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Essay: A Brief Look at the History of Women's Rights

Jeanice Banttari
 
Final Paper
 
Social Movements / PS 320
 
Professor Lorna Zukas

                    A Brief Look at the History of Women's Rights

 

Introduction

     As a result of influential women and womens movements in the 19th and

20th centuries in the United States of America, women in the 21st century have

the right to vote, the right to equal pay, and the right of democratic

participation. The work and actions of women in the past have made women

today equal to men, leading them out of a subservient position in the eyes of

society. It is only because of the dedication, perseverance, and actions of those

women that other women of today can enjoy these freedoms that are now

available to them.

The Right to Vote

      Because of the previous actions of women in the 19th and 20th centuries in

the United States of America, women in the 21st century have the right to vote.

On July 19, 1848, five women met to discuss the social, civil, and religious

conditions and rights of women. One woman by the name of Elizabeth Cady

Stanton acted as the leader and wrote the meeting's manifesto, the Seneca Falls

Declaration of Sentiments. The manifesto included a women's bill of rights and

listed demands for social equality, including women's suffrage. "Three hundred

people attended. 68 women and 32 men signed the declaration" (Dreams of

Equality Video, The Nation and Park Service for Womens Rights). This was

an amazing thing in itself because public response to the declaration was highly

critical, but soon other women met and began petitioning for suffrage as well.

This was the first time that votes for women were first seriously proposed in the

United States. At this point in time, women were considered to be far less

superior to men. This was reflected in the ways that they were treated and

viewed. "It was common for women to be looked upon as being equal to

miners and idiots. Women could also not serve on a jury or enter into

contracts" (Dreams of Equality Video, The Nation and Park Service for

Womens Rights). In 1860, the New York State legislature passed the Married

Women's Property Act. It allowed women to enter into contracts and to

control their own earnings and property. This was an amazing accomplishment

for women in the United States of America.

      On November 1, 1872, a woman by the name of Susan B. Anthony

registered to vote in Rochester, New York. Four days after she registered to

vote, she and fifteen other women voted in the presidential election. All sixteen

women were arrested three weeks later because of this. However, only Susan

B. Anthony was brought before a court. Her trial, United States versus Susan

B. Anthony, began on June 17, 1873. The presiding judge opposed women's

suffrage and wrote his decision before the trial even had started. The judge

refused to let Susan B. Anthony testify and he also ordered the jury to find her

guilty. They did so and she was sentenced to pay a one hundred dollar fine.

Susan B. Anthony refused to do this and surprisingly no further action was

taken against her.

      After her court case, Susan B. Anthony continued to campaign for

women's rights. Between 1881 and 1886, she and Elizabeth Cady Stanton

published three volumes of "The History of Women's Suffrage". This was a

collection of writings about the movement's struggle. In 1890 they strengthened

the suffrage cause by forming the larger National American Woman Suffrage

Association. "Through Anthony's determined work, many professional fields

became open to women by the end of the nineteenth century. At the time of her

death in 1906, however, only four states - Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, and

Utah had granted suffrage to women. Even so, Susan B. Anthony's crusade

carried on and in 1920 Congress adopted the Nineteenth Amendment, finally

giving women throughout America the right to vote" (Women's History at the

History Channel.com).

The Right to Equal Pay

     Women in the 21st century now have the right to equal pay. In the 19th and

20th centuries, the roles of women were very different than they are now.

Typically, their job consisted of staying at home in order to rear children, clean

house, and tend to the needs of their husbands. According to the video

"Dreams of Equality", if a woman had a job at that time, she was required to

turn over every penny she made to her husband. Up until the years of war

around 1939 on, women only made up approximately 20% of the workforce.

During the war years, their participation in the line of work increased up to

30% as many women filled positions that men once held, and that had left these

positions in order to join the war. At this time the role of women in society

began to change and expand. Some landmark struggles for equal pay in unions

that women fought for included: The Federated Liquor and Allied Trades

Union, The Amalgamated Clothing and Allied and Trades Union, and The

Manufacturing Grocers Employees Federation. This increased pressure for

equal pay and greatly assisted the organization of women into more unions.

      In 1937, the Council for Action for Equal Pay was formed. Muriel

Heagney was the Secretary. "The Council's aim was to fight for a commitment

from the whole trade union movement for equal pay. The CAEP was formed

partly in response to women being unfairly blamed for unemployment during the

Depression (because their labor was cheaper)" (The Struggle for Equal Pay).

In 1949, the Commonwealth Arbitration Court fixed the female basic wage at

only 75% of the male wage rate. This was despite a policy that was adopted

by the ACTU in 1941 that said rates should be decided on the job and not the

sex. The equal pay issue remained the top agenda for women unionists, with

special union committee's set up in each state. This was until 1969 when equal

pay was granted only to women who did exactly the same work as men. The

campaign for equal pay continued. A woman by the name of Zelda D'Aprano

chained herself to the Commonwealth building with two other women and

further protesting ensued where women only paid 2/3rds of the train fare in

protest of unequal pay. This was symbolic of the women only receiving 2/3'rds

of the pay that men received at that time. In 1972, it was granted that women

should get the same pay as men.

The Right of Democratic Participation

      Women today now have the right of democratic participation. With the

right being granted to women to vote as well as to have equal pay, it seemingly

was only a matter of time before women would be granted the right of

democratic participation as well. After all, gender roles from the 19th and 20th

century to today have changed dramatically as women are now seen not only

as caretakers by society but more as equals to men. "Undeniably, our nation's

224 year history suggests that American voters have been prejudiced against

women in politics. All of America's 41 presidents and 45 vice presidents have

been men. Women did not hold high level elected positions in office until the

20th Century" (Americanwomenpresidents.org).

      As more women assume high profile leadership roles in the United States

military this will help them to gain credibility for positions such as Commander

in Chief. This position is vital to overcome for future women presidents as is

will convince others of the leadership experience of women. "The commander

in chief credibility seems to be defined as being able to convince national

defense and international affairs of the leadership experience of women. The

commander in chief credibility seems to be the number one hurdle for women

presidents. The traditionally limited role women have played in the development

and implementation of U.S. military and foreign affairs policy has meant that

women have had considerably less opportunity to build convincing commander

in chief credibility" (Americanwomenpresidents.org). Already women such as

Attorney General Janet Reno and our current National Security Advisor

Condoleeza Rice have made it easier for women to obtain higher ranking

positions within the United States government.

Conclusion

      Women have gained a significant amount of rights in the past few centuries

alone. The actions of women in the last few centuries have seen to this. Women

such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and many others are to be

credited for their actions, which have helped to allow the women of today

the ability to partake in freedoms that they once did not have. Some of these

freedoms include the right to vote, the right to equal pay, and the right of

democratic participation. Equally important, women also now have the ability

to pursue an education and to choose the career path that they so desire.

Without the current freedoms and choices that are available to the women of

today, they would still be economically dependent upon a male figurehead for

their own survival.

Works Cited

Americanwomenpresidents.org. Memorandum. 1 Nov. 2000. 6 June 2002.

      http://www.americanwomenpresidents.org.

Mondell, Allen, dir. Salzman, Cynthia, dir. Dreams of Equality. Video.

     Women's Rights National Historical Park.

"The Struggle for Equal Pay". Victorian Trades Hall Council. 

     <http://www.vthc.org.au/women_equal_pay/>

.



Jeanice Banttari, Global Studies Program, National University, La Jolla, Ca.