Where it all began
We have established that he beginning of women’s right all begins 72 years before the 19th Amendment was passed and the beginning of women’s rights. Two women in 1840, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott attended an AntiSlavery Convention in London. Elizabeth Stanton’s husband was a participant in the Antislavery Convention, but the women were refused seating due to their sex. Elizabeth Stanton, the only non Quaker, prevailed and the women did gain entry. Stanton and Mott then went home and brought together women and men who identified “18 injuries and usupations” toward women at the Weslayan Methodist Church in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848. In attendance were 300 people with forty men. The “Declaration of Sentiments,” and nine resolutions proposed to reflect that “all men and all women were created equal, and should have equal rights and privileges” All but one of the resolutions was agreed upon, but not woman suffrage. It would be Frederick Douglas who would persuade the convention to accept the woman suffrage resolution . (The National Portrait Gallery.)
Further we know that the Woman’s Rights Convention in Rochester, New York would follow days after the Seneca Falls Convention, and a year later Worchester, Massachusetts would host the convention. This work would be the continued work of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and temperance worker Susan B. Anthony in 1851 that ultimately secured the vote for Women 72 years later in the passing of the 19th Amendment in 1920.
Political entry and inclusion of women in congress started in 1920 with Jeannette Rankin of Montana, the first woman in congress who opened the doors to the women who followed.
With the right to vote, with women advancing in to property ownership and being elected into office, another impact to change was the birth control efforts in process. As early as 1916, women could attend the Margaret Sanger Clinic in New York City for birth control use of diaphragms. But it was Margaret Sanger in 1938 who demanded address from the public of the plight of women and children as free labor in factories and the farms, the comstockery abuse of women and children, as well as the fact that the bearing of many children broke women’s backs and spirits. Sanger wrote many publications on birth control in response to the number of women having unlimited pregnancies and children, often dying young. Margaret Sanger‘s book arguing against “comstockery” changed the course of history, though book store owners who carried it on their shelves had up to five years in jail as a possible consequence under the law of the times. She would become the first president of Planned Parenthood in 1940s. Her work is the basis for the right for women to choose the use of their bodies, and Founder of Planned Parenthood remains the consistent address and support of women’s rights.
Women coming together, then and now, has been and remains the source of personal and political change for women. In New York in the late 50’s, Bella Abzug and others began to openly question the economic and social status of women. Betty Friedan’s book The Feminine Mystique delved into the area of women’s sexuality and became a bestseller in 1963. The distinction to her book and the stir it created was that it was unlike other work, such as Freud and Masters and Johnson. Science had only looked on women’s sexuality in terms of dysfunctions-inability to fulfill the role of wife and mother. The new questions for women and their sexuality was around their choices and their benefits relative to pleasure. Books like Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique and Cheryl Hite The Hite Report stirred up for women a better knowledge who they were and what was available to them. The link between sexual power seems to correspond with political power in the world. Women became more willing to talk to each other about their issues, their intimate lives as well as their views on the world around them.
The link between sexual liberation and political freedom was a personal and political experience unevenly spread around the country. A change in consciousness allowed women to recognize the choices they had in determining their own lives. The Women’s Movement of the 60’s as viewed by historians like Estelle Freedman and Ruth Rosen that was to become of public discourse was a “white woman’s movement.” Women, moving individually and collectively, often with a great deal of conflict and dissension among themselves and polarization of interests still had the courage to ask important questions of themselves and the world around them.
When President Kennedy was elected, he acknowledged the work of 40 women who had helped him get elected in 1961 to a new government post: Commission on the Status of Women in 1961. President Kennedy is sometimes referred to as an “Accidental Feminist” because he was not known top be specifically interested in women’s rights. His goal was not to spur on the goals of women’s rights, but to acknowledge the work of the women who had helped him get elected in his campaign of 1961. These women identified the “injuries of sex” for women in the workplace and in their homes and identified the measures of women’s rights to address those injuries. These women would depart from the government position, and bring their expertise, knowledge and abilities to the Woman’s Movement and make headway for change for women, pushing for their inclusion in the civil rights act in congress.
