Chronology Of Key Events
• = historical event
■ = literary event
• Queen Ahmose Nefertari, sister and principal wife of King Ahmose, rules as "god's wife," in a new position created by a law enacted by the King.
C. 1490 B.C.
• Queen Hatshepsut rules as pharaoh, several years after the death of her husband, King Thutmose II.
C. 1360 B.C.
• Queen Nefertiti rules Egypt alongside her husband, pharaoh Akhenaten.
C. 620 B.C.
• Sappho is born on the Isle of Lesbos, Greece.
C. 600 B.C.
■ Sappho organizes and operates a thiasos, an academy for young, unmarried Greek women.
• Spartan women are the most independent women in the world, and are able to own property, pursue an education, and participate in athletics.
C. 550 B.C.
• Sappho dies on the Isle of Lesbos.
C. 100 B.C.
• Roman laws allow a husband: to kill his wife if she is found in the act of adultery, to determine the amount of money his wife is owed in the event of divorce, and to claim his children as property.
• Cleopatra VII Philopator is born in Egypt.
• Marriage of Antony and Cleopatra.
C. 30 B.C.
• Cleopatra VII Philopator commits suicide in Egypt.
• Emperor Augustus decrees the Lex Julia, which penalizes childless Roman citizens, adulterers, and those who marry outside of their social rank or status.
• Hypatia is born in Alexandria, Egypt.
• Hypatia is murdered in Alexandria, Egypt.
• Salians (Germanic Franks living in Gaul) issue a code of laws which prohibit women from inheriting land; the law is used for centuries to prevent women from ruling in France.
• Empress Suiko (554-628) becomes the first woman sovereign of Japan.
• Wu Zetian (624-705) becomes the only female emperor of Imperial China.
• Japanese legal code specifies that in law, ceremony, and practice, Japanese men can be polygamous—having first wives and an unlimited number of "second wives" or concubines—, but women cannot.
• Lady Ise, Japanese court lady, is born. She is considered one of the most accomplished poets of her time and her poems are widely anthologized.
• Hrotsvitha (also Hrotsvit or Roswitha), considered the first German woman poet, is born.
• Lady Ise dies.
■ Publication of the Kagero Nikki (The Gossamer Years), a diary written by an anonymous Japanese courtesan. The realism and confessional quality of the work influence the works of later court diarists.
• Japanese poet Izumi Shikibu, known for her expression of erotic and Buddhist themes, is born. Her body of work includes more than 1,500 waka (31-syllable poems).
■ Sei Shonagon, Japanese court lady, writes Makura no Soshi (The Pillow Book), considered a classic of Japanese literature and the originator of the genre known as zuihitsu ("to follow the brush") that employs a stream-of-consciousness literary style.
■ Murasaki Shikibu writes Genji Monogatari (The Tale of Genji), considered a masterpiece of classical prose literature in Japan.
• Izumi Shikibu dies.
• Hildegard von Bingen is born in Bermersheim, Germany.
■ Twenty women troubadours—aristocratic poet-composers who write songs dealing with love—write popular love songs in France. About twenty-four of their songs survive, including four written by the famous female troubadour known as the Countess of Dia, or Beatrix.
• Eleanor of Aquitaine is born in Aquitaine, France. Her unconventional life is chronicled for centuries in books and dramatic works.
• Sometime in the twelfth century (some sources say 1122), Marie de France, the earliest known female French writer and author of lais, a collection of twelve verse tales written in octosyllabic rhyming couplets, flourished. She is thought to be the originator of the lay as a poetic form.
■ Marie of Champagne (1145-1198), daughter of King Louis VII of France and Eleanor of Aquitaine, cosponsors "courts of love" to debate points on the proper conduct of knights toward their ladies. Marie encourages Chrétien de Troyes to write Lancelot, and Andreas Capellanus to write The Art of Courtly Love.
• Hildegard von Bingen dies in Disibodenberg, Germany.
■ Women shirabyoshi performances are a part of Japanese court and Buddhist temple festivities. In their songs and dances, women performers dress in white, male attire which includes fans, court caps, and swords. This form of traditional dance plays an important role in the development of classical Japanese noh drama.
• Eleanor of Aquitaine dies on 1 April.
■ Japanese poet and court lady Abutsu Ni (1222?-1283) writes her poetic travel diary, Izayoi Nikki (Diary of the Waning Moon)on the occasion of her travel to Kyoto to seek inheritance rights for herself and her children.
• The French cite the Salic Law, which was promulgated in the early medieval period and prohibits women from inheriting land, as the authority for denying the crown of France to anyone—man or woman—whose descent from a French king can be traced only through the female line.
• Famous mystic St. Birgitta of Sweden (c.1303-1373) founds the Roman Catholic Order of St. Saviour, whose members are called the Brigittines. She authors Revelations, an account of her supernatural visions.
• Caterina Benincasa (later St. Catherine of Siena) is born on 25 March in Siena, Italy.
• Christine de Pizan is born in Venice, Italy.
• Margery Kempe is born in King's Lynn (now known as Lynn), in Norfolk, England.
• St. Catherine of Siena dies on 29 April in Rome, Italy.
■ Julian of Norwich (1342?-1416?), the most famous of all the medieval recluses in England, writes Revelations of Divine Love, expounding on the idea of Christ as mother.
