The Struggle for Women's Rights: 1500-1870

The Struggle for Women's Rights: 1500-1870

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It was not until the 16th century that women began to advocate the right of women becoming involved in politics. In 1526 Elizabeth Barton, a nun, began making public speeches: According to Barton's biographer, Edward Thwaites, claimed a crowd of about 3,000 people attended one of the meetings where she told of her visions. (1)

Bishop Thomas Cranmer was one of those who saw Barton. He wrote a letter to Hugh Jenkyns explaining that he had seen "a great miracle" that had been created by God: "Her trance lasted... the space of three hours and more... Her face was wonderfully disfigured, her tongue hanging out... her eyes were... in a manner plucked out and laid upon her cheeks... a voice was heard... speaking within her belly, as it had been in a cask... her lips not greatly moving.... When her belly spoke about the joys of heaven... it was in a voice... so sweetly and so heavenly that every man was ravished with the hearing thereof... When she spoke of hell... it put the hearers in great fear." (2)

Diane Watt has pointed out: "In the course of this period of sickness and delirium she began to demonstrate supernatural abilities, predicting the death of a child being nursed in a neighbouring bed. In the following weeks and months the condition from which she suffered, which may have been a form of epilepsy, manifested itself in seizures (both her body and her face became contorted), alternating with periods of paralysis. During her death-like trances she made various pronouncements on matters of religion, such as the seven deadly sins, the ten commandments, and the nature of heaven, hell, and purgatory. She spoke about the importance of the mass, pilgrimage, confession to priests, and prayer to the Virgin and the saints." (3)

Gradually she began to experience revelations of a controversial character. Elizabeth, now known as the Nun of Kent, was taken to see Archbishop William Warham and Bishop John Fisher. On 1st October 1528, Warham wrote to Cardinal Thomas Wolsey recommending her as "a very well-disposed and virtuous woman". He told of how "she had revelations and special knowledge from God in certain things concerning my Lord Cardinal (Wolsey) and also the King's Highness". (4)

Archbishop Warham arranged a meeting between Elizabeth Barton to see Cardinal Wolsey. She told him that she had seen a vision of him with three swords - one representing his power as Legate (the representative of the Pope), the second his power as Lord Chancellor, and the third his power to grant Henry VIII a divorce from Catherine of Aragon. (5)

Wolsey arranged for Elizabeth Barton to see the King. She told him to burn English translations of the Bible and to remain loyal to the Pope. Elizabeth then warned the King that if he married Anne Boleyn he would die within a month and that within six months the people would be struck down by a great plague. He was disturbed by her prophesies and ordered that she be kept under observation. Archbishop Thomas Cranmer commented later that Henry put off his marriage to Anne because "of her visions". (6) William Tyndale was less convinced by her trances and claimed that her visions were either feigned or the work of the devil. (7)

In October 1532 Henry VIII agreed to meet Elizabeth Barton again. According to the official record of this meeting: "She (Elizabeth Barton) had knowledge by revelation from God that God was highly displeased with our said Sovereign Lord (Henry VIII)... and in case he desisted not from his proceedings in the said divorce and separation but pursued the same and married again, that then within one month after such marriage he should no longer be king of this realm, and in the reputation of Almighty God should not be king one day nor one hour, and that he should die a villain's death." (8)

In the summer of 1533 Archbishop Thomas Cranmer wrote to the prioress of St Sepulchre's Nunnery asking her to bring Elizabeth Barton to his manor at Otford. On 11th August she was questioned, but was released without charge. Thomas Cromwell then questioned her and, towards the end of September, Edward Bocking was arrested and his premises were searched. Bocking was accused of writing a book about Barton's predictions and having 500 copies published. (9) Father Hugh Rich was also taken into custody. In early November, following a full scale investigation, Barton was imprisoned in the Tower of London. (10)

Elizabeth Barton was examined by Thomas Cromwell, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and Bishop Hugh Latimer. During this period she had one final vision "in which God willed her, by his heavenly messenger, that she should say that she never had revelation of God". In December 1533, Cranmer reported "she confessed all, and uttered the very truth, which is this: that she never had visions in all her life, but all that ever she said was feigned of her own imagination, only to satisfy the minds of them the which resorted unto her, and to obtain worldly praise." (11)

Peter Ackroyd, the author of Tudors (2012) has suggested that Barton had been tortured: "It may be that she was put on the rack. In any case it was declared that she had confessed that all her visions and revelations had been impostures... It was then determined that the nun should be taken throughout the kingdom, and that she should in various places confess her fraudulence." (12) Barton secretly sent messages to her adherents that she had retracted only at the command of God, but when she was made to recant publicly, her supporters quickly began to lose faith in her. (13)

Eustace Chapuys, reported to King Charles V on 12th November, 1533, on the trial of Elizabeth Barton: "The king has assembled the principal judges and many prelates and nobles, who have been employed three days, from morning to night, to consult on the crimes and superstitions of the nun and her adherents; and at the end of this long consultation, which the world imagines is for a more important matter, the chancellor, at a public audience, where were people from almost all the counties of this kingdom, made an oration how that all the people of this kingdom were greatly obliged to God, who by His divine goodness had brought to light the damnable abuses and great wickedness of the said nun and of her accomplices, whom for the most part he would not name, who had wickedly conspired against God and religion, and indirectly against the king." (14)

A temporary platform and public seating was erected at St. Paul's Cross and on 23rd November, 1533, Elizabeth Barton made a full confession in front of a crowd of over 2,000 people. "I, Dame Elizabeth Barton, do confess that I, most miserable and wretched person, have been the original of all this mischief, and by my falsehood have grievously deceived all these persons here and many more, whereby I have most grievously offended Almighty God and my most noble sovereign, the King's Grace. Wherefore I humbly, and with heart most sorrowful, desire you to pray to Almighty God for my miserable sins and, ye that may do me good, to make supplication to my most noble sovereign for me for his gracious mercy and pardon." (15)

Over the next few weeks Elizabeth Barton repeated the confession in all the major towns in England. It was reported that Henry VIII did this because he feared that Barton's visions had the potential to cause the public to rebel against his rule: "She... will be taken through all the towns in the kingdom to make a similar representation, in order to efface the general impression of the nun's sanctity, because this people is peculiarly credulous and is easily moved to insurrection by prophecies, and in its present disposition is glad to hear any to the king's disadvantage." (16)

Parliament opened on 15th January 1534. A bill of attainder charging Elizabeth Barton, Edward Bocking, Henry Risby (warden of Greyfriars, Canterbury), Hugh Rich (warden of Richmond Priory), Henry Gold (parson of St Mary Aldermary) and two laymen, Edward Thwaites and Thomas Gold, with high treason, was introduced into the House of Lords on 21st February. It was passed and then passed by the House of Commons on 17th March. (29) They were all found guilty and sentenced to be executed on 20th April, 1534. They were "dragged through the streets from the Tower to Tyburn". (17)

On the scaffold she told the assembled crowd: "I have not only been the cause of my own death, which most justly I have deserved, but also I am the cause of the death of all these persons which at this time here suffer. And yet, to say the truth, I am not so much to be blamed considering it was well known unto these learned men that I was a poor wench without learning - and therefore they might have easily perceived that the things that were done by me could not proceed in no such sort, but their capacities and learning could right well judge from whence they proceeded... But because the things which I feigned was profitable unto them, therefore they much praised me... and that it was the Holy Ghost and not I that did them. And then I, being puffed up with their praises, feel into a certain pride and foolish fantasy with myself." (18)

John Husee witnessed their deaths: "This day the Nun of Kent, with two Friars Observants, two monks, and one secular priest, were drawn from the Tower to Tyburn, and there hanged and headed. God, if it be his pleasure, have mercy on their souls. Also this day the most part of this City are sworn to the King and his legitimate issue by the Queen's Grace now had and hereafter to come, and so shall all the realm over be sworn in like manner." (19) The executions were clearly intended as a warning to those who opposed the king's policies and reforms. Elizabeth Barton's head was impaled on London Bridge, while the heads of her associates were placed on the gates of the city. (20)

Sharon L. Jansen, the author of Dangerous Talk and Strange Behaviour: Women and Popular Resistance to the Reforms of Henry VIII (1996) has pointed out that historians have either "defended her as a saint or condemned her as a charlatan." (21) Jack Scarisbrick argues that most historians have dismissed her as a "mere hysteric or fraud". However, "whatever else she may or may not have been, she was indisputably a powerful, courageous and dangerous woman whom the wracking anxiety of the late summer and autumn of 1533 required should be destroyed." (22)

Anne Askew was another woman who became involved in politics during the Tudor period. Askew was a supporter of Martin Luther, while her husband was a Catholic. From her reading of the Bible she believed that she had the right to divorce her husband. For example, she quoted St Paul: "If a faithful woman have an unbelieving husband, which will not tarry with her she may leave him"? Askew was well connected. One of her brothers, Edward Askew, was cup-bearer to the king, and her half-brother Christopher, was gentleman of the privy chamber. (23)

Alison Plowden has argued that "Anne Askew is an interesting example often educated, highly intelligent, passionate woman destined to become the victim of the society in which she lived - a woman who could not accept her circumstances but fought an angry, hopeless battle against them." (24)

In 1544 Askew decided to travel to London to meet Henry VIII and request a divorce from her husband. This was denied and documents show that a spy was assigned to keep a close watch on her behaviour. (25) She made contact with Joan Bocher, a leading figure in the Anabaptists. One spy who had lodgings opposite her own reported that "at midnight she beginneth to pray, and ceaseth not in many hours after." (26) Another contact was John Lascelles, who had previously worked for Thomas Cromwell, and was involved in the downfall of Catherine Howard. (27)

Rumours circulated that Askew was a close associate of Catherine Parr, the sixth wife of Henry VIII. As David Loades, the author of has pointed out, The Six Wives of Henry VIII (2007): "The Queen meanwhile continued to discuss theology, piety and the right use the bible, both with her friends and also with her husband. This was a practice, which she had established in the early days of their marriage, and Henry had always allowed her a great deal of latitude, tolerating from her, it was said, opinions which no one else dared to utter. In taking advantage of this indulgence to urge further measures of reform, she presented her enemies with an opening." (28)

Catherine Parr also criticised legislation that had been passed in May 1543 that had declared that the "lower sort" did not benefit from studying the Bible in English. The Act for the Advancement of the True Religion stated that "no women nor artificers, journeymen, serving men of the degree of yeomen or under husbandmen nor labourers" could in future read the Bible "privately or openly". Later, a clause was added that did allow any noble or gentlewoman to read the Bible, this activity must take place "to themselves alone and not to others". Catherine Parr ignored this "by holding study among her ladies for the scriptures and listening to sermons of an evangelical nature". (29)

Bishop Stephen Gardiner instructed Sir Anthony Kingston, the Constable of the Tower of London, to torture Askew in an attempt to force her to name Catherine Parr and other leading Protestants as heretics. Kingston complained about having to torture a woman (it was in fact illegal to torture a woman at the time) and the Lord Chancellor Thomas Wriothesley and his assistant, Richard Rich took over operating the rack. Despite suffering a long period on the rack, Askew refused to name those who shared her religious views. According to Askew: "Then they did put me on the rack, because I confessed no ladies or gentlemen, to be of my opinion... the Lord Chancellor and Master Rich took pains to rack me with their own hands, till I was nearly dead. I fainted... and then they recovered me again. After that I sat two long hours arguing with the Lord Chancellor, upon the bare floor... With many flattering words, he tried to persuade me to leave my opinion... I said that I would rather die than break my faith." (30) Afterwards, Anne's broken body was laid on the bare floor, and Wriothesley sat there for two hours longer, questioning her about her heresy and her suspected involvement with the royal household. (31)

Askew was removed to a private house to recover and once more offered the opportunity to recant. When she refused she was taken to Newgate Prison to await her execution. On 16th July 1546, Agnew "still horribly crippled by her tortures" was carried to execution in Smithfield in a chair as she could not walk and every movement caused her severe pain. (32) It was reported that she was taken to the stake which had a small seat attached to it, on which she sat astride. Chains were used to bind her body firmly to the stake at the ankles, knees, waist, chest and neck. (33)

Anne Askew's executioner helped her die quickly by hanging a bag of gunpowder around her neck. (34) Also executed at the same time was John Lascelles, John Hadlam and John Hemley. (35) John Bale wrote that “Credibly am I informed by various Dutch merchants who were present there, that in the time of their sufferings, the sky, and abhorring so wicked an act, suddenly altered colour, and the clouds from above gave a thunder clap, not unlike the one written in Psalm 76. The elements both declared wherein the high displeasure of God for so tyrannous a murder of innocents." (36)

Bishop Stephen Gardiner had a meeting with Henry VIII after the execution of Anne Askew and raised concerns about his wife's religious beliefs. Henry, who was in great pain with his ulcerated leg and at first he was not interested in Gardiner's complaints. However, eventually Gardiner got Henry's agreement to arrest Catherine Parr and her three leading ladies-in-waiting, "Herbert, Lane and Tyrwhit" who had been involved in reading and discussing the Bible. (37)

Henry then went to see Catherine to discuss the subject of religion. Probably, aware what was happening, she replied that "in this, and all other cases, to your Majesty's wisdom, as my only anchor, Supreme Head and Governor here in earth, next under God". He reminded her that in the past she had discussed these matters. "Catherine had an answer for that too. She had disputed with Henry in religion, she said, principally to divert his mind from the pain of his leg but also to profit from her husband's own excellent learning as displayed in his replies." (38) Henry replied: "Is it even so, sweetheart? And tended your arguments to no worse end? Then perfect friends we are now again, as ever at any time heretofore." (39) Gilbert Burnett has argued that Henry put up with Catherine's radical views on religion because of the good care she took of him as his nurse. (40)

The next day Chancellor Thomas Wriothesley arrived with a detachment of soldiers to arrest Catherine. Henry told him he had changed his mind and sent the men away. Glyn Redworth, the author of In Defence of the Church Catholic: The Life of Stephen Gardiner (1990) has disputed this story because it relies too much on the evidence of John Foxe, a leading Protestant at the time. (41) However, David Starkey, the author of Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII (2003) has argued that some historians "have been impressed by the wealth of accurate circumstantial detail, including, in particular, the names of Catherine's women." (42)

During the English Civil War a group of men, including John Lilburne, Richard Overton, William Walwyn, John Wildman, Thomas Prince, and Edward Sexby were described as Levellers. In demonstrations they wore sea-green scarves or ribbons. (43) In September, 1647, William Walwyn, the leader of this group in London, organised a petition demanding reform. Their political programme included: voting rights for all adult males, annual elections, complete religious freedom, an end to the censorship of books and newspapers, the abolition of the monarchy and the House of Lords, trial by jury, an end to taxation of people earning less than £30 a year and a maximum interest rate of 6%. However, they had not demanded the vote for women. (44)

The leaders of the Levellers were imprisoned on the orders of Oliver Cromwell. The movement called for the release of these men. This included Britain's first ever all-women petition, that was supported by over 10,000 signatures. This group, led by Elizabeth Lilburne, Mary Overton and Katherine Chidley, presented the petition to the House of Commons on 25th April, 1649. (45) They justified their political activity on the basis of "our creation in the image of God, and of an interest in Christ equal unto men, as also of a proportionable share in the freedoms of this commonwealth". (46)

