The Development of Feminism in the 1800’s

Throughout the history of the world women have often been subjected to fewer rights and to a lower social class than that of men. In most societies the traditional role of the woman was the role of wife, mother, and caretaker. Women endured this type of prejudiced behavior since the dawn of time until the first women’s movements began to develop during the 1800’s in the United States and Europe. These women’s movements are often referred to as feminist movements or feminism. The development of feminism in the 1800’s was a very crucial part of history because women began the long road of gaining women’s rights with the Seneca Falls Convention, the founding of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, and the first National Women’s Rights Convention. Feminism is defined as the belief that women should have economic, political, and social equality with men. “Feminists challenge traditional gender roles and demand increased educational and employment opportunities” (Gustafson). Feminism began in response to The Enlightenment and the industrialization of society. The start of industrialization caused significant changes in the economy and politics, and these changes triggered women to question their roles and status within society. Women wished to no longer be treated as though they were inferior to men.

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The feminism acts of the nineteenth century are often referred to as the first wave of feminism. The first wave of feminism predominately focused on equal contract, marriage, parenting, voting, and property rights for women. One of the first steps towards equality for women was the Seneca Falls Convention. The Seneca Falls Convention, held in Seneca Falls, New York, was the first women’s rights convention ever held in the United States. This historical convention was the beginning of the development of feminism in the United States of American. The convention was organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott who came up with the idea after unjustly being banished from a convention floor at an Anti-Slavery convention in London. The two women’s anger at the bigoted behavior they had endured inspired the Seneca Falls Convention. Elizabeth Stanton and Lucretia Mott later met at Stanton’s house along with: Martha Wright, Mary Ann McClintock, and Jane Hunt. The five women wrote an article announcing the women’s rights convention which stated: “A Convention to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of women”.

On the nineteenth and twentieth of July, with almost 200 women in attendance both days and forty men in attendance the second day, The Seneca Falls Convention was hosted .The convention did not appear to be a big deal to many people at the time; however, it sparked a slow growing revolution for women’s rights. At the Seneca Falls Convention, a declaration titled the “Declaration of Sediments” was written. The Declaration of Sediments was modeled after the Declaration of Independence, and just as the Declaration of Independence the Declaration of Sediments declared injustices and stated that it was time for changes to occur (Crewe/Anderson 4-5). Major injustices against women listed in the Declaration of Sediments included: Lack of a voice in law, No independent right after marriage, No custody of children in case of divorce, and women’s lack of a right to vote. The Declaration of Sediments also stated: “…We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all me and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights; that among there are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…” (Rothenberg 539).

The Seneca Falls Convention and The Declaration of Sediments paved the way for many women and men to fight for the equality of women. An additional milestone for the development of feminism in the nineteenth century was the formation of the National Woman American Suffrage Association. The National American Woman Suffrage Association, or NAWSA for short, was formed in May of 1980. The formation of the NAWSA was a result of the amalgamation of the National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association. NAWSA was initially headed by past executives of the two merged groups, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, and Susan B. Anthony (Britannica). The National American Woman Suffrage Association was the most prevalent and significant suffrage organization in the United States of America. This association was such a crucial part of the development of women’s rights because the women and men in it endured the backbreaking work of helping to pass women suffrage on both state and local levels. Not only did this inspirational association of ladies and gentlemen aid in securing the right for women to vote on local and state levels, the National American Woman Suffrage Association also battled for a constitutional amendment warranting women’s right to vote. The NAWSA played a very crucial part in the development of feminism due to the fact the association contributed so much to the rights of women.

Without the hardworking women and men of NAWSA there is no telling how long women would have had to fight to receive a right as simple as voting. Events and associations played a very significant role in the development of feminism in the nineteenth century, but the most important part of the development of feminism were not the events and associations but people. The people that planned the events and formed the associations are the reason that women have the rights that they have at today’s day and age. There is one woman in particular that played a very important role in the development of feminism and that woman is Susan Brownell Anthony. Susan Brownell Anthony, often referred to as Susan B. Anthony, she is known as being a “pioneer crusader for the woman suffrage movement in the United States” ( Staff). Susan came from a very politically active family. Her family played a role in both the abolitionist movement and the temperance movement. In fact, Susan became interested in fighting for women’s rights while in attendance of a temperance convention. Susan was denied the chance to speak at the convention due to the fact that she was a woman, and women were not allowed to speak at such conventions. That moment made her later realize that women would never be able to be taken seriously in politics until they had the right to vote (Sochen).

