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A Brief History of Women's Rights Movements

The prominent figures and notable events of women's rights movements in America
and beyond

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Women's rights movements are primarily concerned with making the political, social, and economic status of
women equal to that of men and with establishing legislative safeguards against discrimination on the basis of
gender. Women's rights movements have worked in support of these aims for more than two centuries. They
date to at least the first feminist publication, in 1792, entitled A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, by British
writer Mary Wollstonecraft.
Militant political action among women began in Britain in 1903 with the formation of the Women's Social and
Political Union (WSPU) for the right to vote. The organization was led by Emmeline Pankhurst. Women of all
ages and classes demonstrated on a massive scale; the demonstrators were jailed, locked out of their meeting
places, and thrown down the steps of Parliament. National divisiveness ended in a truce at the outbreak of World
War I (1914) with the WSPU's decision to support the war effort. The ensuing mobilization by the WSPU of
thousands of its members for voluntary participation in the war industries and support services was a highly
influential factor in overcoming government resistance to WSPU aims. The right to vote was granted in 1918; it
was confined to women age 30 and above. In 1928 the voting age was lowered to 21.
In the United States the first definitive position on women's rightshitherto intermingled with antislavery issues
was taken in 1848 under the leadership of Elizabeth Cady Stanton at the Women's Rights Convention at Seneca
Falls, N.Y. (see Seneca Falls Convention). In 1850 the National Women's Rights Convention was held, led by
Lucy Stone, an early activist. Both groups coalesced in the formation (1863) of the Women's National Loyal
League, under Susan B. Anthony. Anthony wrote and submitted in 1878 a proposed right-to-vote amendment to
the Constitution.
In 1890, Wyoming became the first state with women's suffrage. The movement was accelerated by the
formation (1890) of the National American Women's Suffrage Association and the election (1900) of Carrie
Chapman Catt as president. The ensuing campaign attracted many educated, wealthy, and influential women to
the cause, with resultant political professionalism, increased funding, and the development of massive parades

and demonstrations in the major cities. The Anthony amendment, as written in 1878, was ratified as the 19th
Amendment and became law in 1920.
From 1920 to 1960, militancy on behalf of a single issue diffused into a number of women's political groups, such
as the League of Women Voters (1920) and the National Council of Negro Women (1935). Such groups
supported various types of liberal reforms related to the rights of both men and women. An equal rights
amendment drafted in 1923 by the National Women's party (founded 1913) remained dormant for another 50
years.
At the international level, however, the women's rights movement made progress. The preamble to the United
Nations (UN) Charter (1945) referred to equal rights for women; in 1948 the UN Commission on the Status of
Women was established; in 1952 the UN General Assembly held a convention on the political rights of women.
The United Nations Decade for Women (197685) emphasized the international scope of the womens rights
movement. Three related conferencesin Mexico City (1975); Copenhagen (1980); and Nairobi, Kenya (1985)
did the same. Beijing was host to the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995. That
conference endorsed a nonbinding "Platform for Action." The platform would serve as a blueprint for
promoting women's rights in the 21st century. In September 2010, UN secretary-general Ban Ki Moon appointed
former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet to the new UN position of undersecretary-general for Gender Equality
and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women).
During the 1960s a militant feminist trend emerged in the United States. It was encouraged by significant feminist
studies, such as The Second Sex (1953) by Simone de Beauvoir and The Feminine Mystique (1963) by
Betty Friedan; it was also aided by a general legislative climate favorable to minority rights and antidiscrimination
movements. Militant women's groups were formed. The Women's Liberation Movement, which was social rather
than political and was manifested in literature and demonstrations by radical feminists, may have raised the
awareness of the nation to the prevalence of discriminatory beliefs and attitudes.
More significantly, feminist political organizations arose that developed into a full feminist movement by the
1970s. These included the National Organization for Women (NOW), formed in 1966 under the leadership of
Betty Friedan; the National Women's Political Caucus (1971), composed of such nationally known feminists as
Bella Abzug, Shirley Chisholm, and Gloria Steinem; the Equal Rights Amendment Ratification Council (1973);
and the Coalition of Labor Union Women (1973).
The force of the women's rights movement, spearheaded by NOW, was brought to bear on the major issue of the
ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the Constitution. The ERA was approved by the U.S. House
of Representatives in 1971 and by the Senate in 1972. On June 30, 1982, however, ratification of the ERA fell
three states short of the 38 needed by that deadline. Later congressional efforts to reintroduce the measure have
failed, although a number of states have added equal-rights clauses to their constitutions.
Since the 1980s the women's movement has focused on diverse issues. These include reproductive rights, that
is, preserving a woman's right of choice to have an abortion against the fervent pro-life movement; sexual
harassment; and the "glass ceiling" that impedes women in corporate advancement.
Women continue to make advances in the political field. In 2008, Sen. Hillary Clinton made a historic bid for the
Democratic presidential nomination. Although she was defeated in the primaries by Sen. Barack Obama, she
won some 18 million votes in those polls. In 1984, Geraldine Ferraro was the first female Democrat to be
nominated for the vice-presidency. Sarah Palin followed her as the first female Republican nominee for that office
in 2008.
Women have made considerable gains in the other political arenas. In 1991, there were 2 women serving in the
U.S. Senate and 28 in the U.S. House of Representatives. Following the 2010 elections 17 female senators and
75 female representatives were serving, including 3 nonvoting delegates. In January 2007, Rep.
Nancy Pelosi became the first woman selected Speaker of the House. She was chosen House minority leader
after the Republican party won control of the House in 2010. Also, 6 women were governors in 2011. In 1981,
President Ronald Reagan appointed the first woman, Sandra Day O'Connor, to the U.S. Supreme Court. Ruth
Bader Ginsburg followed her to the nations highest bench in 1993. In 2009, President Barack Obama appointed
Sonia Sotomayor as the third woman and the first Hispanic American Supreme Court justice.
Elena Kagan became the fourth woman to join the high court in 2010. Madeleine Albright was the first woman to