MPs reacted intolerantly, telling the women that "it was not for women to petition; they might stay home and wash their dishes... you are desired to go home, and look after your own business, and meddle with your housewifery". One woman replied: "Sir, we have scarce any dishes left us to wash, and those we have not sure to keep." When another MP said it was strange for women to petition Parliament one replied: "It was strange that you cut off the King's head, yet I suppose you will justify it." (47)

The following month Elizabeth Lilburne produced another petition: "That since we are assured of our creation in the image of God, and of an interest in Christ equal unto men, as also of a proportional share in the freedoms of this commonwealth, we cannot but wonder and grieve that we should appear so despicable in your eyes as to be thought unworthy to petition or represent our grievances to this honourable House. Have we not an equal interest with the men of this nation in those liberties and securities contained in the Petition of Right, and other the good laws of the land? Are any of our lives, limbs, liberties, or goods to be taken from us more than from men, but by due process of law and conviction of twelve sworn men of the neighbourhood? Would you have us keep at home in our houses, when men of such faithfulness and integrity as the four prisoners, our friends in the Tower, are fetched out of their beds and forced from their houses by soldiers, to the affrighting and undoing of themselves, their wives, children, and families?" (48)

Mary Wollstonecraft, the eldest daughter of Edward Wollstonecraft and Elizabeth Dixon Wollstonecraft, was born in Spitalfields, London on 27th April 1759. At the time of her birth, Wollstonecraft's family was fairly prosperous: her paternal grandfather owned a successful Spitalfields silk weaving business and her mother's father was a wine merchant in Ireland. (49)

Mary did not have a happy childhood. Claire Tomalin, the author of The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft (1974) has pointed out: "Mary's father was sporadically affectionate, occasionally violent, more interested in sport than work, and not to be relied on for anything, least of all for loving attention. Her mother was indolent by nature and made a darling of her first-born, Ned, two years older than Mary; by the time the little girl had learned to walk in jealous pursuit of this loving pair, a third baby was on the way. A sense of grievance may have been her most important endowment." (50)

In 1765 her grandfather died and her father, his only son, inherited a large share of the family business. He sold the business and purchased a farm at Epping. However, her father had no talent for farming. According to Mary, he was a bully, who abused his wife and children after heavy drinking sessions. She later recalled that she often had to intervene to protect her mother from her father's drunken violence (51) William Godwin claims this had a major impact on the development of her personality as Mary "was not formed to be the contented and unresisting subject of a despot". (52)

Mary had several younger brothers and sisters: Henry (1761), Eliza (1763), Everina (1765), James (1768) and Charles (1770). When she was nine years of age, the family moved to a farm in Beverley where Mary received a couple years at the local school, where she learned to read and write. It was the only formal schooling she was to receive. Ned, on the other hand, received a good education, with the hope that eventually he would become a lawyer. Mary was upset by the amount of attention Ned received and said of her mother "in comparison with her affection for him, she might be said not to love the rest of her children". (53)

In 1673 Mary became friends with another fourteen-year-old, girl, Jane Arden. Her father, John Arden, was a highly educated man who gave public lectures on natural philosophy and literature. Arden also gave lessons to his daughter and her new friend. (54) "Sensitive about the failings she was beginning to perceive in her own family, and contrasting them with the dignified, sober and well-read Ardens, Mary envied Jane her entire situation and attached herself determinedly to the family." (55)

Mary and Jane had a argument and stopped seeing each other. However, they did keep in contact by letter: "Before I begin I beg pardon for the freedom of my style. If I did not love you I should not write so; I have a heart that scorns disguise, and a countenance which will not dissemble: I have formed romantic notions of friendship. I have been once disappointed - I think if I am a second time I shall only want some infidelity in a love affair, to qualify me for an old maid, as then I shall have no idea of either of them. I am a little singular in my thoughts of love and friendship; I must have the first place or none. - I own your behaviour is more according to the opinion of the world, but I would break such narrow bounds" (56)

In 1774 Edward Wollstonecraft's financial situation forced the family to move again. This time they returned to a house in Hoxton. Her brother, Ned, was being trained as a lawyer, and used to come home at weekends. Mary continued to have a bad relationship with her brother and constantly undermined her confidence. She later recalled that he took "particular pleasure in tormenting and humbling me". (57)

While in London she met Fanny Blood. "She was conducted to the door of a small house, but furnished with peculiar neatness and propriety. The first object that caught her sight, was a young woman of slender and elegant form... busily employed in feeding and managing some children, born of the same parents, but considerably her inferior in age. The impression Mary received from this spectacle was indelible; and before the interview was concluded, she had taken, in her heart, the vows of eternal friendship." (58)

Mary identified closely with her new friend: "Fanny was eighteen to Mary's sixteen, slim and pretty and set apart from the rest of her family by her manners and talents. Mary could see in her a mirror-image of herself: an eldest daughter, superior to her surroundings, often in charge of a brood of little ones, with an improvident and a drunken father and a mother charming and gentle but quite broken in spirit." (59)

After two years in London the family moved to Laugharne in Wales but Mary continued to correspond with Fanny, who had been promised in marriage to Hugh Skeys, who was living in Lisbon. Mary said in one letter that her feeling for her "resembled a passion" and was "almost (but not quite) that of an intending husband". Mary explained to Jane Arden that her relationship with Fanny was difficult to explain: "I know my resolution may appear a little extra-ordinary, but in forming it I follow the dictates of reason as well as the bent of my inclination." (60)

Mary's mother died in 1782. She now went to live with Fanny Blood and her pa rents at Waltham Green. Her sister Eliza, married Meredith Bishop, a boat-builder from Bermondsey. In August, 1783, after the birth of her first child, she suffered a mental breakdown and Mary was asked to look after her. When she arrived at her sister's home Mary found Eliza in a very disturbed state. Eliza explained that she had "been very ill-used by her husband".

Mary wrote to her sister, Everina, explaining that "Bishop cannot behave properly - and those who attempt to reason with him must be mad or have very little observation... My heart is almost broken with listening to Bishop while he reasons the case. I cannot insult him with advice which he would never have wanted if he was capable of attending to it." In January, 1784, the two sisters escaped from Bishop and went to live under a false name in Hackney. (61)

A few months later Mary Wollstonecraft opened a school in Newington Green, with her sister Eliza and a friend, Fanny Blood. Soon after arriving in the village, Mary made friends with Richard Price, a minister at the local Dissenting Chapel. Price and his friend, Joseph Priestley, were the leaders of a group of men known as Rational Dissenters. Price told her that the "love of God meant attacking injustice". (62)

Price had written several books including the very influential Review of the Principal Questions of Morals (1758) where he argued that individual conscience and reason should be used when making moral choices. Price also rejected the traditional Christian ideas of original sin and eternal punishment. As a result of these religious views, some Anglicans accused Rational Dissenters of being atheists. (63)

Fuseli was forty-seven and Mary twenty-nine. He was recently married to his former model, Sophia Rawlins. Fuseli shocked his friends by constantly talking about sex. Mary later told William Godwin that she never had a physical relationship with Fuseli but she did enjoy "the endearments of personal intercourse and a reciprocation of kindness, without departing in the smallest degree from the rules she prescribed to herself". (69)

Mary fell deeply in love with Fuseli: "From him Mary learnt much about the seamy side of life... Obviously there was a time when they were in love with one another, and playing with fire; the increase of Mary's love to the point where it became torture to her is hard to explain if it remained at all times entirely platonic." (70) Mary wrote that she was enraptured by his genius, "the grandeur of his soul, that quickness of comprehension, and lovely sympathy". She proposed a platonic living arrangement with Fuseli and his wife, but Sophia rejected the idea and he broke off the relationship with Wollstonecraft. (71)

In 1788 Joseph Johnson and Thomas Christie established the Analytical Review. The journal provided a forum for radical political and religious ideas and was often highly critical of the British government. Mary Wollstonecraft wrote articles for the journal. So also did the scientist, Joseph Priestley, the philosopher, Erasmus Darwin, the poet William Cowper, the moralist William Enfield, the physician John Aikin, the author Anna Laetitia Barbauld; the Unitarian minister William Turner; the literary critic James Currie; the artist Henry Fuseli; the writer Mary Hays and the theologian Joshua Toulmin. (72)

Mary and her radical friends welcomed the French Revolution. In November, 1789, Richard Price preached a sermon praising the revolution. Price argued that British people, like the French, had the right to remove a bad king from the throne. "I see the ardour for liberty catching and spreading; a general amendment beginning in human affairs; the dominion of kings changed for the dominion of laws, and the dominion of priest giving way to the dominion of reason and conscience." (73)

Edmund Burke, was appalled by this sermon and wrote a reply called Reflections on the Revolution in France where he argued in favour of the inherited rights of the monarchy. He also attacked political activists such as Major John Cartwright, John Horne Tooke, John Thelwall, Granville Sharp, Josiah Wedgwood, Thomas Walker, who had formed the Society for Constitutional Information, an organisation that promoted the work of Tom Paine and other campaigners for parliamentary reform. (74)

Burke attacked the dissenters who were wholly "unacquainted with the world in which they are so fond of meddling, and inexperienced in all its affairs, on which they pronounce with so much confidence". He warned reformers that they were in danger of being repressed if they continued to call for changes in the system: "We are resolved to keep an established church, an established monarchy, an established aristocracy, and an established democracy; each in the degree it exists, and in no greater." (75)

Joseph Priestley was one of those attacked by Burke, pointed out: "If the principles that Mr Burke now advances (though it is by no means with perfect consistency) be admitted, mankind are always to be governed as they have been governed, without any inquiry into the nature, or origin, of their governments. The choice of the people is not to be considered, and though their happiness is awkwardly enough made by him the end of government; yet, having no choice, they are not to be the judges of what is for their good. On these principles, the church, or the state, once established, must for ever remain the same." Priestley went on to argue that these were the principles "of passive obedience and non-resistance peculiar to the Tories and the friends of arbitrary power." (76)

Mary Wollstonecraft also felt that she had to respond to Burke's attack on her friends. Joseph Johnson agreed to publish the work and decided to have the sheets printed as she wrote. According to one source when "Mary had arrived at about the middle of her work, she was seized with a temporary fit of topor and indolence, and began to repent of her undertaking." However, after a meeting with Johnson "she immediately went home; and proceeded to the end of her work, with no other interruption but what were absolutely indispensable". (77)

The pamphlet A Vindication of the Rights of Man not only defended her friends but also pointed out what she thought was wrong with society. This included the slave trade and way that the poor were treated. In one passage she wrote: "How many women thus waste life away the prey of discontent, who might have practised as physicians, regulated a farm, managed a shop, and stood erect, supported by their own industry, instead of hanging their heads surcharged with the dew of sensibility, that consumes the beauty to which it at first gave lustre." (78)

The pamphlet was so popular that Johnson was able to bring out a second edition in January, 1791. Her work was compared to that of Tom Paine, the author of Common Sense. Johnson arranged for her to meet Paine and another radical writer, William Godwin. Henry Fuseli's friend, William Roscoe, visited her and he was so impressed by her that he commissioned a portrait of her by John Williamson. "She took the trouble to have her hair powdered and curled for the occasion - a most unrevolutionary gesture - but was not very pleased with the painter's work." (79)

In 1791 the first part of Paine's Rights of Man was published. In the book Paine attacked hereditary government and argued for equal political rights. Paine suggested that all men over twenty-one in Britain should be given the vote and this would result in a House of Commons willing to pass laws favourable to the majority. The book also recommended progressive taxation, family allowances, old age pensions, maternity grants and the abolition of the House of Lords. "The whole system of representation is now, in this country, only a convenient handle for despotism, they need not complain, for they are as well represented as a numerous class of hard-working mechanics, who pay for the support of royalty when they can scarcely stop their children's mouths with bread." (80)

The book also recommended progressive taxation, family allowances, old age pensions, maternity grants and the abolition of the House of Lords. Paine also argued that a reformed Parliament would reduce the possibility of going to war. "Whatever is the cause of taxes to a Nation becomes also the means of revenue to a Government. Every war terminates with an addition of taxes, and consequently with an addition of revenue; and in any event of war, in the manner they are now commenced and concluded, the power and interest of Governments are increased. War, therefore, from its productiveness, as it easily furnishes the pretence of necessity for taxes and appointments to places and offices, becomes a principal part of the system of old Governments; and to establish any mode to abolish war, however advantageous it might be to Nations, would be to take from such Government the most lucrative of its branches. The frivolous matters upon which war is made show the disposition and avidity of Governments to uphold the system of war, and betray the motives upon which they act." (81)

The British government was outraged by Paine's book and it was immediately banned. Paine was charged with seditious libel but he escaped to France before he could be arrested. Paine announced that he did not wish to make a profit from The Rights of Man and anyone had the right to reprint his book. It was printed in cheap editions so that it could achieve a working class readership. Although the book was banned, during the next two years over 200,000 people in Britain managed to buy a copy. (82)

Mary Wollstonecraft's publisher, Joseph Johnson, suggested that she should write a book about the reasons why women should be represented in Parliament. It took her six weeks to write Vindication of the Rights of Women. She told her friend, William Roscoe: "I am dissatisfied with myself for not having done justice to the subject. Do not suspect me of false modesty. I mean to say, that had I allowed myself more time I could have written a better book, in every sense of the word." (83)

In the book Mary Wollstonecraft attacked the educational restrictions that kept women in a state of "ignorance and slavish dependence." She was especially critical of a society that encouraged women to be "docile and attentive to their looks to the exclusion of all else." Wollstonecraft described marriage as "legal prostitution" and added that women "may be convenient slaves, but slavery will have its constant effect, degrading the master and the abject dependent." She added: " I do not wish them (women) to have power over men; but over themselves". (84)

The ideas in Wollstonecraft's book were truly revolutionary and caused tremendous controversy. One critic described Wollstonecraft as a "hyena in petticoats". Mary Wollstonecraft argued that to obtain social equality society must rid itself of the monarchy as well as the church and military hierarchies. Mary Wollstonecraft's views even shocked fellow radicals. Whereas advocates of parliamentary reform such as Jeremy Bentham and John Cartwright had rejected the idea of female suffrage, Wollstonecraft argued that the rights of man and the rights of women were one and the same thing.

Edmund Burke continued his attack on the radicals in Britain. He described the London Corresponding Society and the Unitarian Society as "loathsome insects that might, if they were allowed, grow into giant spiders as large as oxen". King George III issued a proclamation against seditious writings and meetings, threatening serious punishments for those who refused to accept his authority.

