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If feminists are defined as people who believe that women should have equal economic, political, and social equality with men, then feminism has been alive throughout history. However, the contemporary western feminist movement has its roots primarily in Great Britain and the United States in the middle part of the nineteenth century. At that time women in both countries formed organizations that called for the right to vote (suffrage). Previously, women had been subjugated (enslaved) by law, theology (religion), and social norms that restricted their freedom. They could not own property, engage in business, or control the fates of their children or themselves.
The first feminist proclamation was A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, published in 1792 by British author and educator Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797). She was the mother of writer Mary Shelley who wrote Frankenstein (1818). Wollstonecraft's work attacked traditional customs, charging that middle- and upper-class women remained in a state of perpetual servitude and ignorance. She advocated education as a primary tool for combating inequality. Her work helped lead to the major feminist movements of the middle nineteenth century in Great Britain, the United States, and France, which in turn became the building blocks for the contemporary feminist movement that swept throughout the world in the twentieth century.
Further Information: Rosen, Ruth. Documents from the Women's Liberation Movement. [Online] Available http://scriptorium.lib.duke.edu/wlm/, November 1, 2000; Women's Rights National Historic Park. [Online] Available http://www.nps.gov/wori/home.htm, November 1, 2000; The World Split Open: How the Modern Women's Movement Changed America. New York: Viking Penguin, 2000.
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