A Brief Look at the History of Women's Rights
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
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.
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.
Americanwomenpresidents.org. Memorandum. 1 Nov. 2000. 6 June 2002.
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.