In November, 1792, Mary Wollstonecraft decided to move to Paris in an effort to get away from her unhappy love affair with Henry Fuseli: "I intend no longer to struggle with a rational desire, so have determined to set out for Paris in the course of a fortnight or three weeks." She joked that "I am still a spinster on the wing... At Paris I might take a husband for the time being, and get divorced when my truant heart longed again to nestle with old friends." (85)

Mary arrived in Paris on 11th December at the start of the trial of King Louis XVI. She stayed in a small hotel and watched events from the window of her room: "Though my mind is calm, I cannot dismiss the lively images that have filled my imagination all the day... Once or twice, lifting my eyes from the paper, I have seen eyes glare through a glass-door opposite my chair, and bloody hands shook at me... I am going to bed - and, for the first time in my life, I cannot put out the candle." (86)

Also in Paris at this time was Tom Paine, William Godwin, Joel Barlow, Thomas Christie, John Hurford Stone, James Watt and Thomas Cooper. She also met the poet, Helen Maria Williams. Mary wrote to her sister, Everina, that "Miss Williams has behaved very civilly to me, and I shall visit her frequently, because I rather like her, and I meet French company at her house. Her manners are affected, yet her simple goodness of her heart continually breaks through the varnish, so that one would be more inclined, at least I should, to love than admire her." (87)

In March 1793 Mary met the writer, Gilbert Imlay, whose novel, The Emigrants, had just been published. The book appealed to Mary "because it advocated divorce and contained a portrait of a brutal and tyrannical husband". Mary was thirty-four and Imlay was five years older. "He was a handsome man, tall, thin and easy in his manner". Wollstonecraft was immediately attracted to him and described him as "a most natural, unaffected creature". (88)

William Godwin, who witnessed the relationship while he was in Paris, claims that her personality changed during this period. "Her confidence was entire; her love was unbounded. Now, for the first time in her life, she gave a loose to all the sensibilities of her nature... Her whole character seemed to change with a change of fortune. Her sorrows, the depression of her spirits, were forgotten, and she assumed all the simplicity and the vivacity of a youthful mind... She was playful, full of confidence, kindness and sympathy. Her eyes assumed new lustre, and her cheeks new colour and smothness. Her voice became cheerful; her temper overflowing with universal kindness: and that smile of bewitching tenderness from day to day illuminated her countenance, which all who knew her will so well recollect." (89)

Mary decided to live with Imlay. She wrote about those "sensations that are almost too sacred to be alluded to". The German revolutionary, George Forster in July 1793, met Mary soon after her relationship with Imlay began. "Imagine a five or eight and twenty year old brown-haired maiden, with the most candid face, and features which were once beautiful, and are still partly so, and a simple steadfast character full of spirit and enthusiasm; particularly something gentle in eye and mouth. Her whole being is wrapped up in her love of liberty. She talked much about the Revolution; her opinions were without exception strikingly accurate and to the point." (90)

Mary gave birth to a girl on 14th May 1794. She named her Fanny after her first love, Fanny Blood. She wrote to a friend about how tenderly she and Gilbert loved the new child: "Nothing could be more natural or easy than my labour. My little girl begins to suck so manfully that her father reckons saucily on her writing the second part of the Rights of Women." (91)

In August 1794, Gilbert told Mary he had to go to London on business and he would make arrangements for her to join him in a few months. In reality he had deserted her. "When I first received your letter, putting off your return to an indefinite time, I felt so hurt that I know not what I wrote. I am now calmer, though it was not the kind of wound over which time has the quickest effect; on the contrary, the more I think, the sadder I grow... What sacrifices have you not made for a woman you did not respect! But I will not go over this ground. I want to tell you that I do not understand you." (92)

Mary returned to England in April 1795 but Imlay was unwilling to live with her and keep up appearances like a conventional husband. Instead he moved in with an actress "exposing Mary to public humiliation and forcing her to acknowledge openly the failure of her brave social experiment... it is one thing to defy the opinion of the world when you are happy, another altogether to endure it when you are miserable." Mary found it especially humiliating that his "desire for her had lasted scarcely more than a few months". (93)

One night in October 1795, she jumped off Putney Bridge into the Thames. By the time she had floated two hundred yards downstream she was seen by a couple of waterman who managed to pull her out of the river. She later wrote: "I have only to lament, that, when the bitterness of death was past, I was inhumanly brought back to life and misery. But a fixed determination is not to be baffled by disappointment; nor will I allow that to be a frantic attempt, which was one of the calmest acts of reason. In this respect, I am only accountable to myself. Did I care for what is termed reputation, it is by other circumstances that I should be dishonoured." (94)

Joseph Johnson managed to persuade her return to writing. In January 1796 he published a pamphlet entitled Letters Written During a Short Residence in Denmark, Norway and Sweden. Mary was a good travel writer and provided some good portraits of the people she met in these countries. From a literary standpoint it was probably Wollstonecraft's best book. One critic commented that "If ever there was a book calculated to make a man in love with its author this appears to me to be the book". (95)

In March 1796, Mary wrote to Gilbert Imlay to tell them that she had finally accepted that their relationship was over: "I now solemnly assure you, that this is an eternal farewell... I part with you in peace". (96) Mary was now open to starting another relationship. She was visited several times by the artist, John Opie, who had recently obtained a divorce from his wife. Robert Southey also showed interest and told a friend that she was the person he liked best in the literary world. He said her face was marred only by a slight look of superiority, and that "her eyes are light brown, and, though the lid of one of them is affected by a little paralysis, they are the most meaning I ever saw". (97)

Her friend, Mary Hays, invited her to a small party where renewed her acquaintance with the philosopher, William Godwin. Although aged 40 he was still a bachelor and for most of his life he had shown little interest in women. He had recently published Enquiry into Political Justice and William Hazlitt had commented that Godwin "blazed as a sun in the firmament of reputation". (98)

The couple enjoyed going to the theatre together and going to dinner with painters, writers and politicians, where they enjoyed discussing literary and political issues. Godwin later recalled: "The partiality we conceived for each other, was in that mode, which I have always regarded as the purest and most refined of love. It grew with equal advances in the mind of each. It would have been impossible for the most minute observer to have said who was before, and who was after... I am not conscious that either party can assume to have been the agent or the patient, the toil-spreader or the prey, in the affair... I found a wounded heart... and it was my ambition to heal it." (99)

Mary Wollstonecraft married William Godwin in March, 1797 and soon afterwards, a second daughter, Mary, was born. The baby was healthy but the placenta was retained in the womb. The doctor's attempt to remove the placenta resulted in blood poisoning and Mary died on 10th September, 1797.

In June 1836 William Lovett, Henry Hetherington, John Cleave, Henry Vincent, John Roebuck and James Watson formed the London Working Men's Association (LMWA). Although it only ever had a few hundred members, the LMWA became a very influential organisation. At one meeting in 1838 the leaders of the LMWA drew up a Charter of political demands. (100)

(i) A vote for every man twenty-one years of age, of sound mind, and not undergoing punishment for a crime.
(ii) The secret ballot to protect the elector in the exercise of his vote. (iii) No property qualification for Members of Parliament in order to allow the constituencies to return the man of their choice. (iv) Payment of Members, enabling tradesmen, working men, or other persons of modest means to leave or interrupt their livelihood to attend to the interests of the nation. (v) Equal constituencies, securing the same amount of representation for the same number of electors, instead of allowing less populous constituencies to have as much or more weight than larger ones. (vi) Annual Parliamentary elections, thus presenting the most effectual check to bribery and intimidation, since no purse could buy a constituency under a system of universal manhood suffrage in each twelve-month period." (101)

Although many leading Chartists believed in votes for women, it was never part of the Chartist programme. When the People's Charter was first drafted by the leaders of the London Working Men's Association, a clause was included that advocated the extension of the franchise to women. This was eventually removed because some members believed that such a radical proposal "might retard the suffrage of men". As one author pointed out, "what the LWMA feared was the widespread prejudice against women entering what was seen as a man's world". (102)

In most of the large towns in Britain, Chartist groups had women sections. The East London Female Patriotic Association published its objectives in October, 1839, and made it clear that they wanted to "unite with our sisters in the country, and to use our best endeavours to assist our brethren in obtaining universal suffrage". The organisation made the point that they would use their power as managers of the household to obtain the vote for their men by "to deal as much as possible with those shopkeepers who are favourable to the People's Charter". (103)

These women's groups were often very large, the Birmingham Charter Association for example, had over 3,000 female members. (104) The Northern Star reported on 27th April, 1839, that the Hyde Chartist Society contained 300 men and 200 women. The newspaper quoted one of the male members as saying that the women were more militant than the men, or as he put it: "the women were the better men". (105)

Elizabeth Hanson formed the Elland Female Radical Association in March, 1838. She argued "it is our duty, both as wives and mothers, to form a Female Association, in order to give and receive instruction in political knowledge, and to co-operate with our husbands and sons in their great work of regeneration." (106) She became one of the movement's most effective speakers and one newspaper reported she "melted the hearts and drew forth floods of tears". (107)

In 1839 Elizabeth gave birth to a son, who she named after Feargus O'Connor. She continued to be involved in the campaign for universal suffrage.Her husband, Abram Hanson, acknowledged the importance of "the women who are the best politicians, the best revolutionists, and the best political economists... should the men fail in their allegiance the women of Elland, who had sworn not to breed slaves, had registered a vow to do the work of men and women." (108)

Susanna Inge was another important figure in the Chartist movement. As she explained in an article for The Northern Star in July, 1842. "As civilisation advances man becomes more inclined to place woman on an equality with himself, and though excluded from everything connected with public life, her condition is considerably improved". She went on to urge women to “assist those men who will, nay, who do, place women in on equality with themselves in gaining their rights, and yours will be gained also". (109)

In October 1842, Susanna Inge and Mary Ann Walker attempted to establish a Female Chartist Association. Inge argued that in time women should be given the vote. However, she felt before this could happen women "ought to be better educated, and that, if she were, so far as mental capacity, she would in every respect be the equal of man”. (110)

This plan to form a Female Chartist Association was criticised by some male Chartists. One declared that he "did not consider that nature intended women to partake of political rights". He argued that women were "more happy in the peacefulness and usefulness of the domestic hearth, than in coming forth in public and aspiring after political rights". (111)

It was also suggested that if a "young gentleman" might try "to influence her vote through his sway over her affection". Mary Ann Walker responded by claiming that "she would treat with womanly scorn, as a contemptible scoundrel, the man who would dare to influence her vote by any undue and unworthy means; for if he were base enough to mislead her in one way, he would in another.” (112)

On 6th November, 1842, The Sunday Observer reported that Susanna Inge was giving a lecture at the National Charter Hall in London. With her was another woman, Emma Matilda Miles. The newspaper suggested that the women had joined in response to the arrest and punishment of John Frost after the Newport Uprising. It would seem that Inge was a supporter of the Physical Force movement. (113)

Susanna Inge was not content to be a mere propagandist. She had ideas on how Chartism might be better organised. In one letter to the The Northern Star she suggested that every Chartist locality should have its byelaws and plan of organisation hung in a prominent place, that these should be read before every meeting, and that any officer who failed to abide by them should be called to account. (114)

Feargus O'Connor, the leader of the Physical Force chartists, was not in favour of women having equal political rights with men. He claimed that the role of the woman was to be a "housewife to prepare meals, to wash, to brew, and look after my comforts, and the education of my children." (115) Anna Clark has pointed out that O'Connor demanded "entry into the public sphere for working men" and "the privileges of domesticity for their wives". (116)

Susanna Inge wrote letters to O’Connor's newspaper complaining about his views. These were rejected for publication and in July, 1843, it admitted that Inge "very much questions the propriety or right of Mr O’Connor to name or suggest to the people, through the medium of the Northern Star, any person to fill any office whatever" as "it is not according to her ideas of democracy." The newspaper dismissed her comments with the words: "We dare say Miss Inge is greatly in love with her ideas of democracy; and so she ought, for we fancy they will suit nobody else” (117)

One of the most militant women's groups was the Female Political Union of Newcastle. They completely rejected the idea that they should not become involved in politics. "We have been told that the province of women is her home, and that the field of politics should be left to men; this we deny. It is not true that the interests of our fathers, husbands, and brothers, ought to be ours? If they are oppressed and impoverished, do we not share those evils with them? If so, ought we not to resent the infliction of those wrongs upon them? We have read the records of the past, and our hearts have responded to the historian's praise of those women, who struggled against tyranny and urged their countrymen to be free or die." (118)

In 1840, R. J. Richardson, a Chartist from Salford, wrote the pamphlet, The Rights of Women, while he was in Lancaster Prison. "If a woman is qualified to be a queen over a great nation, armed with power of nullifying the powers of Parliament. If it is to be admissible that the queen, a woman, by the constitution of the country can command, can rule over a nation, then I say, women in every instance ought not to be excluded from her share in the executive and legislative power of the country." (119)

William Lovett argued that women's rights should be equal to those of men. However, Lovett added that woman's duties were different from that of her male partner. "His being to provide for the wants and necessaries of the family; hers to perform the duties of the household." However, when in March 1841, Lovett, Henry Hetherington and Henry Vincent, launched the National Association, the new organisation included women's suffrage in their programme. (120)

It has been estimated that up to 20% of those who signed Chartist petitions were women. As well as holding meetings they fully participated at open-air rallies. Henry Vincent reports that when he was addressing a meeting in Cirencester he was pelted with stones. A group of local women gave one of the culprits "a good thrashing". A similar incident involving an anti-Chartist heckler occurred at Stockton-upon-Tees, and women also "occasionally featured among Chartists charged with public order offences." (121)

William Pattison, a leading Chartist in Scotland, explained that it was very difficult for women to play an active role in politics: “He knew that the females were maligned, more perhaps than any other party, for taking a part in politics. He did assure them that the position which females ought to occupy, was the duties of home and the family circle. But, under the present system of legislation, instead of being allowed to remain at home, they were forced to go and toil in the factory for their existence.” (122)

The main argument put forward by Chartist women was that their husbands should earn enough to support them and their children at home. Female Chartists were concerned with women and children replacing men in factories. Three leading women chartists, Elizabeth Pease, Jane Smeal and Anne Knight, were all Quakers. These women had also been involved in the anti-slavery campaign.

