The Seneca Falls Convention and the Declaration of Sentiments
Women Marching in Washington for the Suffrage, 1915. In the 1960s the women's movement quickly grew into one of the largest social movement in the history of the United States. This new womens movement was a continuation of previous social movements that had emerged during the second part of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th century. Some historians argue that the womens movement was born in New York state, when a young housewife and mother, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, was invited to tea with four women friends. Stanton and her friends agreed to organize a womens convention. Within two days of their afternoon tea together, this small group had picked a date for their meeting, found a suitable location, and placed a small announcement in the Seneca County Courier. They called "A convention to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of woman." The gathering would take place at the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls on July 19 and 20, 1848. In what was known as the Declaration of Sentiments, Stanton enumerated areas of life where women were treated unjustly. The following were the most important issues mentioned in that document. *Married women were legally dead in the eyes of the law *Women were not allowed to vote *Women had to submit to laws when they had no voice in their formation *Married women had no property rights *Husbands had legal power over and responsibility for their wives to the extent that they could imprison or beat them with impunity *Divorce and child custody laws favored men, giving no rights to women *Women had to pay property taxes although they had no representation in the levying of these taxes *Most occupations were closed to women and when women did work they were paid only a fraction of what men earned *Women were not allowed to enter professions such as medicine or law *Women had no means to gain an education since no college or university would accept women students Between the 1850s and the 1920s a women's rights movement developed in the US. The focus of the early womens movement was the extension of full citizenship rights to women. After the right to vote was finally won in 1920, the organized women's rights movement continued on in several directions. While the majority of women who had marched, petitioned and lobbied for woman suffrage looked no further, a minority understood that the quest for women's rights would be an ongoing struggle that was only advanced, not fully satisfied, by the right to vote. One of the branches of the post-suffrage movement was one that had not been anticipated in the Seneca Falls "Declaration of Sentiments." It was the birth control movement, initiated by a public health nurse, Margaret Sanger. The idea of woman's right to control her own body, and especially to control her own reproduction and sexuality, added a new dimension to the ideas of women's liberation. However, the cultural climate at that time was not ready for those demands. As the book indicates the socio-cultural environment had changed during the 1960s. Then, a second wave of womens activism exploded. All started after President Kennedy created a Commission on the Status of Women, naming Eleanor Roosevelt as its chair. The report issued by that commission in 1963 documented discrimination against women in virtually every area of American life. That year (1963) Betty Friedan published a landmark book, The Feminine Mystique. In it she documented the emotional and intellectual oppression that middle-class educated women were experiencing because of limited life options. The following year Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed, prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sex as well as race, religion, and national origin. With its passage, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was established to investigate discrimination complaints. Within the commission's first five years, it received 50,000 sex discrimination complaints. Two different forms of feminism developed after 1964. One that is called liberal versus other that is called radical. However, they dont explain their sociological differences. Let me try to be more specific. In 1966 NOW (National Organization for Women) was organized. It sought equality for women within mainstream institutions such as government, employment and public life institutions. At the end of that decade the women's liberation movement emerged. It attracted primarily young women college graduates, many of whom had been active in the antiwar and civil rights movements. This more radical movement concentrated on changing personal, social, and cultural life and challenged the maledominated power structures. It focused on issues that had not been previously considered poli as housework, beauty, reproductive rights, violence, and sexuality. The women's movement had a complex relationship with the other social movements of the time. The new feminists were inspired by the rebellious spirit and demands for respect, justice, and democracy that civil rights activists stood for. The social change and progress gained because of the women's movement are significant. For example, the legalization of abortion in 1973 (Roe v. Wade), rape shield laws that encourage more women to prosecute their attackers, and affirmative action policies that aim to correct past discrimination. However, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) did not pass and failed its ratification in 1982. Because of the feminist/womens movement violence against women, previously denied, has become a public issue; rape, incest, domestic violence, and sexual harassment are unmistakably defined crimes now. Although the women's movement has not been as forceful and visible in the 1990s as it was in the late 1960s and early 1970s, it has contributed to change the way we see things regarding the status of women in society. In 1972, 26% of men and women said they would not vote for a woman for president. In 1996, that sentiment had plummeted to just over 5% for women and to 8% for men. There are still many groups and individuals who continue to press for more women's equality. Survey data quoted in the chapter show that there is widespread agreement with the idea of women equality among people from different social and racial groups. Although there are active anti-women and conservative movements that would like to stop these changes, the general trend continues toward more female equality in the US. In comparison to the situation of the mid-19th century the situation of women in the US has improved considerably. Today the public issues are not the same. Among the questions that are being debated in the public arena we can mention:
a. Women's reproductive rights.
Whether or not women can terminate pregnancies is still controversial twenty-five years after the Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade affirmed women's choice during the first two trimesters.
b. Affirmative action
Is help in making up for past discrimination appropriate? Do qualified women now face a level playing field?
Is it degrading, even dangerous, to women, or is it simply a free speech issue?
d. Sexual harassment
Just where does flirting leave off and harassment begin