The Founding Mothers of Feminism
Many social reform movements have begun and finished under the thirteen stripes and fifty stars of the United States: from the American Revolution to the 19th amendment itself, this country’s social environments have always been in flux. Many have succeeded in making the country, and perhaps, the world a better place, but none, however, have done so without the sacrifice of human flesh and blood. None, that is, except for the woman’s suffrage movement. The true birthplace of women’s suffrage in the U.S. was, as many historians believe, at the Seneca Falls Convention, in New York. Around 300 or so men and women alike joined forces over those two days to take a stand for women’s equality as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Coffin Mott presided over and drafted arguably the most famous piece of women’s rights documents: The Declaration of Sentiments. This document, mimicking the style of Thomas Jefferson’s the Declaration of Independence created a spark that engulfed the women of the U.S. in a fiery passion for equality and the rights that come along with it. “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal” (Stanton, 1848) When Stanton delivered this speech to her candid audience, she, and the many other women who would be alongside her in the years to come, ignited not only the flame for the right to vote, but the feminist movement as it exists today.
Firstly, many would have considered the women’s suffrage movement to have been completed as of 1920, when the 19th amendment made it through the proper legislature and was ratified in the U.S. Constitution, but upon closer inspection, one would be able to see a continued social battle, even today. The many other social reforms occurring at the time of the suffrage movement (political corruption, tenement housing issues, etc.), the Great wars America was to participate in, and the Great Depression too all competed with the suffrage movement’s momentum after 1920. With but with only the achievement of voting rights under their belt (and perhaps, one could argue, the prohibition too), the women in the U.S. were left with much to desire. This effect seemed to take hold right up until the early to mid ‘60s, when women were able to focus less on surviving troubling times, and focus on their desires for social equalities again.
Secondly, Elizabeth Cady Stanton exhibited many qualities that are exhibited by the feminists of the 1960s and of modern day feminists as well. She was very outspoken about all of her feelings and would never take the standard housewife’s life even in a housewife’s world. Stanton was even so bold as to “omit the word ‘obey’ from her wedding vows” (Ramsey, 2005) and inserted a phrase to the effect that she would be his partner, not his slave. She later published The Woman’s Bible, which criticized society and men as ignorant by using scripture that favored women. This was risky business in a predominantly Christian society and took courage that modern day feminists still envy.
Thirdly, Inez Millholland, another prominent figurehead of the early women’s suffrage movement, portrayed the beautiful side of the birth of feminism. As Isenberg so romantically put it: “She strode through Washington D.C. [riding]a white steed, [wearing]a flowing cape and diadem, as if she were Lady Liberty herself!” (Isenberg, 2007). This, describing the women’s suffrage parade in Washington D.C in 1914, illustrates the kind of grandeur and showmanship (or, perhaps, showomanship) which parallels the great protests of the second wave of feminism almost exactly. They both publicity stunts and were acts of outright civil rebellion. Millholland also played the man’s role in her marriage, clearly dominant in the relationship to foreigner Eugen Jan Boissevain. He was “content to bask in the sunshine of his celebrated wife” (Isenberg, 2007) this leads one to consider another aspect of modern feminism which she more than likely mothered: the hypocrisy. She, like some modern day feminists, may have fought so hard for woman’s rights as a whole that she lost touch with the reality of their own situation and its equalities, and now appears a bit hypocritical in retrospect.
Feminism today is quite clearly the product of Stanton and her colleague’s. It is just as active in attaining and retaining equality and freedoms for females as the original movement was. There is, however, a difference in for what is being fought. The feminists of the turn of the 19th century may have frowned upon the efforts of the feminism of the 1960s and present day to achieve sexual independence, but the methods in which they proceed and the furor and passion with which they operate remain the same. The Feminine Mystique, written by Betty Friedan is a prime example of nonviolent protest to convince the majority of women, much like the protesting and writing works of Cady Stanton herself, to no longer derive their happiness and meaning from their husbands and/or families.
In conclusion, feminism, in its present form, would not and could not exist as it does without the motherhood and valiant efforts made by the aforementioned women and their determination for a better tomorrow. Ironically, the women’s rights movement’s attempts at getting out of the stereotypical motherhood setting led them straight into motherhood of a different kind. With the accomplishments of the feminist movement since the Seneca Falls Convention steadily being phased in, perhaps the feminist movement of today can rest easy, and peace shall resume between the sexes.
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