Pease pointed out in a letter to a friend why she was active in the Chartist movement: "The grand principle of the natural equality of man - a principle alas almost buried, in the land, beneath the rubbish of an hereditary aristocracy and the force of a state religion. Working people are driven almost to desperation by those who consider they are but chattels made to minister to their luxury and add to their wealth." (123)

Women who spoke at Chartist meetings were described in the national press as "she-orators". The Sunday Observer reported on a meeting where Emma Matilda Miles told the audience: "It was the duty of women to step forth, and, in all the majesty of her native dignity, assist her brother slaves in effecting the political redemption of the country. It was not ambition, it was not vanity that induced her to become a public woman; no, it was the oppression which had fallen upon every poor man's house that made her speak.... She did not doubt the ultimate success of Chartism any more than she doubted her own existence; but then it would not, as she said, be granted by the justice - no, it must be extorted from the fears of their oppressors". (124)

Anne Knight was the most outspoken of the women in the movement. She was concerned about the way women campaigners were treated by some of the male leaders in the organisation. Knight criticised them for claiming "that the class struggle took precedence over that for women's rights". (125) Knight wrote "can a man be free, if a woman be a slave." (126) In a letter published in the Brighton Herald in 1850 she demanded that the Chartists should campaign for what she described as "true universal suffrage". (127)

An anonymous leaflet was published in 1847. It has been persuasively argued that the author of the work was Anne Knight. In argued: "Never will the nations of the earth be well governed, until both sexes, as well as all parties, are fully represented and have an influence, a voice, and a hand in the enactment and administration of the laws". (128)

Knight also became involved in international politics. In 1848 she was the first French government elected by universal manhood suffrage repressed freedom of association. The decree prohibited women from forming clubs or attending meetings of associations. Knight published a pamphlet criticising this action: "Alas, my brother, is it then true that thy eloquent voice has been heard in the heart of the National Assembly expressing a sentiment so contrary to real republicanism? Can it be that thou hast really protested not only against women's rights to form clubs but also against their right to attend clubs formed by men?" (129)

At a conference on world peace held in 1849, Anne Knight met two of Britain's reformers, Henry Brougham and Richard Cobden. She was disappointed by their lack of enthusiasm for women's rights. For the next few months she sent them several letters arguing the case for women's suffrage. In one letter to Cobden she argued that it was only when women had the vote that the electorate would be able to pressurize politicians into achieving world peace. (130)

Anne Knight established the Sheffield Female Political Association. Their first meeting was held in Sheffield in February, 1851. Later that year it published an "Address to the Women of England". This was the first petition in England that demanded women's suffrage. It was presented to the House of Lords by George Howard, 7th Earl of Carlisle. (131) The following year she was "forbidden to vote for the man who inflicts the laws I am compelled to obey - the taxes I am compelled to pay". She added that "taxation without representation is tyranny". (132)

Caroline Sheridan, the daughter of Thomas Sheridan, colonial official, and his wife, Caroline Henrietta Callender Sheridan, was born on 22nd March 1808. Her grandfather was Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the playwright and politician. Caroline's father died when she was eight years old, leaving the family in serious financial problems. (133)

For a while Caroline lived with her uncle, the writer, Charles Sheridan. At an early age she developed literary ambitions. She spent time with her uncle and at the age of eleven she wrote: "I invariably left his study with an enthusiastic determination to write a long poem of my own." (134)

Caroline was considered to be a high spirited and rather uncontrollable. "She even looked strange when she was young, with huge dark eyes and a great mass of wild black hair. Her habit of lowering her head and looking at people through her thick black eyelashes was thought of as furtive. People were not comfortable with her nor she with them. In spite of her quick tongue she was actually quite shy." (135)

In 1824, finding her sixteen-year-old daughter too difficult to manage, Mrs Sheridan sent her to a boarding-school at Shalford. The girls at the school were invited to Wonersh Park, the seat of the local landowner, William Norton (Lord Grantley). Caroline was seen by Grantley's younger brother, George Norton, and informed her governess of his intention to propose marriage to her. Norton put his proposal into writing and Caroline's mother accepted his offer but insisted that he waited three years. (136)

Diane Atkinson, the author of The Criminal Conversation of Mrs Norton (2013) has argued that might have been a good reason why Caroline's mother had suggested that Norton should not marry her daughter straight away: "Caroline was horrified at the prospect of marrying a man she barely remembered seeing, but it was her mother's right and duty to secure a husband for her and there had been no other interest. Perhaps Mrs Sheridan was playing for time, hoping someone else would come along." (137)

Mary Shelley, who knew her well, later recalled that she could understand why Norton wanted to marry her: "I never saw a woman I thought so fascinating. Had I been a man I should certainly have fallen in love with her... I would have been spellbound, and had she taken the trouble, she might have wound me round her finger. There is something in the pretty way in which her witticisms glide, as it were, from her lips, that is charming." (138)

Although she did not love Norton, Caroline agreed to help her mother's financial situation by marrying him. The other reason she married Norton was the fear that she would never receive another offer: "The only misfortune I ever particularly dreaded was living and dying a lonely old maid... An old maid is never anyone's first object therefore I object to that situation." (139)

The marriage took place in 1827 when Caroline was nineteen. The marriage was a disaster from the outset, mainly because they were completely incompatible. "George Norton was slow, rather dull, jealous, and obstinate; Caroline was quick-witted, vivacious, flirtatious, and egotistical." They also disagreed passionately about politics. Norton was a hard-line Tory MP, whereas Caroline had developed liberal opinions. (140)

Caroline Norton later recalled: "We had been married about two months, when, one evening, after we had all withdrawn to our apartments, we were discussing some opinion Mr. Norton had expressed; I said, that I thought I had never heard so silly or ridiculous a conclusion. This remark was punished by a sudden and violent kick; the blow reached my side; it caused great pain for several days, and being afraid to remain with him, I sat up the whole night in another apartment."

This violent behaviour continued: "Four or five months afterwards, when we were settled in London, we had returned home from a ball; I had then no personal dispute with Mr. Norton, but he indulged in bitter and coarse remarks respecting a young relative of mine, who, though married, continued to dance - a practice, Mr. Norton said, no husband ought to permit. I defended the lady spoken of when he suddenly sprang from the bed, seized me by the nape of the neck, and dashed me down on the floor. The sound of my fall woke my sister and brother-in-law, who slept in a room below, and they ran up to the door. Mr. Norton locked it, and stood over me, declaring no one should enter. I could not speak - I only moaned. My brother-in-law burst the door open and carried me downstairs. I had a swelling on my head for many days afterwards." (141)

Caroline had three children, Fletcher (1829), Brinsley (1831) and William (1833). The couple constantly argued about politics. They disagreed intensely on virtually all the main political issues of the day. Caroline, like her grandfather, was a Whig who favoured extensive social reform. George Norton was the Tory MP from Guildford, who had opposed measures favoured by Caroline such as Catholic Emancipation and Parliamentary Reform. (142)

Caroline Norton had always been interested in writing and in 1829 her long poem The Sorrows of Rosalie was published. This was followed by The Undying One in 1830. As a result of these poems, Caroline was invited to become editor of La Belle Assemblee and Court Magazine. Her close friends during this period included Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Mary Shelley, Fanny Kemble, Benjamin Disraeli, Edward Trelawney and Samuel Rogers.

In the 1830 General Election, Norton lost his seat in the House of Commons. His brother, William Norton, argued that the main reason for this was that he had not been around enough for the voters to see him. Caroline Norton wrote to her sister, suggesting that he was unlucky to be defeated: "He assures me that although thrown out he was the popular candidate... that all those who voted against him did it with tears." (143)

Earl Grey, the leader of the Whigs, became Prime Minister. Norton asked his wife if she could use her contacts with the new administration to obtain for him a well-paid government post. In 1831 Caroline met William Lamb, Lord Melbourne, the Home Secretary, and he arranged for George Norton to be appointed as a magistrate in the Lambeth Division of the Metropolitan Police Courts, with the generous salary of £1,000 a year. (144)

Lord Melbourne and Caroline Norton became close friends. Melbourne, a widower, had a reputation as a womanizer, and rumours began to circulate about his relationship with Caroline. Melbourne's biographer, Peter Mandler, has pointed out that the relationship "achieved a happiness that had escaped him earlier... it is less likely to have been sexual, but it provided Melbourne with the same emotional reassurance, while allowing him to play mild games of hot-and-cold flirtation and discipline". (145)

Friends pointed out that in her twenties "the dark wildness of her younger days had been replaced by a confidence and control observers found remarkable". Her intellectual abilities also impressed people who met her: "She was bold in her opinions and brilliant in her arguments and never held back from either." (146) Charles Sumner, commented that Caroline Norton combined "the grace and ease of a woman with a strength and skill of which any man might be proud." (147)

George Norton heard rumours about the relationship but did not intervene as he hoped he would benefit from Caroline's friendship with the Home Secretary. Claire Tomalin has argued: "Lord Melbourne was nearly thirty years her senior; his wife (Caroline Lamb) had lately died; and he was a man peculiarly susceptible to the delights of a quasi-paternal relationship. Caroline Norton offered him beauty, charm, a sharp interest in everything that interested him and something like an eighteenth-century sense of fun; more, she idealized him for his urbanity, his power, wealth and well-preserved good looks." (148)

George Norton continued to beat Caroline and after one row in the summer of 1833 she locked herself in the drawing-room. This infuriated George who hurled himself at the door like a battering ram until it not only caved in but the whole framework of the door came away from the wall. Although she was seven months pregnant he "manhandled her down the stairs, punching and slapping her". Eventually, the servants were forced to restrain him. (149)

In 1835 Norton took the opportunity when his wife was visiting her sister to take their three children out of the house, and put them under the charge of a cousin, Miss Vaughan, who refused to let their mother have access to them. Caroline took refuge with her own family, and then found out the dreadful position in which the law placed her. She had nor rights concerning her children, and might never see them again until they were of age, without permission from her husband. (150)

Caroline Norton pointed out that even the money she earned as a writer belonged to her husband: "An English wife cannot legally claim her own earnings. Whether wages for manual labour, or payment for intellectual exertion, whether she weed potatoes, or keep a school, her salary is the husband's; and he could compel a second payment, and treat the first as void, if paid to the wife without his sanction." (151)

Lord Melbourne became prime minister in March, 1835. Norton, who had serious financial problems, told Caroline that he intended to sue Lord Melbourne for adultery. Norton then approached Melbourne and suggested that he should be paid £1,400 to avoid a politically damaging court case. Melbourne, who denied that he had been having a sexual relationship with Caroline, refused to give Norton any money.

George Norton now approached the Tory peer, William Best, 1st Lord Wynford, about the matter. Wynford believed that a sexual scandal involving Melbourne would bring the Whig government down and advised Norton to bring a suit charging the prime minister with "alienating his wife's affections". Norton now began to leak stories to the Tory press. Between March and June, 1835 a number of articles appeared suggesting that Melbourne was having an affair with Caroline. It was also suggested that other progressives such as Thomas Duncombe, Edward Trelawny and William Cavendish, 7th Duke of Devonshire, had also had affairs with Caroline. (152)

Barnard Gregory, the publisher of The Satirist, took up the case. On 29th May 1836, the newspaper reported that George Norton had known for a long time of "the intimacy subsisting between his Lady and Lord Melbourne". (153) Another newspaper, included not only Caroline but her sisters in all the innuendo and speculated openly about their reputations, mentioning in the process every gentleman who had ever been seen with them." (154)

George Norton told Caroline that he intended to go to court over the issue. When she informed Lord Melbourne of the bad news he claimed that this was the end of his political career. She said that she would never forget "the shrinking from me and my burdensome and embarrassing distress". (155)

Melbourne offered his resignation but William IV refused to accept it. However, he was advised to break off all contact with Caroline Norton. When it became known that Lord Wynford was responsible for Norton's action against Melbourne, even some Tory newspapers defended Melbourne. One Tory was quoted as saying that the case brought "disgrace to our party".

In June 1836 Norton brought a case for criminal conversation between Melbourne and his wife to the courts, suing Melbourne for £10,000 in damages for adultery. The case began on 22nd June 1836. Two of George Norton's servants gave evidence that they believed Caroline and Lord Melbourne had been having an affair. She had been prepared for lies but what appalled her was "the loathsome coarseness and invention of circumstances which made me a shameless wretch." One maid testified that she had been "painting her face and sinning with various gentlemen" in the same week that she gave birth to her third child. (156)

Three letters written by Melbourne to Caroline were presented in court. The contents of the three letters were very brief: (i) "I will call about half past four". (ii) "How are you? I shall not be able to come today. I shall tomorrow." (iii) "No house today. I will call after the levee. If you wish it later let me know. I will then explain about going to Vauxhall." Sir W. Follett, George Norton's counsel, argued that these letters showed "a great and unwarrantable degree of affection, because they did not begin and end with the words My dear Mrs. Norton."

One pamphlet reported: "One of the servants had seen kisses pass between the parties. She had seen Mrs Norton's arm around Lord Melbourne's neck - had seen her hand upon his knee, and herself kneeling in a posture. In that room (her bedroom) Mrs Norton has been seen lying on the floor, her clothes in a position to expose her person. There are other things too which it is my faithful duty to disclose. I allude to the marks from the consequences of the intercourse between the two parties. I will show you that these marks were seen upon the linen of Mrs Norton." (157)

The jury was unimpressed with the evidence presented in court and Follett's constant demands for the "payment of damages to his client" and Norton's witnesses were unreliable. Without calling any of the witnesses who would have proved Caroline's innocence the jury threw the case out. However, the case had destroyed Caroline's reputation and ruined and her friendship with Lord Melbourne. He refused to see her and Caroline wrote to him that it had destroyed her hope of "quietly taking my place in the past with your wife Mrs Lamb." (158)

Despite Norton's defeat in court, he still had the power to deny Caroline access to her children. She pointed out: "After the adultery trial was over, I learnt the law as to my children - that the right was with the father; that neither my innocence nor his guilt could alter it; that not even his giving them into the hands of a mistress, would give me any claim to their custody. The eldest was but six years old, the second four, the youngest two and a half, when we were parted. I wrote, therefore, and petitioned the father and husband in whose power I was, for leave to see them - for leave to keep them, till they were a little older. Norton's answer was, that I should not have them; that if I wanted to see them, I might have an interview with them at the chambers of his attorney. What I suffered on my children's account, none will ever know or measure. Norton held my children as hostages, he felt that while he had them, he still had power over me that nothing could control." (159)

Caroline wrote to Lord Melbourne, who continued to refuse to see her in case it caused another political scandal: "God forgive you, for I do believe no one, young or old, ever loved another better than I loved you... I will do nothing foolish or indiscreet - depend on it - either way it is all a blank to me. I don't much care how it ends... I have always the memory of how you received me that day, and I have the conviction that I have no further power than he allows me, over my boys. You and they were my interests in life. No future can ever wipe out the past - nor renew it." (160)

Caroline wrote a pamphlet explaining the unfairness of this entitled The Natural Claim of a Mother to the Custody of her Children as affected by the Common Law Rights of the Father (1837): Caroline argued that under the present law, a father had absolute rights and a mother no rights at all, whatever the behaviour of the husband. In fact, the law gave the husband the legal right to desert his wife and hand over his children to his mistress. For the first time in history, a woman had openly challenged this law that discriminated against women. (161)

Caroline Norton now began a campaign to get the law changed. Sir Thomas Talfourd, the MP for Reading agreed to Caroline's request to introduce a bill into Parliament which allowed mothers, against whom adultery had not been proved, to have the custody of children under seven, with rights of access to older children. "He was driven to do this by some personal experiences of his own, for in the course of his professional career he had twice been counsel for husbands resisting the claims of their wives, and had both times won his case in accordance with law and in violation of his sense of justice." (162)

Talfourd told Caroline about the case of Mrs Greenhill, "a young woman of irreproachable virtue". A mother of three daughters aged two to six, she found out her husband was living in adultery with another woman. She applied to the Ecclesiastical Court for a divorce. At the courts of King's Bench it was decided that she wife must not only deliver up the children, but that the husband had a right to debar the wife of all access to them. The Vice-Chancellor said that "however bad and immoral Mr Greenhill's conduct might be... the Court of Chancery had no authority to interfere with the common law right of the father, and no power to order that Mrs. Greenhill should even see her children". (163)

Talfourd highlighted the Greenhill case in the debate that took place over his proposed legislation. The bill was passed in the House of Commons in May 1838 by 91 to 17 votes (a very small attendance in a house of 656 members). Lord Thomas Denman, who was also the judge in the Greenhill case, made a passionate speech in favour of the bill in the House of Lords. Denman argued: "In the case of King v Greenhill, which was decided in 1836 before myself and the rest of the judges of the Court of the King's Bench, I believe there was not one judge who did not feel ashamed of the state of the law, and that it was such as to render it odious in the eyes of the country." (164)

