every subsequent session of congress until the motion died in 1982. After 59 years the proposed amendment was defeated due to lack of support. Only 3 more state votes were needed for approval.
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There are many interesting facts about women's rights. The struggle for equality has made great strides despite disagreement and opposition. Disagreements over issues such as abortion continue to divide the movement and groups like the National Organization for Women (NOW) founded in 1966 remain active in women's rights today.
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Brinkley, Alan. American History, A Survey Vol. II: Since 1865. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2007.
Nash, Gary B. American Odyssey: The United States in the Twentieth Century. New York: McGraw-Hill.1977.