We know from history that in 1964, the Civil Rights Bill presented to congress had an addition at the last moment. Historian Ruth Rosen reports the “unintended consequence” taken by House and Means Chair William K. Smith was to provide civil rights for women. Smith wanted to see the Civil Rights Bill fail and at the last minute added women’s rights assuming that would kill the possibility of its passage. However, the Civil Rights Bill prohibiting prejudice of racial or country of origin, or Sex passed. the bill was changed right before the vote to “race, country of origin or sex.” The Civil Rights Bill of 1963 passage of Women’s Right’s, and affirmative action to give preference to those excluded from power and position were the groundwork for equality within the structure of the bill.
Struggle with identity
In 1964, 4% of women worked out of the home, and divorce was at a 4% level. It was not clear to many women across the country what the right direction was and each woman really had to choose to tune into the fledgling freedom of choice offered her, or hang on to the institutions and bureaucracies of identity and so shrugged and tolerated the new context of feminism that arose in the Womens Movement. There was disparity and conflict within the movement and many women did not identify with the women active and vocal in its demands for equality. Trial and error, exploration was possible and many women were aware of and responded to the new ground available to them in the years to come.
The timeline of social, economic, political and sexual freedom that began over fifty years ago shows up today in the Pew Report of 2011. In 1960, 11% of mothers went to work to support their families, and today it is 40%. Women now make up 47% of the workforce. These are mostly single mothers who support their families but there are also a significant number of mothers whose income is larger than their husbands, making them the primary earner in the family. The “dramatic transformation we have seen in the family structure and family dynamics over the past fifty years,” is described by Kim Parker, associate director with the Pew Social and Demographic Trends Project. The trend is a result of the long term demographic changes, including higher rates of education with more women graduating from college than men and has its basis in the 1960’s women’s movement, it is reported.
The Pew study also reports that the economic decline in the past seven or eight years has resulted in fewer jobs in industries predominantly held by males, such as manufacturing, construction and labor jobs. Corresponding to these changes is a record low marriage rate. 2012 was the first year that the married population was not the majority. Also in 2012, 40% of all births were in single mother households without marriage.
The changes in how people organize themselves and the choices they make about marriage and children is the world of today. Women and men choose their lives by a different criteria than their parents or grandparents. Two million Men choose to work at home and parent their children; women consider not a valid choice not to have children; same sex families as well as those who chose to live alone all have the range of options of their choosing available. Equality of choice in family planning comes directly from Roe VS Wade and birth control. Representation in election campaigns points to the active role and large impact of single women in political life. All the more alarming that there are 1000 state bills in process in forty states that seek to reduce women’s right to choose, and even to give access to birth control. The Affordable Healthcare Act political forum extends to employers seeking to not extend birth control accessibility to their employees. The attempt to reduce women’s rights at this stage of development seems outrageous. But it is real, and calls upon all human beings to be concerned. Going back is not the direction most would choose.
Call for leadership
There is an indication of an attempt to revert the civil rights of women established over the past fifty years. Voter’s rights of minorities is where civil rights are being attacked in another realm. Historians Ruth Rosen and Estelle Freedman do not see a resurrection of a woman’s movement as the leadership that could respond to these attacks on equality and choice and power for women and minorities. Rather each of us, any of us, have an impact in our daily lives to be concerned and active citizens. With the 24/7 news around us, we can grow numb and have the sense of inevitability take the energy of a response to the conditions around us.
Barefoot Frontrunners came from the stark recognition of the path along which human rights, women’s rights have evolved. The first wave of feminism of the 20’s, the second wave in the 60’s had an impact, made a difference, opened the road for humanity to engage in the realm of feminism: equality, inclusion and transformation of roles and functions as individuals and as a society. The voice of women has never been more needed as the world gets smaller and issues of any part of the world effect our world. The women who have been left behind, due to race and class and the economic and religious constraints within which they live, some feel we have to bring along to get along in the long run. It will always be the barefoot frontrunners that widen the path, open the door and seek to empower those left behind. It begins now, and every day.
“Sisters, bloody feet have worn smooth the path upon which you tread.” Estelle Freedman No Turning Back-the History of Feminism and the Future of Women