Despite this speech the House of Lords rejected the bill by two votes. Very few members bothered to attend the debate that took place in the early hours of the morning. Caroline Norton remarked bitterly: "You cannot get Peers to sit up to three in the morning listening to the wrongs of separated wives." (165)

Talfourd was disgusted by the vote and published this response: "Because nature and reason point out the mother as the proper guardian of her infant child, and to enable a profligate, tyrannical, or irritated husband to deny her, at his sole and uncontrolled caprice, all access to her children, seems to me contrary to justice, revolting to humanity, and destructive of those maternal and filial affections which are among the best and surest cements of society." (166)

Caroline Norton now wrote another pamphlet, A Plain Letter to the Lord Chancellor on the Law of Custody of Infants. A copy was sent to every member of Parliament and in 1839 Talfourd tried again. The opponents of the proposed legislation spread rumours that Talfourd and Caroline "were lovers and that he had only became involved with the issue because of their sexual intimacy". (167)

The journal, The British and Foreign Review published a long and insulting attack in which it called Caroline Norton a "she devil" and a "she beast" and "coupled her name with Mr Talfourd in a most impertinent way." Norton wanted to prepare a legal action only to discover that as a married woman, she could not sue. She later wrote: "I have learned the law respecting married women piecemeal, by suffering every one of its defects of protection". (168)

Sir Thomas Talfourd reintroduced the bill in 1839. It was passed by the Commons and this time he received the help in the Lords from John Copley, 1st Baron Lyndhurst. "By the law of England, as it now stood, the father had an absolute right to the custody of his children, and to take them from the mother. However pure might be the conduct of the mother - however amiable, however correct in all the relations of life, the father might, if he thought proper, exclude her from all access to the children, and might do this from the most corrupt motives. He might be a man of the most profligate habits; for the purpose of extorting money, or in order to induce her to concede to his profligate conduct, he might exclude her from all access to their common children, and the course of law would afford her no redress: That was the state of the law as it at present existed. Need he state that it was a cruel law - that it was unnatural - that it was tyrannous - that it was unjust?" (169)

The main opposition came from George Norton's friend, William Best, 1st Lord Wynford. He argued that the proposed bill went against the best interests of men: "To give the custody of the child to the father, and to allow access to it by the mother, was to injure the child for it was natural to expect that the mother would not instill into the child any respect for the husband whom she might hate or despise. The effects of such a system would be most mischevious to the child, and would prevent its being properly brought up. If the husband was a bad man, the access to the children might not do harm, but where the fault lay with the wife, or where she was of a bad disposition, she could seriously injure its future prospects.... In his belief, where the measure, as it stood, would relieve one woman, it would ruin 100 children". (170)

Despite the protests of some politicians, the Custody of Children Act was passed in August 1839. "This act gave custody of children under seven to the mother (provided she had not been proven in court to have committed adultery) and established the right of the non-custodial parent to access to the child. The act was the first piece of legislation to undermine the patriarchal structures of English law and has subsequently been hailed as the first success of British feminism in gaining equal rights for women". (171)

Although the law had been passed George Norton still refused to let Caroline see her children. The new law applied only in England and Wales and so he therefore sent them all to a school in Scotland, knowing that they were now out of the jurisdiction of the English Courts. Norton also paid for people to spy on Caroline in the hope that he could acquire the evidence that she was involved in an adulterous relationship. (172)

In September 1842, eight year old William Norton was thrown from his pony while out riding with his brother. He cut his arm and although the injury was not serious, it was not treated, and he fell gravely ill with blood poisoning. Caroline was eventually sent for but by the time she arrived William was dead. It was only after this tragedy that George Norton was willing to let the two remaining children, Fletcher and Brinsley, to live with their mother. (173)

However, there were conditions attached. Caroline was not allowed to have a relationship with another man. George Norton retained the right to take them away from her whenever he wanted. Caroline wrote that she was in "fear and trembling" that he would take the children away again. She had to carry on "married", as she put it "to a man's name but never to know the protection of this nominal husband... never to feel or show preference for any friend not of my own sex." (174)

Caroline was now in a position to spend more time writing. One of the first factory reform poems, A Voice from the Factories (1836) and The Dream and Other Poems (1840) had received good reviews. One critic described her as the "Byron of Modern Poetesses". In 1845 Caroline published her most ambitious poem, The Child of the Islands. Written in honour of the Prince of Wales, the poem warns the infant prince never to forget the poor who are exploited by a privileged upper class.

Caroline Norton took great pride in her writing. In the preface of one of her novels she explained: "The power of writing has always been to me a source of intense pleasure... It has been my best solace in hours of gloom; and the name I have earned as an author in my native land is the only happy boast of my life." (175) She also admitted that in a good year she earned £1,400 by her writings. (176)

In 1848 George Norton was short of money. Many years previously Norton had set up a Trust Fund for Caroline Norton and his sons. He needed permission to get access to this money and offered George a deal. This involved a deed of separation and paying Caroline £600 a year in return for him to be allowed to draw money from the Trust Fund.

Lord Melbourne died in November, 1848. He made a deathbed declaration that he had not had a sexual relationship with Caroline Norton. He also left instructions to his relatives to make financial provision for her. In June, 1851, Caroline's mother died leaving her £480 a year. When he found out about these inheritances, George decided to end his payment of £600 to his wife. (177)

Caroline Norton now broke her agreement by referring her creditors to her husband. As a result a court case began on 18th August, 1853, when Thrupps, the carriage-makers, sued George Norton for £47. The case hinged on the 1848 deed of separation. In court, George Norton, maintained he had only offered £600 a year on condition Caroline had no money from other sources such as Lord Melbourne. Caroline easily exposed this as a lie, but the court decided in George's favour as it was illegal for a married woman to make a contract. (178)

George Norton wrote to The Times where he once again accused his wife of having an affair with Lord Melbourne. As a result of this intervention his solicitor wrote to the newspaper disassociating himself from what his client had said. Sir John Bayley, a leading judge, also joined the debate and accused Norton of being dishonest and greedy. Norton replied that Bayley was "infatuated" with his wife. (179)

In 1851 her novel, Stuart of Dunleath: A Story of Modern Times, a story based on her own experiences, was highly praised by the critics. In the novel she condemns adultery and it is claimed that when a man burst into her bedroom with the words "adultery is a crime, not a recreation". Claire Tomalin has argued that "she was so disappointed and disgusted with her experience of sex within marriage as to lack any wish at all to embark on extra-marital ventures of that kind." (180)

Caroline Norton continued to campaign for a change in the laws that discriminated against women. This included the pamphlets English Laws for Women in the Nineteenth Century (1854) and A Letter on Lord Cranworth's Marriage and Divorce Bill (1855). However, Caroline Norton was no feminist. She pointed out that "The natural position of woman is inferiority to man… I never pretended to the wild and ridiculous doctrine of equality". (181)

Caroline Norton also wrote a letter to Queen Victoria complaining about the position of women in regards to divorce. "If her husband take proceedings for a divorce, she is not, in the first instance, allowed to defend herself. She has no means of proving the falsehood of his allegations... If an English wife be guilty of infidelity, her husband can divorce her so as to marry again; but she cannot divorce the husband, however profligate he may be. No law court can divorce in England. A special Act of Parliament annulling the marriage, is passed for each case. The House of Lords grants this almost as a matter of course to the husband, but not to the wife. In only four instances (two of which were cases of incest), has the wife obtained a divorce to marry again." (182)

Partly as a result of her efforts, Parliament in 1857 passed the Marriage and Divorce Act. This allowed divorce through the law courts, instead of the slow and expensive business of a Private Act of Parliament. Four of the causes in the act were based on Caroline Norton's experiences as a married woman. (Clause 21) A wife deserted by her husband might be protected if the possession of her earnings from any claim of her husband upon them. (Clause 24) The courts were able to direct payment of separate maintenance to a wife or to her trustee. (Clause 25) A wife was able to inherit and bequeath property like a single woman. (Clause 26) A wife separated from her husband was given the power of contract and suing, and being sued, in any civil proceeding. (183)

For over twenty-five years Caroline Norton had been a close friend of Sir William Stirling-Maxwell. However, George Norton refused to give his wife a divorce and so was prevented from living with him. This situation changed when George died and in 1877 Caroline Norton, now aged 69, married Stirling-Maxwell. Unfortunately, Caroline died three months later.

On 12th March 1866, William Gladstone introduced the government's new reform bill. In the debate Gladstone admitted that he was a recent convert to parliamentary reform. With Conservative opposition to the measure, Russell's government found it impossible to get the bill passed by the House of Commons. On 19th June 1866, Russell's administration resigned.

Lord Russell retired in 1867 and Gladstone became leader of the Liberal Party. Gladstone made it clear that he was in favour of increasing the number of people who could vote. Although the Conservative Party had opposed previous attempts to introduce parliamentary reform, Lord Derby's new government were now sympathetic to the idea. The Conservatives knew that if the Liberals returned to power, Gladstone was certain to try again. Disraeli "feared that merely negative and confrontational responses to the new forces in the political nation would drive them into the arms of the Liberals and promote further radicalism" and decided that the Conservative Party had to change its policy on parliamentary reform. (184)

Benjamin Disraeli, the leader of the House of Commons, argued that the Conservatives were in danger of being seen as an anti-reform party. In 1867 Disraeli proposed a new Reform Act. Robert Cecil, 3rd Marquis of Salisbury, resigned in protest against this extension of democracy. However, as he explained this had nothing to do with democracy: "We do not live - and I trust it will never be the fate of this country to live - under a democracy." (185)

On 21st March, 1867, Gladstone made a two hour speech in the House of Commons, exposing in detail the inconsistencies of the bill. On 11th April Gladstone proposed an amendment which would allow a tenant to vote whether or not he paid his own rates. Forty-three members of his own party voted with the Conservatives and the amendment was defeated. Gladstone was so angry that apparently he contemplated retirement to the backbenches. (186)

However, Disraeli did accept an amendment from Grosvenor Hodgkinson, which added nearly half a million voters to the electoral rolls, therefore doubling the effect of the bill. Gladstone commented: "Never have I undergone a stronger emotion of surprise than when, as I was entering the House, our Whip met me and stated that Disraeli was about to support Hodgkinson's motion." (187)

On 20th May 1867, John Stuart Mill, the Radical MP for Westminster, and the leading male supporter in favour of women's suffrage, proposed that women should be granted the same rights as men. "We talk of political revolutions, but we do not sufficiently attend to the fact that there has taken place around us a silent domestic revolution: women and men are, for the first time in history, really each other's companions... when men and women are really companions, if women are frivolous men will be frivolous... the two sexes must rise or sink together." (188)

During the debate on the issue, Edward Kent Karslake, the Conservative MP for Colchester, said in the debate that the main reason he opposed the measure was that he had not met one woman in Essex who agreed with women's suffrage. Lydia Becker, Helen Taylor and Frances Power Cobbe, decided to take up this challenge and devised the idea of collecting signatures in Colchester for a petition that Karslake could then present to parliament. They found 129 women resident in the town willing to sign the petition and on 25th July, 1867, Karslake presented the list to parliament. Despite this petition the Mill amendment was defeated by 196 votes to 73. Gladstone voted against the amendment. (189)

Women's Rights

As the home of the 19th Amendment, the National Archives invites you to join our virtual commemoration of the centennial of this landmark document. Throughout August with online programs for all ages, we will explore the complex story of the struggle for woman suffrage, leading up to and beyond the certification of the 19th Amendment on August 26, 1920.

The campaign for woman suffrage was long, difficult, and sometimes dramatic, yet ratification did not ensure full enfranchisement. Many women remained unable to vote long into the 20th century because of discriminatory laws. You can find records that help tell this story, including petitions, legislation, court cases, and more in the National Archives.

You can also learn more about the fight for women’s voting rights through our social media campaigns.

Learn about the struggle for the vote in our exhibit Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote.

A message from Archivist David S. Ferriero and Deputy Archivist Debra Steidel Wall on the centennial of the 19th Amendment.

A message from Corinne Porter, curator of the National Archives exhibit Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote.


2019–2020, marks the 100th anniversary of women in the U.S. attaining the right to vote.

The National Archives invites you to browse the wealth of records and information documenting the women's rights movement in the United States, including photographs, documents, audiovisual recordings, educational resources, exhibits, articles, blog posts, lectures, and events.

Women’s rights essay

The issue regarding women’s rights is not a new one. In the past, there were distinctive differences between men and women, between their roles in society and their models of behavior. However, considerable changes have been found since those times. Today gender roles have been shifted, making strong impact on society. Women in the Western culture are now no more satisfied with the role of a homemaker they prefer to make their own careers and share the same rights with men (Howie, 2010). This fact means women’s rights are based on freedom that can be viewed as a virtue, but not as a burden. Women continue to fight for their rights. The emergence of feminist movements and ideologies united under the title of feminism (Gillis & Hollows, 2008). Today, there is a continuous discourse on the behalf of both opponents and proponents of feminism, but the main thing is to understand the very roots and reasons of the phenomenon (Gillis et al., 2007). Therefore, the major goal of this study is to find out the objective state of the problem and conclude whether women do win by acquiring the equal status with men in human society. For that end, the existing literature covering different perspectives will be analyzed. In particular, the study will be focused on proto-feminist movements in Europe of the 19-the century passing the Representation of the People Act in 1918 demonstrations on women’s suffrage women’s efforts during the First World War and the Second World War the first wave, the second wave and the third wave feminism on the whole. The research is expected to prove that although social reconstruction of sex and gender is not always beneficial neither for women nor for men, the struggle for equal opportunities has become a historically determined stage of social development. These events reflect the changes in feminist movements and help to better understand the successes and failures of women in fighting for their rights. The impact of each event or development that will be discussed in this paper is connected with the changing role of women and with their changing opportunities in achievement of the established goals. Thesis statement: Women’s role in the struggle for equal opportunities highlights the positive effects of feminism on the social reconstruction of sex and gender that was caused by a number of important historical events and developments, such as the development of proto-feminist movements in Europe of the 19-the century passing the Representation of the People Act in 1918 demonstrations on women’s suffrage women’s efforts during the First World War and the Second World War the development of the first wave, the second wave and the third wave feminism.

The major goal of this paper is to review the historical events and developments which involve women from 1865 to the present. This paper will explore six specific events or developments that span the years covered by this course, based on their impact on the topic “women’s role in history”. The research is focused on the analysis of both European Women’s rights and the women’s rights movements launched in the U.S, defined as the first wave, the second wave and the third wave feminism.

Proto-feminist movements in Europe of the 19-the century

The development of proto-feminist movements in Europe of the 19-the century played an important role in the promotion of the philosophy of feminism. Women were inspired by proto-feminist concerns that women should be equal to men. Proto-feminist movements contributed to women’s achievements in different spheres of human activity. Actually, in the 19-th century, women’s condition under the law differed from that of men. In economics and politics, women had no power. However, women’s consciousness was more progressive compared with that of women who lived earlier than the 19-tyh century (Worell, 2000). In other words, the development of proto-feminist movements is connected with the development of feminist consciousness focused on the expansion of women’s rights and development of women’s rights movements. The Female Moral Reform Society is an example of effective proto-feminist movement aimed at representation women in a powerful position, placing emphasis on the public advocacy of personal ethics (Gillis & Hollows, 2008 Worell, 2000).