After coming to this realization, Susan B. Anthony dedicated the rest of her life to fighting for the rights of women, especially the right to vote. Susan met and became close to a fellow activist by the name of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Together Susan and Elizabeth founded the National Woman Suffrage Association, created The Revolution a weekly publication that lobbied for women’s rights, and edited a series of volumes of History of Woman Suffrage together. The dynamic duo worked hard side by side delivering speeches across the country urging others to support women’s right to vote, but Susan began to grow restless and decided to take matters into her own hands. During the presidential election of 1872 Anthony illegally voted in the election, and she was arrested for her actions. After being convicted of committing the crime she was sentenced to pay a fine of 100 dollars which she never paid. ( Staff) Susan lived, breathed, and fought for equality she remained dedicated until she died in March of 1906. Unfortunately she died before women were granted the right to vote.

Fourteen years after the death of Susan B. Anthony passed away the nineteenth amendment of the United States Constitution was passed which finally gave women the right to vote. Susan B. Anthony was a hardworking, inspirational, dedicated, and passionate woman that paved a road for women not just in the United States but for women everywhere. Susan B. Anthony changed the life for women everywhere with her pioneer work in the field of women’s rights. She played such a crucial role in women’s rights that in 1979 the United States of American Treasury department put Susan’s portrait on the dollar coin in honor to her hard work and dedication. Susan was the first woman to ever receive the honor of being displayed on any kind of United States monetary. Although Susan was unable to live long enough to see her dream come true and to reap the benefits of all of her hard work, she was still a very significant part of the development of feminism. Her determinism inspired countless women and deeply aided in the development of feminism.

All of the women and men of the first wave of feminism played an instrumental role in the development of feminism. These heroes and pioneers in the field of feminism are the reason the second and third wave of feminism were inspired. The events of the nineteenth century allowed feminism to grow and blossom into what it is known as today. After years of oppression, misogyny, and patriarchy; Susan B. Anthony, The Seneca Falls Convention, and the National American Woman Suffrage Association gave women everywhere the hope and strength to stand up for their rights not just as a woman but as a human being. Many of the efforts towards feminism in the nineteenth century were dedicated towards gaining suffrage for women, but this first wave of feminism was about much more than just the right to vote.

The first wave of feminism in the nineteenth century is such an astronomically important part of history because women finally started to realize that they deserved to be treated equally to men. Women soon realized that they deserved much more that the right to vote, but they also deserved the right to own property, the right to have control over their own bodies, the right to earn an equal amount of pay men, and much more. Not only did people and events, such as Susan Brownell Anthony, the Seneca Falls Convention, and the founding of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, positively impact women of their time but they also impacted every woman born after them. Without the incredibly inspirational women, men, and events that assisted in the development of feminism women may have continued to be held captive by gender based injustices in America “the land of the free”.

“Seneca Falls Convention begins.” 2014. The History Channel website. Apr 10 2014, 11:47

“Susan B. Anthony.” 2014. The History Channel website. Mar21 2014, 1:27

“Seneca Falls Convention begins.” 2014. The History Channel website. Apr 10 2014, 11:47

“Seneca Falls.” World Book Advanced. World Book, 2014. Web. 10 Apr. 2014.

Gustafson, Melanie S. “Feminism.” World Book Advanced. World Book, 2014. Web. 10 Apr. 2014.

Sochen, June. “Anthony, Susan Brownell.” World Book Advanced. World Book, 2014. Web. 10 Apr. 2014.

“National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA)”. Encyclop?dia Britannica. Encyclop?dia Britannica Online.Encyclop?dia Britannica Inc., 2014. Web. 10 Apr. 2014 .Encyclop?dia Britannica Online


Rothenberg, Paula S. Race, Class, and Gender in the United States .New York: Worth Publishers,1998. Print.

Crewe, Sabrina/ Anderson, Dale. The Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention Milwaukee: Gareth Stevens Publishing,2005. Print.

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