serve as secretary of state (19972001); Condoleezza Rice held that post during the George
W. Bushadministration. In January 2009, Hillary Clinton succeeded Rice as secretary of state.

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accessed the page) from Grolier Online http://gme.grolier.com/article?assetid=0314735-0

The Women's Movement - Our History

A brief history of the women's movement.

"Purple is to lavender as woman is to feminist" - Alice Walker


Organised feminism did not really kick off until the first Women's Conference hed in Seneca
Falls, America, in 1848. To begin with, the Women's Movement evolved out of social reform
groups such as the Abolition of Slavery, the Social Purity and Temperance movements. Women
began to realise that in order to transform society they would need their own organisations to do
so. They campaigned upon a whole range of issues; from guardianship of infants, property rights,
divorce, access to higher education and the medical professions, to equal pay and protective
legislation for women workers - many of which women are still campaigning for today!

The Suffragettes
Increasingly, women recognised that campaigning was limited whilst women could not make
their voices heard directly. The vote took 70 years to gain. It was not until 1928 that all women not just those over 30 and of the right property qualifications - could legally vote. Despite
arguments that women should accept merely local suffrage, or universal male suffrage, or limited
suffrage, the suffragettes persevered. The rise of the Militant suffragettes and the contribution of
a mass of women workers during war time pressurised the Government to grant limited suffrage.
Now it is debatable as to how much impact the vote has actually had in campaigning for women's
rights. But it was a CRUCIAL LANDMARK IN OUR HISTORY.

1940s and 1950s


The war had challenged stereotypes in the workplace and so women began to enter the
employment market in much larger numbers. It soon became apparent that some of the burden
of family responsibility needed to be shifted onto the state. Together with the trade unions, the
women's movement fought hard for a welfare state system which would provide this and act as a
safety net for society's most vulnerable. This is perhaps one of the GREATEST ACHIEVEMENTS
OF THE CENTURY.

1960s and 1970s


These decades saw the radicalisation of the feminist movement, led by American women. The
mass entry of women into the workforce and the Pill changed women's traditional role within the
family. Feminists demanded the right to abortion on demand, free childcare provision and equal
pay.

The Future
As is probably clear from our history many of our demands have still not been met. However, the
future liiks optimistic. Political parties are beginning to recognise the importance of female
voters, more and more women are challenging the "glass ceiling" in the workplace and the labour
movements are pushing for a minimum wage. When the women's movements have linked up
with other groups such as the Trade Union movement and other oppressed groups, we have
achieved masses, like winning the vote. This is the way forward for the 1990s. A speech given in
Dublin, 1992.
Remember.......
It took 70 years for women to get voting rights, some even gave their lives for it and in many
countries it is still being fought for. Take your opportunities to vote SERIOUSLY.
If you live in one of the colleges you should automatically be registered. If you live off campus you
will need to register yourself. For voter registration forms call in to the SU.
"If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone,
together women ought to be able to turn it right side up again." - Sojourner Truth