Passing the Representation of the People Act in 1918

The Representation of the People Act (1918) criticized the limited rights of women and continued to call for equal rights. This act provided an opportunity to establish fair relationships between men and women, promoting the idea of equal pay for equal work. New reforms of the 1900s contributed to the growth of feminism. According to the Representation of the People Act of 1918, all women included in the local governmental register, aged 30 and over, were enfranchised (Gillis & Hollows, 2008 Worell, 2000). The right to vote was granted to women who were householders, the householders’ wives, and who occupied the property with an annual rent of L5 and more, and who were the graduates of British universities (Gillis & Hollows, 2008).

Moreover, the debate regarding the passage of the Representation of the People Act raised the issues about the effects of the law, but it failed to change the established culture of parliamentary politics. Many women politicians did not criticize male-dominated political parties, remaining loyal to men’s power (Early video on the emancipation of women, 1930). In the 1900s, men remained in the positions of power, although the political movement regarding women’s suffrage in the U.K. began before the WWI (Worell, 2000).

Demonstrations on women’s suffrage

Many demonstrations were organized to address women’s suffrage rights. The first demonstration was the parade organized by Blatch in New York in 1910. Harriot Stanton Blatch was one of activists who promoted the idea of bringing a new suffrage bill, which could become the first step to women’s voting rights. In 1907, she established the Equality League of Self-Supporting Women. In 1913, the suffrage match was held in Washington D.C. More than 5000 women activist took part in this match, hoping to win public support for suffrage. In 1916, the Women’s Political Union organized many demonstrations on women’s suffrage. In the U.S., President Wilson agreed to support the idea of women’s suffrage in 1918 after numerous protests organized by feminists. As a result, women’s rights activists were aimed at equality in all spheres of human activity based on women’s suffrage. In 1919, the Nineteenth Amendment was passed by the U.S. Congress (Howie, 2010 Worell, 2000).

Women’s efforts during the First World War

Women’s role during the First World War reflected their social and economic position. Feminists were not satisfied with the idea that women’s work was classified as less important than men’s work. Besides, the working class women who were the representatives of the first wave feminism promoted the ideas of feminism at work and in homes, in stores, halls and local newspapers. They believed in their rights and were focused on the promotion of collective actions aimed at realization of their agenda. However, men opposed women’s involvement into male jobs during the First World War. Male trade unions defended the division of labor based on gender (Gillis & Hollows, 2008).

Finally, women’s activism in the era of the First World War, the considerable increases in the cost of living in that period, as well as the recognition of the established trade unions and the passage of the constitutional amendment to support women’s suffrage contributed to women’s mobilization during the war. According to Howie (2010), patriotic women highlighted the importance of the ideas of feminism. Due to the diversity of experiences during that period, women could become more independent in their choices. Although many women realized that their rights were limited, they supported feminism and motivated others to join wartime mobilization (Howie, 2010).

Women’s efforts during the Second World War

Women’s efforts during the Second World War were focused on more radical changes. Unlike in the First World War, during the Second World War women’s position was more stable. The governments allowed women to join the armed forces and be involved in the war-related production. All women aged under 40 years old were divided into two categories: mobile and immobile. Mobile women were allowed to join army and carry out war work duties. Immobile women were responsible for caring children and elderly people. Many of them were involved in voluntary work, either in industry or in voluntary organizations (Howie, 2010). Women were allowed to work 16 hours a day and perform men’s duties. However, women were paid less than men. Besides, they were discriminated in the workplace. Thus, women played an important role in the war effort, although their position in society was still less valuable, comparing with men’s position (Howie, 2010 Gillis & Hollows, 2008).

The first wave, the second wave and the third wave feminism

As the American women’s movement is characterizes as “waves”, there is a necessity to refer to three waves of feminism and identify certain differences between them. Actually, the development of the first wave, the second wave and the third wave feminism highlight the importance of women’s involvement in social reconstruction of sex and gender (Howie, 2010). Although these waves are closely connected with one another, there are some differences in their philosophies. It has been found that each wave of feminism is based on the successes and failures of previous generations of women. For example, the first wave feminism is reflected by the following successes: suffrage and voting rights. These developments occurred in the late 1800s- the early 1900s, influencing further changes in women’s representation (MacKinnon, 1995).

In addition, the second wave feminism, which was launched in the 1960s, placed emphasis on the role of personal politics in human society. The banner of the second wave feminism was “the personal is political”. Actually, it was based on women’s rights, such as abortion rights, child care rights, as well as other issues, including women’s recognition of unpaid labor, access to health care services and equal pay for equal work. Catharine MacKinnon, the Professor of Law at the University of Michigan and the author of the book Toward a Feminist Theory of the State, argues that women’s rights are still limited and there is a necessity for broader horizons for women. A variety of issues of concern remain unsolved. Women continue to fight for their rights (MacKinnon, 1995). According to Hollows, and Moseley (2006), there is a close relationship between the second wave feminism and popular culture, but feminism cannot be viewed as a “monolithic and homogeneous movement” (p. 3).

Moreover, the first wave and the second wave feminism created certain challenges, such as the concerns about racism and discrimination, tensions between generations, etc. These concerns can be found in the next wave of feminism – the third wave feminism, which was launched in the 1990s (MacKinnon, 1995). The third wave feminism is based on criticism of collective past of women’s movement and building more diverse and dynamic movement. In other word it is characterized by the increased role of multiculturalism (MacKinnon, 1995). Alice Walker (1983) helps to assess the role of virtues, beliefs and values in the creation of a womanist virtue ethic, which forms the basis of third wave feminism. She states that social activism helps in promotion of feminist ideas and addresses the challenges caused by diverse society.

Thus, it is necessary to conclude that women have always played an important role in the development of history. This paper is based on providing evidence regarding the effects of social reconstruction of sex and gender on women and their participation in the struggle for equal opportunities, which has become a historically determined stage of social development. The history that involves women has been developed over centuries, constantly changing its goals and forms, increasing the popularity of women’s movement, mainly in the 20-th century, when suffrage and voting rights were popularized. The role of women in the 19-th century differed from their roles in the 20-th century. The events that occurred in the 1900s contributed to the developments in the later decades. For example, proto-feminist movements in Europe of the 19-the century contributed to the development of more independent views on women’s rights and duties. The third wave feminism completely changes women’s views on their role in social development through the relationship between feminist movement and popular culture. Generally speaking, women’s role in the struggle for equal opportunities throughput the history emphasizes the positive effects of feminist ideas on the social reconstruction of sex and gender that was caused by a number of important historical developments, including the development of proto-feminist movements in Europe of the 19-the century passing the Representation of the People Act in 1918 demonstrations on women’s suffrage women’s efforts during the First World War and the Second World War the development of the first wave, the second wave and the third wave feminism.

The Struggle for Women's Rights: 1500-1870 - History

Two Afghan women dressed in bright blue burqas. Today the burqa stands as a symbol of the status of women in Afghanistan, but for much of the twentieth century the history of women in this war-torn country led also toward greater rights and public presence.

Editor's Note:

In April of this year, a group of some 300 women protesters demanded that the government in Kabul repeal a repressive new law that went so far as to permit marital rape. They were publicly harassed and labeled &ldquowhores&rdquo. Around the world, many observers were outraged. The law seemed to signal a return to the kinds of policies that the Taliban had instituted when it ruled Afghanistan&mdashwhen the burqa stood as a haunting symbol of the regime&rsquos subjugation of women. While visitors to the country commonly report encountering a land somehow &ldquolost in time&rdquo where women are almost completely absent from the public world, this month historian Scott Levi examines the century-long efforts to improve women's lives in Afghanistan.

For more on the recent history of the region, please see the July 2009 Origins article on Central Asia On the history of Islam, readers may also be interested to see these two Origins articles: Tradition vs Charisma: The Sunni-Shi'i Divide in the Muslim World and The Meaning of 'Muslim Fundamentalist'.

Let me begin with two stories.

In April of this year, Afghan President Hamid Karzai threw his support behind an astonishing and repressive law that would make it illegal for women of the Shi'i minority (approximately 10 percent of the population) to refuse their husbands' sexual advances and would require, among other things, that women get their husbands' permission even to step outside of their homes.

In response, a group of some 300 Afghan women gathered to protest this law and demand that the government repeal it. As one protester lamented to a New York Times reporter: "Whenever a man wants sex, we cannot refuse. It means a woman is a kind of property, to be used by the man in any way that he wants."

They encountered a much larger group of mostly male counter-protestors who responded violently and branded these women "whores." Forcibly chased away by the men, they exclaimed "We want our rights! We want equality!"

One is left to wonder how a protest against a law that recognizes a form of rape as legal could evoke such a visceral response.

In 1996, while living in the former Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan, three friends and I were fortunate enough to be granted permission to visit northern Afghanistan. We were an unlikely group to be traveling in Afghanistan at that time: four young Americans, one a woman with light blonde hair, and the country was in the midst of a civil war.

Just two months before we crossed the "Bridge of Friendship" over the Amu Darya River and entered Afghanistan, the Taliban had advanced northward and taken the capital city of Kabul. We were in the territory of General Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek who had very recently joined forces with the celebrated Tajik commander Ahmad Shah Massoud to establish the "Northern Alliance" against the advancing Taliban.

Crossing the bridge, we had passed from a relatively peaceful post-Soviet republic into a war-torn wasteland. Sand dunes were left unchecked to take over entire stretches of the road, which in many places seemed to be more pothole than pavement. Young boys from nearby refugee camps shoveled dirt into some of the potholes, hoping to earn a bit of money from the few Iranian truck drivers brave (or foolish) enough to transport merchandise to Uzbekistan.

We passed by a number of bombed-out Soviet tanks rusting in the desert, monuments to the Soviet invasion and occupation of the country that lasted from 1979 into 1989. After a couple of hours my friends and I arrived in Mazar-i Sharif, the largest city in the region, and excitedly began to explore the city, meet people, and collect nervous reports of Taliban activities in the south.

With few exceptions, what we did not see were women in public. The majority of those that we did encounter were destitute victims of the war, forced to spend their days begging to feed their families. These were the only women with whom we interacted, and even then it was only to place a few bills in their calloused, outstretched hands—no conversation, and no eye contact.

Even though this was not Taliban territory yet, these women wore the full chadri, or burqa, a long shapeless gown that hangs from a hat to completely cover everything from head to toe. To our eyes, they moved about the city as powder-blue ghosts—there, but not really there.

One evening, my friends and I went out for dinner to a little neighborhood restaurant near our hotel. The four of us were the only obvious foreigners in the place, and our companion the only woman, in a room otherwise filled with men sitting in chairs at old tables in the front and on woolen rugs on an elevated platform in the back.

For a few moments we stood quietly at the entrance, unsure where to go from there, as conversation halted and all heads turned silently toward us. After a long, uncomfortable pause the hum of conversations resumed and we found seats at a table not far from the door.

I was struck by the hospitality of our hosts. They treated us with a deliberate respect, referring to our female companion as our "sister" and addressing her indirectly, through one of the men present. Before we could ask, a young boy arrived with a pot of tea and bread, and after the novelty of our arrival wore off a bit the mood lightened and we had dinner and conversations with some of the men seated near us.

At precisely 8:00, the already dim lights of the restaurant shut off completely, except for a single bulb over the kitchen area in a distant corner of the large open room. I assumed that the electricity had been shut off to conserve energy for the following day, and that the restaurant was now closing. As a hush quickly spread across the room, I sat quietly and waited to see what everyone else would do, but nobody moved.

Then an old man slowly exited the kitchen, walked across the room toward a dinosaur of a television attached high up on a wall, reached up, and turned a knob. The vacuum tubes in this remarkable piece of electronic history gradually warmed up and the picture slowly began to take shape.

There before me was the American actress Pamela Anderson in a skin-tight bathing suit bouncing her way across a sandy California beach, signaling the beginning of the show "Baywatch."

I was stunned. Here, in war-torn Mazar-i Sharif, this restaurant had somehow acquired a satellite dish and the men (only a handful of whom could understand the dubbing into Hindi) were eager to watch "Baywatch." Before I knew what I was doing I loudly announced to our new friends, "Hey, that's our country!" and received a roar of laughter and applause.

Women and Men in Afghanistan

These two anecdotes illustrate that for westerners and for Afghans alike, the status of women serves as a barometer by which to measure Afghan society.

For many westerners, nothing demonstrates the essentially "backward" or "medieval" nature of Afghan society more than its treatment of women. For many Afghans, nothing represents the perils of encroaching westernization more than the movement for women's rights.

For Afghans like the diners in Mazar-i Sharif, Pamela Anderson running around in a bathing suit is a symbol for all of American culture and society—scantily clad western women flaunting their bodies and their open sexuality are seen as a foundational (and perverse) value of western culture.

For some this is entertainment, for others it is distasteful, and for still others it is akin to pornography. The men sitting at the restaurant in Mazar-i Sharif that November evening were eager to watch it on the screen, but they would have been horrified at the thought of their wives and daughters presenting themselves to the public in the same way.

And it doesn't take much to imagine that the men in Kabul, who violently berated the 300 women who had gathered to protest a regressive law, saw those women as advocates for a way of life that they believe to be repugnant. The protestors weren't dressed like Pamela Anderson, but in these men's eyes their demands for rights are pushing Afghanistan toward westernization, which they fear to be a dangerously slippery slope.

The debate surrounding the issue of women's rights in Afghanistan is clearly influenced by popular perceptions of westernization—images that are often generated by the global entertainment industry—and what it would mean for Afghan society. But that is only a single feature of a complex debate. In order to better appreciate the nuances of the various tensions involved, it is useful to place this issue in its historical context and turn to the long history of Afghans' own efforts to improve women's rights within Afghanistan.

Women's Rights Before the Taliban

The struggle for women's rights in Afghanistan has a history that goes back into the nineteenth century—long before the rise of the Taliban in the early 1990s. It involves sustained tensions between different ethnic groups, between urban and rural populations, and between the people of Afghanistan and the outside world.

On the one hand, today's activists can point to a long tradition of successful Afghan reformers, including such figures as Mahmud Beg Tarzi (1865–1933), who served as Minister of Foreign Affairs and was the father-in-law to the ruler of Afghanistan, Amanullah Khan (r. 1919–29).

On the other hand, the movement has been in conflict with a proud cultural heritage that deeply values female modesty and chastity as a part of a family's honor. In Afghanistan, as in much of the world, one's family is the most important part of an individual's identity in larger society, and a family's honor is a critical element in how other families assess its social position. For these reasons, many Afghans, even those who vehemently oppose the Taliban, find westernization to be an offensive and extremely dangerous cultural trend.

In some important ways, the women's rights movement in Afghanistan began during the reign of Amir Abdur Rahman Khan (r. 1880–1901), a brutal military dictator renowned as the "Iron Amir" for his tyrannical method of rule.

In his autobiography, Abdur Rahman Khan described the despotic measures he used to subjugate his many rivals and put down numerous rebellions. In the process, he brought the whole of Afghanistan under his singular rule—all the while holding at bay the expansionist imperial interests of the Russians in Central Asia and the British in India.

