Last year I began to research the history of the Women’s Suffrage Movement. My first discovery was that it was impossible to learn about the suffrage movement without studying the women’s rights movement. My second discovery was that this topic makes most people very uncomfortable. I read many books and still have many more on my to-read list. I think that Elaine Weiss best described why women gaining the right to vote is so hard to sum up quickly in the introduction to her book The Women’s Hour. “Winning the vote required seventy-two years of ceaseless agitation by three generations of dedicated, fearless, suffragists, who sought to overturn centuries of law and millennia of tradition concerning gender roles. The women who launched the movement were dead by the time it was completed; the women who secured its final success weren’t born when it began. It took more than nine hundred local, state, and national campaigns, involving tens of thousands of grassroots volunteers, financed by millions of dollars of mostly small (and a few large) donations by women across the country.”
Discovery 1: It is impossible to learn about the suffrage movement without studying the women’s rights movement.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucrecia Mott were discussing the lack of women’s rights with some other Quaker ladies at a tea party. There they decided to host a women’s convention in Seneca Falls, New York. They wrote up a Women’s Rights Declaration. After discussing and reviewing the document Stanton added one more desired right, the right to vote. This shocked some women who thought this was too far. Susan B. Anthony did not attend this convention but she and Stanton joined forces later after being introduced by Amelia Bloomer. Stanton was unable to travel as extensively as Anthony so she primarily wrote Anthony’s speeches. Stanton said of Anthony, “I forged the firebolts and she fired them.”
It is important to note that the rights these women were fighting for are the very rights we so often take for granted today. The rights to serve our communities as employees, leaders, and elected officials. The rights to hold men accountable for their actions through a divorce, separation, or legal repercussions. The right to vote was added as a last and final thought. Many convention attendees believed asking for this right was too ambitious but eventually, suffrage became the main battle. Because the issue of suffrage was originally part of the greater women’s rights struggle it is impossible to study one without the other.
Discovery 2: The topic of women’s rights makes most people very uncomfortable.
One cause of this is the fact that women’s rights issues are very broad. In the Declaration of Sentiments, Stanton laid out grievances in social, political, and religious spheres. The broad nature of these topics makes it possible for a large range of opinions. It is hard to give examples and explain while also remaining on topic. You might read the above statement and assume I am only talking about certain groups. I am not. I went into this research with a very open mind and was very disappointed to discover very few people who I could hold up as wonderful examples. Stanton and Anthony were admirable for beginning the movement but they were livid when Fredrick Douglas prioritized helping black men gain the vote over helping the women’s suffrage movement. Douglas tried to make the women see that he agreed with the cause of women’s suffrage but to black men, suffrage was a matter of life and death.
Racism was a key theme on both sides of the suffrage issue. When Ida B. Wells, a prominent writer who spoke out against lynching, attempted to march with the suffragists she was turned away because she was black. Although the exact wording is debated, Sojourner Truth’s plea of, “Ain’t I a woman?” still echos through history. She was begging for the rights that white women were trying to secure for only themselves. They were unwilling to share their rights with Truth because of the color of her skin.
Another aspect of the women’s rights issue involves the Bible and the Church. I could fill volumes discussing this but today I will limit myself to saying this: Women of the Church are called to the Great Commission just as our brothers in Christ are. In the New Testament, the Bible lays out very specific parameters for how women should behave IN THE CHURCH. Too many times these have been misused to silence women in their communities. Mott, Anthony, and Stanton’s main reason for joining together was that all three had been silenced in groups speaking for abolition and temperance. Women of God MUST take the time to gain a biblical understanding of womanhood before accepting the cultural role of women of any given time including our own.
In the end, I came up with seven names that I wear today with the understanding that they are flawed humans but their work and sacrifices made it possible for me to enjoy the freedoms I so often take for granted.
Mott: Lucretia Mott was a Quaker known for speaking out about temperance and abolition. She attended the tea party during which the Women’s Convention was first discussed. Mott loved people and fought for the rights of others.
Stanton: Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a writer and advocate for women’s rights as well as an organizer of the first Women’s Rights Convention. Stanton fought with fervor and grit despite setbacks and discouragements.
Anthony: Susan B. Anthony is the name best known for women’s suffrage and it is her name that is associated with the 19th Amendment. She fought tirelessly for the cause for the majority of her life.
Truth: Sojourner Truth was enslaved in New York but after gaining her freedom she spent her life speaking out against slavery and in favor of women’s rights. She gave herself the name Sojourner Truth to testify to the hope that was in her.
Douglas: Frederick Douglas was maligned and mistreated for his stance on suffrage by Stanton and Anthony yet he remained faithful to the cause. They chose to distance themselves from him because of the color of his skin but he remained a defender of women’s rights. He didn’t let evil from leaders blind his mind to the justness of the cause.
Wells: Ida B. Wells was a teacher, journalist, and a leader in the civil rights movement. She was born into slavery but became one of the most well-known women in America. She spoke out against lynching despite the danger to herself. She faced discrimination for both her color and gender but never backed down.
Catt: Carrie Chapman Catt was Susan B. Anthony’s handpicked successor to lead the suffrage cause. She fought with grace and dignity. She did not adhere to the ideals of Alice Paul and the militant suffs but rather fought through lobbying, letter writing, and campaigning.
Me: I am still figuring out where I belong in all this. I am dedicated to studying where my role in the world is and discovering God’s plan for my life. As a teacher, I want girls to know that they are loved and they have an exciting role to play in society and the church. I want to celebrate the efforts of the women (and men) who came before me to fight for what I so thoroughly enjoy today.
Here are some of the titles I've read as I've been researching this topic. I still have many more on my to-read list. Do you have any favorite books about women or women's issues?
Women and God: Hard Questions, Beautiful Truth by Kathleen Nielson
What Is a Girl Worth?: My Story of Breaking the Silence and Exposing the Truth about Larry Nassar and USA Gymnastics by Rachael Denhollander
Eve in Exile and the Restoration of Femininity by Rebekah Merkle
Twelve Extraordinary Women: How God Shaped Women of the Bible, and What He Wants to Do with You by John F. MacArthur Jr.
Young Radicals: In the War for American Ideals by Jeremy McCarter
Roses and Radicals: The Epic Story of How American Women Won the Right to Vote by Susan
100 Extraordinary Stories for Courageous Girls: Unforgettable Tales of Women of Faith by Jean
Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
When You Grow Up to Vote: How Our Government Works for You by Eleanor Roosevelt
The Woman's Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote by Elaine F. Weiss
Wild Women of Michigan: A History of Spunk and Tenacity by Norma Lewis
Act Natural: A Cultural History of Misadventures in Parenting by Jennifer Traig
Uppity Women of Medieval Times by Vicki León
Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture by Peggy Orenstein
Freedom Heroines (Profiles #4) by Frieda Wishinsky
Heroes for My Daughter & Heroes for My Son by Brad Meltzer
Ladies First: 40 Daring Woman Who Were Second to None by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel
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