He exiled or executed many of the local nobility, forcibly relocated many tribes across the country, and defeated the last "Hindu" Afghans of Kafiristan ("Land of the Infidels") and had them converted to Islam (after which their province was renamed "Nuristan," "Land of Light").

Struggle for Women's Rights and Civil Rights Linked

The nation commemorates two anniversaries this month.

Women's Equality Day on August 26 is federal recognition of the day in 1920 when the 19th Amendment became law and women were granted the right to vote. Around the country, many communities are planning activities.

Two days later, Americans will stop and remember the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his stirring "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial. A march in Washington and a rally on the National Mall are planned for August 28.

It is especially fitting that these two important dates are paired because the fight for racial equality is intertwined in the fight for women's equality in our country's history. Ultimately, what history teaches is that there is no racial equality and no gender equality without equality for all. That's why Vision 2020, a national coalition of organizations and individuals united in the commitment to achieve women's economic and social equality, works to build bridges across gender and racial divides.

In the 1830s, thousands of women were involved in the movement to abolish slavery. But at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840, Americans Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott were refused seats on the floor by male abolitionists because they were women. As a result, Stanton and Mott vowed to hold a convention on women's rights, which they hosted in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York. At the convention, delegates adopted a "Declaration of Sentiments," a document modeled on the Declaration of Independence. It was signed by 68 women and 32 men, including African-American abolitionist, Frederick Douglass.

After the Civil War, the 14th Amendment granted the right to vote to adult males and the 15th Amendment said voting rights could not be denied on account of race. Suffragists were bitterly disappointed that women were excluded from coverage by these amendments and they continued the struggle for women's rights.

Women of all races finally were enfranchised in 1920. But celebration of this event didn't occur for five decades, after women were inspired by the positive results of the 1963 March on Washington and other civil rights demonstrations and impelled by the sexism many encountered while making substantive contributions to civil rights.

In 1966, the National Organization for Women was co-founded by activists including author, Betty Friedan, and civil rights attorney, Pauli Murray. Four years later, N.O.W. organized a national Women's Strike for Equality, demanding equal opportunities for women in education and employment. On August 26, 1970, women marched on Fifth Avenue in New York City and protested in 90 cities in what was called "the first big demonstration of the women's liberation movement." The following year, Congress passed a resolution sponsored by Rep. Bella Abzug (D-NY) that designated August 26 as Women's Equality Day.

In 2013, many Americans will recognize August 26 and August 28 as both proud celebrations of what peaceful protest can accomplish and as pointed reminders of what is yet to be achieved. Equality is an elusive concept but, as Dr. King described, we all have a dream that one day, it will be reached.

At Vision 2020, we have a national network of members, delegates and allies who are working to advance women's economic and social equality. Why? Because we believe our government will truly reflect the will of the people when all people are equitably represented. Because we know American business will benefit from more women in senior leadership roles. And because we trust that educating the next generations about shared leadership between genders and among all races will benefit each of us.

On these important anniversaries, we recognize the work of the generations that came before us, and we honor those women and men of all races who today are engaged in actions to make the dream of equality a reality.

Women’s Rights Before the Civil War

In Colonial America and the first few decades of the new United States, individual women often fought for equal rights for themselves, such as assuming business interests of a husband after his death. During the war for independence women did their part by supporting the Patriots in numerous ways, including organizing boycotts of British goods.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, American law was based upon English common law and the doctrine of coverture, which stated that a woman’s legal rights were incorporated into those of her husband when she married, and she was not recognized as having rights and obligations distinct from those of her husband. One of the few legal advantages of marriage for a woman was that her husband was obligated to support her and be responsible for her debts.

The ownership of a woman’s real and personal property passed to her husband the moment she said, “I do.” Furthermore, a husband could do anything he wished with his wife’s material possessions. He could sell them, give them away or simply destroy them, while a wife was forbidden to convey (sell, give or will) her own property.

A Married Woman’s Legal Rights in Antebellum America
• She could not control property that was hers before the marriage.
• She could not keep or control the wages she earned.
• She could not acquire property while married.
• She could not transfer or sell property.
• She could not bring any lawsuit.
• She could not make a contract.

Technically, a husband could do anything he wished with his wife’s material possessions. He could sell them, give them away or simply destroy them, while a wife was forbidden to convey (sell, give or will) her own property. How strictly this was adhered to depended upon the couple. Each was different and, decision-making was shared to varying degrees.

Over the course of the 19th century, however, women’s demands for equal rights began to change from a series of isolated incidents to an organized movement, but for years it was far from unified. Enormous changes swept across the United States as we changed from an agrarian society to an industrialized one.

Beginning in the 1820s, single young women began to work in the textile mills that opened in New England, where they often lived in boarding houses owned by their employers – a totally new concept. Middle-class women were increasingly confined to the dreaded domestic sphere, where she created a haven for her hardworking husband and raised her children.

However, the changes in women’s lives allowed them to begin to act politically, for themselves and for others. Women began working in the abolitionist movement and in the process became organizers and leaders, and found their own voices. Over time, they began to realize that their own legal and political rights had been neglected.

First Women’s Rights Convention
The abolitionist movement was a critical first step in the creation of an organized movement for the rights of women. The seed for the first Women’s Rights Convention was planted in 1840, when social reformers and abolitionists Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton met at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London, England. Stanton was the young bride of antislavery agent Henry Stanton, and Mott was a Quaker preacher and a veteran of reform movements.

The two women became allies when the male delegates attending the convention voted that women should be denied participation in the proceedings because of their gender. They talked then of calling a convention in the United States to address the condition of women. Eight years later, it came about as a spontaneous event.

After Quaker service on Sunday July 9, 1848, a social visit brought Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott together again. Mott was visiting her sister Martha Coffin Wright in Auburn, New York, and Stanton was then living in nearby Seneca Falls. Stanton, Mott and Wright joined Mary Ann McClintock and Jane Hunt for tea at the Hunt home in nearby Waterloo. All except Stanton were Quakers, a sect that afforded women some measure of equality, and all five were well acquainted with the anti-slavery and temperance movements.

Fresh in their minds was the April passage of the long-deliberated New York Married Woman’s Property Rights Act, a significant but far from comprehensive piece of legislation. The time had come, Stanton argued, for women’s wrongs to be laid before the public, and women themselves must shoulder the responsibility. Before the afternoon was out, the women decided on a call for a convention “to discuss the social, civil and religious condition and rights of woman.”

Using the Declaration of Independence as her guide, Stanton wrote the Declaration of Sentiments, in which she stated that “all men and women had been created equal” and went on to list eighteen “injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman.” This document was presented at the first Women’s Rights Convention on July 19 and 20 at the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Seneca Falls.

A crowd of about three hundred people, including forty men, attended the convention. Since none of the women felt capable of presiding over the meeting, Lucretia’s husband James Mott did the honors. Every resolution in the Declaration of Sentiments passed unanimously except women’s suffrage (the right to vote).

The eloquent Frederick Douglass, a former slave and editor of the Rochester North Star, however, swayed the gathering into agreeing to that resolution as well. At the closing session, Lucretia Mott called for “the overthrowing of the monopoly of the pulpit, and for the securing to woman equal participation with men in the various trades, professions and commerce.” The Seneca Falls Declaration was signed by 100 women and men, but subsequent criticism caused some of them to withdraw their names.

The proceedings in Seneca Falls, followed a few days later by a meeting in Rochester, brought forth a torrent of sarcasm and ridicule from the press and pulpit. Noted Frederick Douglass in the North Star:

A discussion of the rights of animals would be regarded with far more complacency by many of what are called the wise and the good of our land, than would be a discussion of the rights of woman.

Although somewhat discomforted by the widespread misrepresentation, Elizabeth Cady Stanton understood the value of attention in the press. “Just what I wanted,” Stanton said when the New York Herald printed the entire text of the Declaration of Sentiments, calling it amusing. She wrote:

Imagine the publicity given to our ideas by thus appearing in a widely circulated sheet like the Herald. It will start women thinking, and men too and when men and women think about a new question, the first step in progress is taken.

When the members of the American Anti-Slavery Society in Boston met in 1850, they decided to create a national women’s rights convention. For the next ten years (except 1857), delegates met at National Women’s Rights Conventions, where a wide range of issues were discussed including educational rights, equal pay for equal work, marriage reform and women’s property rights. Stanton, then only thirty-two years old, went gray for the cause, seemingly overnight.

National Women’s Rights Conventions were not held during the Civil War years (1861-1865). Instead women activists focused their energies on the abolition of slavery and supporting the Union war effort. At the 1866 meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society in Boston, Lucy Stone and Susan B. Anthony suggested that women and African Americans establish an organization which would work toward universal suffrage.

That same year, the American Equal Rights Association (AERA) (also known as the Equal Rights Association) was founded by activists Lucy Stone, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Frederick Douglass. The 15th Amendment, proposed by the U.S. Congress on February 26, 1869, would grant voting rights for African American men. It did not extend voting rights to women of any color.

This caused a rift among AERA members – some considered it a victory, while many women activists were very disappointed. In 1869, Stanton and Anthony established the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) whose sole mission was to win voting rights for women. Abolitionists like Lucy Stone, Henry Blackwell and Julia Ward Howe believed that suffrage for women and blacks should remain linked. Therefore, they created a new organization – the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA).

During the ensuing years, African American women also created their own reform movements, and women like Sojourner Truth represented an important link between these organizations. For years, these organizations worked side-by-side for equal rights for all women. However, it soon became clear that securing the right to vote for women would require a united effort.

In 1890 the NWSA and AWSA united as the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). When victory finally came in 1920, seventy-two years after the first convention for women’s rights, only one signer of the Seneca Falls Declaration – Charlotte Woodward – had lived long enough to cast her ballot.

Timeline of Significant Events in the Women’s Rights Movement:
• 1850
The first National Women’s Rights Convention was held at Worcester, Massachusetts, attracting more than 1,000 participants. Paulina Wright Davis, Abby Kelley, William Lloyd Garrison, Lucy Stone and Sojourner Truth attended.

• 1851
The second National Women’s Rights Convention was held again in Worcester, Massachusetts. Participants included Horace Mann, New York Tribune columnist Elizabeth Oakes Smith and Reverend Henry Ward Beecher.

• 1853
Women delegates Antoinette Brown Blackwell and Susan B. Anthony were not allowed to speak at The World’s Temperance Convention held in New York City.

• 1853
The Una premiered in Providence, Rhode Island, edited by Paulina Wright Davis. With a masthead declaring it to be “A Paper Devoted to the Elevation of Woman,” it was acknowledged as the first feminist newspaper.

• 1866
The 14th Amendment was passed by Congress (ratified by the states in 1868), the first time “citizens” and “voters” are defined as “male” in the Constitution.

• 1866
The American Equal Rights Association was founded, the first organization in the United States to advocate women’s suffrage.

• 1868
Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan Anthony began publishing The Revolution, one of the most important radical periodicals of the women’s rights movement. Its motto: “Men, their rights and nothing more women, their rights and nothing less!”

• 1869
Women in Wyoming became the first to vote following the granting of territorial status. For the first time in the history of jurisprudence, Wyoming also allowed women to serve on juries and had the first woman court bailiff and justice of the peace (1870).

• 1870
Iowa became the first state to admit a woman to the bar: Arabella Mansfield.

• 1870
The 15th Amendment received final ratification. By its text, women were not specifically excluded from the vote. During the next two years, approximately 150 women attempted to vote in almost a dozen different jurisdictions from Delaware to California.

• 1872
Through the efforts of woman lawyer Belva Lockwood, Congress passed a law giving women federal employees equal pay for equal work.

• 1872
Howard University law school graduate Charlotte Ray, the first African American woman lawyer, also became the first woman permitted to argue cases before the U.S. Supreme Court

• 1873
Myra Bradwell applied for admission to the Illinois bar, but the state supreme court denied her admission because she was a woman, noting that the “strife” of the bar would surely destroy femininity. In Bradwell v. Illinois, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that states could restrict women from the practice of any profession to uphold the law of the Creator.

• 1873
The Comstock Act of 1873, was a federal law which made it illegal to send any “obscene” materials through the mail, including contraceptive devices and banned the distribution of information on abortion for educational purposes. Twenty-four states passed similar prohibitions. These state and federal restrictions are collectively known as the Comstock laws.

Women in the Civil Rights Movement

Many women played important roles in the Civil Rights Movement, from leading local civil rights organizations to serving as lawyers on school segregation lawsuits. Their efforts to lead the movement were often overshadowed by men, who still get more attention and credit for its successes in popular historical narratives and commemorations. Many women experienced gender discrimination and sexual harassment within the movement and later turned towards the feminist movement in the 1970s. The Civil Rights History Project interviews with participants in the struggle include both expressions of pride in women&rsquos achievements and also candid assessments about the difficulties they faced within the movement.

Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons was a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and one of three women chosen to be a field director for the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project. She discusses the difficulties she faced in this position and notes that gender equality was not a given, but had to be fought for: &ldquoI often had to struggle around issues related to a woman being a project director. We had to fight for the resources, you know. We had to fight to get a good car because the guys would get first dibs on everything, and that wasn&rsquot fair…it was a struggle to be taken seriously by the leadership, as well as by your male colleagues.&rdquo She continues, &ldquoOne of the things that we often don&rsquot talk about, but there was sexual harassment that often happened toward the women. And so, that was one of the things that, you know, I took a stand on, that &lsquoThis was not – we&rsquore not going to get a consensus on this. There is not going to be sexual harassment of any of the women on this project or any of the women in this community. And you will be put out if you do it.&rsquo&rdquo

Lonnie King was an activist with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Atlanta. He remembers meeting other students from the Nashville movement when SNCC became a nationwide organization in 1960. He recalls his surprise that Diane Nash was not elected to be the representative from Nashville, and echoes Simmons&rsquo criticisms about male privilege and domination: &ldquoDiane Nash, in my view, was the Nashville movement and by that I mean this: Others were there, but they weren&rsquot Diane Nash. Diane was articulate she was a beautiful woman, very photogenic, very committed. And very intelligent and had a following. I never did understand how, except maybe for sexism, I never understood how [James] Bevel, Marion [Barry], and for that matter, John Lewis, kind of leapfrogged over her. I never understood that because she was in fact the leader in Nashville. It was Diane. The others were followers of her… I so never understood that to be honest with you. She&rsquos an unsung. a real unsung hero of the movement in Nashville, in my opinion.&rdquo

Ekwueme Michael Thewell was a student at Howard University and a leader of the Nonviolent Action Group, an organization that eventually joined with SNCC. He reflects on the sacrifices that women college students at Howard made in joining the struggle, and remarks on the constraints they faced after doing so: &ldquoIt is only in retrospect that I recognize the extraordinary price that our sisters paid for being as devoted to the struggle as they were. It meant that they weren&rsquot into homecoming queen kind of activities. That they weren&rsquot into the accepted behavior of a Howard lady. That they weren't into the trivia of fashion and dressing up. Though they were attractive women and they took care of themselves, but they weren&rsquot the kind of trophy wives for the med school students and they weren&rsquot—some of them might have been members of the Greek letter organizations, but most of them I suspect weren&rsquot. So that they occupied a place outside the conventional social norms of the whole university student body. So did the men. But with men, I think, we can just say, &lsquoKiss my black ass&rsquo and go on about our business. It wasn&rsquot so clear to me that a woman could do the same thing.&rdquo

Older interviewees emphasize the opportunities that were available to an earlier generation of women. Mildred Bond Roxborough, a long-time secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, discusses the importance of women leaders in local branches: &ldquoWell, actually when you think about women's contributions to the NAACP, without the women we wouldn't have an NAACP. The person who was responsible for generating the organizing meeting was a woman. Of course, ever since then we've had women in key roles--not in the majority, but in the very key roles which were responsible for the evolution of the NAACP. I think in terms of people like Daisy Lampkin, who was a member of our national board from Pittsburgh she traveled around the country garnering memberships and helping to organize branches. That was back in the '30s and '40s before it became fashionable or popular for women to travel. You have women who subsequently held positions in the NAACP nationally as program directors and as leaders of various divisions.&rdquo She goes on to discuss the contributions of many women to the success of the NAACP.

Doris Adelaide Derby, another SNCC activist, remembers that the challenge and urgency of the freedom struggle was a formative experience for young activist women, who had to learn resourcefulness on the job: &ldquoI always did what I wanted to do. I had my own inner drive. And I found that when I came up with ideas and I was ready to work to see it through, and I think that happened with a lot of women in SNCC. We needed all hands on deck, and so, when we found ourselves in situations, we had to rely on whoever was around. And if somebody had XYZ skills, and somebody only had ABC, we had to come together. We used to joke about that, but in reality, the women, you know, were strong. In the struggle, the women were strong.&rdquo

Ruby Nell Sales, who later overcame psychological traumas from the racial violence she witnessed in the movement, encourages us to look beyond the simplistic story of Rosa Parks refusing to move to the back of the bus in Montgomery. As she explains, Parks was a long-time activist who had sought justice for African American women who were frequently assaulted—both verbally and physically-- in their daily lives: &ldquo…When we look at Rosa Parks, people often think that she was – she did that because of her civil rights and wanting to sit down on the bus. But she also did that – it was a rebellion of maids, a rebellion of working class women, who were tired of boarding the buses in Montgomery, the public space, and being assaulted and called out-of-there names and abused by white bus drivers. And that&rsquos why that Movement could hold so long. If it had just been merely a protest about riding the bus, it might have shattered. But it went to the very heart of black womanhood, and black women played a major role in sustaining that movement.&rdquo

The Civil Rights History Project includes interviews with over 50 women who came from a wide range of backgrounds and were involved in the movement in a myriad of ways. Their stories deepen our understanding of the movement as a whole, and provide us with concrete examples of how vital they were to the gains of the Civil Rights Movement.

The American Folklife Center in collaboration with Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

Womens Rights

The women’s rights movement summary: Women’s rights is the fight for the idea that women should have equal rights with men. Over history, this has taken the form of gaining property rights, the women’s suffrage, or the right of women to vote, reproductive rights, and the right to work for for equal pay.

Women’s Rights Timeline: Here is a timeline of important events in the struggle for women’s liberation in the United States

Pre-settlement: Iroquois women have the power to nominate&mdashand depose&mdashcouncil elders and chiefs.

1647: Margaret Brent demands two votes from the Maryland Assembly: one as a landowner and one as the legal representative of the colony&rsquos proprietor, Lord Baltimore. She is refused.

1790: New Jersey gives the vote to &ldquoall free inhabitants&rdquo of the state. It is revoked from women in 1807.

1838: Kentucky allows widows to vote in local school elections, but only if they have no children enrolled.

1840: Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton meet in London, where they are among the women delegates refused credentials to the World Anti-Slavery Convention. Women are very active abolitionists but are rarely in leadership positions.

1848: Mott and Stanton organize the Woman&rsquos Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, N.Y., and take a cue from the Founding Fathers in issuing the Declaration of Sentiments: &ldquoWe hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal.&rdquo

1868: The 14th Amendment guarantees civil rights to all citizens but gives the vote to men only.

1869: Wyoming Territory gives women the right to vote. The national suffrage movement splits into two factions: one that supports the 14th Amendment and the franchise for black men and one that calls for woman suffrage above all else.

1887: Federal legislation to end polygamy in Utah contains a measure to disenfranchise women, who had won the vote there in 1870. They wouldn&rsquot get it back until 1895.

Western women bear the suffrage torch for their Eastern sisters in &ldquoThe Awakening,&rdquo a 1915 cartoon from Puck magazine. (Library of Congress)

Not every woman supported suffrage. The &ldquoAnti&rdquo in this 1915 Puck cartoon is backed by morally corrupt interests (&ldquoProcurer,&rdquo &ldquoChild Labor Employer&rdquo) and others who supposedly would benefit from denying women the vote. (Library of Congress)

1913: Some 8,000 marchers turn out for the first national suffrage parade in Washington, D.C., the day before Wilson&rsquos inauguration.

1915: Suffrage referendums are defeated in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

1916: Jeannette Rankin of Montana is the first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

1917: Suffragists picket the newly reelected Wilson in front of the White House, the first time a public demonstration has targeted the presidential home. Throughout the summer, activists are arrested and imprisoned in the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia where they were kept in isolation, beaten and force-fed.

1918: Wilson endorses the 19th Amendment to the Constitution mandating woman suffrage. It narrowly passes in the House, but fails by two votes in the Senate.

1919: On May 21, the Senate defeats the suffrage amendment for a second time by one vote. On June 4, the Senate passes the 19th Amendment by a two-vote margin and sends it to the states for ratification.

1920: On August 18, Tennessee is the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment, and &ldquoThe right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex&rdquo becomes the law of the land.

The History of Women’s Rights – 1865 Through the Present

This article will discuss the evolution and broadening of women’s rights in the United States since the late 1800s through today. Beginning prior to the Civil War, women fought hard for equal rights, including the right to vote, which was not granted until 1920 with the passage of the 19th Amendment. During the eras of Progressivism and the New Deal, women continued to strive for change in their family, social and sexual mores, and struggled for participation in the work force and political arena.

In the 1940s, women continued gaining ground when they were given the right to serve in the military and became significantly more involved in the labor force. In the 1960s, with the advent of feminism, the focus on women’s rights became even more pressing, as women fought hard for social equality and equal pay. While it is true that today women have achieved both legal and economic progress, they still face many challenges, including unequal pay and balancing the demands of a career with the needs of the family.

1865-1876: Suffrage

When the Declaration of Independence was penned in 1776, it claimed that all men were created equal, but made no mention of women’s rights, or of their equality. Several leading advocates of women’s rights, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, found this to be unacceptable and, along with other like-minded women, Stanton created what she referred to as a “Womanisfesto,” which was modeled after the Declaration of Independence (Roberts, 2005). This idea was conveyed at one of the first women’s rights conventions in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York.

One of the most important resolutions contained within the document was a demand for equal voting rights for women. While some of the participants at the convention found this concept to be shocking, Stanton believed that suffrage was the only way for women to ever be truly equal. She stated that she believed “the power to make the laws was the right through which all other rights could be secured” (Roberts, 2005, ¶5). However, it was not for another 72 years after the Seneca Falls convention that this right would become a part of the United States Constitution with the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920.

1877-1920: Social reform

The Progressive Era from the 1890s to the 1920s was an important period of growth for the women’s movement, particularly in the area of social reform. During this time, many women began seeking what Jane Addams referred to as “the larger life” of public affairs (Davidson, et al., 2008). This included many social activities that were generally considered traditional roles, such as raising children, keeping house and preparing meals, but were now expanded to include making decisions about and becoming more involved in community affairs (Davidson, et al., 2008).

Activists also extended their activities to include broader social politics and reform. They “sponsored policies that created a kind of social democracy for poor mothers, impoverished working women, victims of industrial accidents and exploited homeworkers” (Lipschultz, 1996, ¶4).

Nineteenth Amendment

While social reform was an important aspect of this era, the most pivotal event that took place with regard to women’s rights was undoubtedly the passage of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. The first Territory to make suffrage permanent for women was Wyoming in 1869. (Roberts, 2005).

In 1878, an amendment was introduced in Congress, but was defeated in 1887, after being neglected for nine years. By 1919, 28 states had ratified the amendment and, with the eventual support of President Woodrow Wilson, by 1920 “35 of the required 36 states had voted for ratification” (Roberts, 2005, Wyoming section, ¶5). Finally, in 1920, after two roll calls and a tied vote, Republican Harry T. Burn switched sides and voted for ratification in what is now referred to as the “War of the Roses.”


During the time period between the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920 and the feminist movement in the 1960s, it was often thought that the women’s movement had died. According to Taylor (1989), after the suffrage victory, feminist activism was “transformed as a result of organizational success, internal conflict, and social changes that altered women’s common interests” (p. 763). Because of these social changes, the two major organizations involved with the women’s movement split into opposing directions.

The National Woman’s Party (NWP), which was by far the more radical of the two groups, focused strongly on the passage of an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which alienated the more mainstream activists. On the other hand, the more conservative National American Woman Suffrage Association took a different direction and formed the League of Women Voters, which opposed the passage of the ERA and focused on educating women and advocating a broad range of reforms. Thus, although feminist activism continued throughout the 1920s and 1930s, “in the face of increasing hostility between the two camps of the suffrage movement, cooperation developed on only a few issues” (Taylor, 1989, p. 763).

Race was also an issue in the ongoing struggle for women’s rights. Many suffrage groups consisted of white women who feared that “black participation in the movement would confirm southern perceptions that expanding the sufferance to women would disrupt well-established black disenfranchisement in that region” (Dumenil, 2007, ¶4).

This era was also an important time for women in the military and the labor force. In 1943, the Women’s Army Corps was created, and women were given “full army status, equal ranks, and equal pay” (Davidson, et al., 2008, p. 775). Men, however, continued to dominate the ranks of the military and, throughout World War II, there were as many as 12 million men enlisted.

Women were now seen as an unused source of labor and as demand for women employees soared, their participation in the workforce grew significantly “from around a quarter in 1940 to more than a third by 1945” (Davidson, et al., 2008. p. 779).

However, even though the economic welfare and status of women improved somewhat with their advancements in both the military and labor force, attitudes about gender remained mostly unchanged. When the war ended, the birthrate soared and many women returned to working at home. It would be more than a decade before America’s stance on women’s rights and attitudes about gender would undergo a revolutionary change.


Beginning in the late 1950s, continuing changes in social trends began establishing a positive climate for the growth of feminism. The birthrate began to decline significantly and contraceptive methods, such as the birth control pill, “permitted more sexual freedom and small family size” (Davidson, et al., 2008, p. 906). American’s attitudes towards abortion, dating, marriage and healthcare were also beginning to change and these social issues became “part and parcel of women’s liberation” (Hansen, 2008, ¶6).

However, while these social concerns were important to feminists, the movement was really about establishing equality of opportunity. According to Hanson (2008), the most compelling arguments for feminism were that women should receive equal pay for equal work, that they should not be mere appendages of their husbands, and that having children should not preclude a women from pursuing a career.

The case for feminism was further advanced with the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, which prohibited sex discrimination in employment, and by substantial legislation in the 1970s, which was passed with the assistance of women serving in Congress (Morse, 2007). This included freedom of choice in reproductive rights (1973), minimum wage protection for domestic workers (1974), and prohibition of employment discrimination against pregnant women (1978) (Morse, 2007).

1976 – Present

In the past few decades, “significant steps have been taken to improve the education, health, family life, economic opportunity and political empowerment for women” (Morse, 2007, ¶2). However, there are still problems today that must be overcome in order to ensure that women’s rights continue to improve and expand. One of the most important of these rights is that of equal pay for equal work. While the 2005 U.S. Census found that women accounted for 59% of the workforce, they earn only .77 for every $1.00 that men earn performing the same job (Morse, 2007).

Balancing the demands of a career with those of raising a family is another challenge that women are facing in this decade. Without the same support systems in place that are available to men with children, working women often feel that in order to be successful in one endeavor, they must do so at the expense of the other. In fact, one study conducted concluded that 42% of women working in a corporate setting were childless by the age of 40, while only 14% planned to be (Morse, 2007).

In conclusion, since the mid 1800’s, advocates of women’s rights have struggled to achieve significant advances in the economic, political and social status of women. Specifically, these activists successfully rallied for suffrage for women, gained advancements in both the military and the labor force and pushed forward social reforms that greatly increased the equality of women in the workforce. While it is true that the rights of women have come a long way over the past 150 years, women still have some obstacles to overcome in furtherance of complete equality.

Davidson, J.W., DeLey, B.,Heyrman, C. L., Lytle, M.H., & Stoff, M.B. (2008) Nation of Nations: A Narrative History of the American Republic. Volume II: Since 1865, 6th ed., The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Dumenil, L. (2007). The New Woman and the Politics of the 1920s. Magazine of History, 21(3), 22-26. Retrieved August 31, 2009, from Research Library. (Document ID: 1321444211).

Hansen, V. D., (Sept. 11, 2008). What was feminism? Retrieved on August 31, 2009 from what_was_feminism.html

Lipschultz, Sybil. (1996). Hours and wages: The gendering of labor standards in America. Journal of Women’s History, 8(1), 114. Retrieved August 31, 2009, from Research Library. (Document ID: 9796385).

Morse, J. (2007, February). Women’s rights in the United States. Improvement in women’s status advances that of communities, nation. Retrieved on August 31, 2009 from February/20070226171718ajesrom0.6366846.html

Roberts, S. (2005, September). 1920: Women Get the Vote. New York Times Upfront, 138(1), 24-26. Retrieved August 31, 2009, from Research Library. (Document ID: 903207491).

Schamel, W., Haverkamp, B., Robb, L., & Harper, J. (1995, September). 1869 petition: The appeal for woman suffrage. Social Education, 59(5), 299. Retrieved August 31, 2009, from Research Library. (Document ID: 6798160).

Taylor, Verta. (1989). Social Movement Continuity: The Women’s Movement in Abeyance. American Sociological Review, 54(5), 761. Retrieved August 31, 2009, from ABI/INFORM Global. (Document ID: 1528777).

Women's Rights

A look back at history shows that women have made great strides in the fight for equality, including women’s suffrage and inroads in equal opportunity in the workplace and education.

Despite the tremendous progress made in the struggle for gender equality, women still face violence, discrimination, and institutional barriers to equal participation in society.

Through litigation, advocacy, and public education, the ACLU Women’s Rights Project pushes for change and systemic reform in institutions that perpetuate discrimination against women, focusing its work in the areas of employment, violence against women, and education.

In the employment realm, laws and workplace policies that exclude women from certain job sectors and allow them to be forced out of the workplace when they become pregnant or return to work after having a baby cause persistent disparities in women’s income, wealth, and economic security.

Survivors of gender-based violence face discrimination when police, schools, landlords, and other institutions fail to adequately address and prevent violence and also when laws and policies penalize them, impeding the ability of women and girls to live safely and with dignity.

In the education sector, many public schools have introduced programs based on unfounded stereotypes about the learning abilities and preferences of boys and girls, limiting equal educational opportunities for all.