■ Christine de Pizan writes the long poem "Letter to the God of Love," which marks the beginning of the querelle des femmes (debate on women). This attack on misogyny in medieval literature triggers a lively exchange of letters among the foremost French scholars of the day, and the querelle is continued by various European literary scholars for centuries.
• Joan of Arc (1412-1431)—in support of Charles I, who is prevented by the English from assuming his rightful place as King of France—leads liberation forces to victory in Orléans.
• Joan of Arc is burned at the stake as a heretic by the English on 30 May. She is acquitted of heresy by another church court in 1456 and proclaimed a saint in 1920.
• Christine de Pizan dies in France.
• Margery Kempe dies in England.
• Isabella of Castile, future Queen of Spain, is born. She succeeds her brother in 1474 and rules jointly with her husband, Ferdinand of Aragon, from 1479.
• Cassandra Fedele, who becomes the most famous woman scholar in Italy, is born in Venice.
• Laura Cereta, outspoken feminist and humanist scholar, is born in Brescia, Italy.
• Veronica Gambara is born in Italy. Her court becomes an important center of the Italian Renaissance, and Gambara earns distinction as an author of Petrarchan sonnets as well as for her patronage of the artist Corregio.
■ Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer of Witches), an encyclopedia of contemporary knowledge about witches and methods of investigating the crime of witchcraft, is published in Europe. The volume details numerous justifications for women's greater susceptibility to evil, and contributes to the almost universal European persecution of women as witches that reaches its height between 1580 and 1660 and makes its way to Salem, Massachusetts in 1692.
• Marguerite de Navarre is born on 11 April in France.
• Laura Cereta dies in Brescia, Italy.
• Catherine Parr is born in England.
• Teresa de Alhumadawas (later St. Teresa de Ávila) is born on 28 March in Gotarrendura, Spain.
• Courtesan Gaspara Stampa, widely regarded as the greatest woman poet of the Renaissance, is born in Padua, Italy.
• Queen Elizabeth I is born on 7 September in Greenwich, England, the daughter of King Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn.
• King Henry VIII of England beheads his second wife, Anne Boleyn, on 19 May. Boleyn is convicted of infidelity and treason after she fails to produce the desired male heir.
■ Vittoria Colonna (1492-1547), an influential woman in Renaissance Italy, achieves distinction as a poet with the publication of her first book of poetry.
• Catherine Parr dies in England.
• Marguerite de Navarre dies in France.
• Veronica Gambara dies in Italy.
• Gaspara Stampa dies on 23 April in Venice, Italy.
• Moderata Fonte (pseudonym of Modesta Pozzo) is born in Venice, Italy.
• Elizabeth I assumes the throne of England and presides over a period of peace and prosperity known as the Elizabethan Age.
• Cassadra Fedele dies in Venice. She is honored with a state funeral.
■ Marguerite de Navarre completes her L'Heptaméron des Nouvelles (the Heptameron), a series of stories primarily concerned with the themes of love and spirituality.
• Mary Sidney, noted English literary patron, is born in England. She is the sister of poet Sir Philip Sidney, whose poems she edits and publishes after his death in 1586, and whose English translation of the Psalms she completes.
• French scholar Marie de Gournay is born on 6 October in Paris. Known as the French "Minerva" (a woman of great wisdom or learning), she is a financial success as a writer of treatises on various subjects, including Equality of Men and Women (1622) and Complaint of Ladies (1626), which demand better education for women.
• St. Teresa de Avila dies on 4 October in Alba.
• Moderata Fonte (pseudonym of Modesta Pozzo) dies in Venice, Italy.
■ Catherine de Vivonne (c. 1588-1665), Madame de Rambouillet, inaugurates and then presides over salon society in Paris, in which hostesses hold receptions in their salons or drawing rooms for the purpose of intellectual conversation. Salon society flourishes in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and stimulates scholarly and literary development in France and England.
• Geisha (female artists and entertainers) and prostitutes are licensed by the Japanese government to work in the pleasure quarters of major cities in Japan.
• Queen Elizabeth I dies on 24 March in Surrey, England.
■ Izumo no Okuni is believed to originate kabuki, the combination of dance, drama, and music which dominates Japanese theater throughout the Tokugawa period (1600-1868).
• Madeleine de Scudéry, one of the best-known and most influential writers of romance tales in seventeeth-century Europe, is born on 15 November in Le Havre, France.
• American poet Anne Bradstreet is born in Northampton, England.
• Margaret Askew Fell, who helps establish the Society of Friends, or Quakers, and becomes known as the "mother of Quakerism," is born in Lancashire, England. Quakers give women unusual freedom in religious life. An impassioned advocate of the right of women to preach, Fell publishes the tract Women's Speaking Justified, Proved and Allowed of by the Scriptures in 1666.
• Mary Sidney dies in England.
• Margaret Lucas Cavendish, later Duchess of Newcastle, is born in England. She authors fourteen volumes of works, including scientific treatises, poems, and plays, and her autobiography The True Relation of My Birth, Breeding and Life (1656).
• Katherine Phillips (1631-1664), who writes poetry under the pseudonym "Orinda," is born. She is the founder of a London literary salon called the Society of Friendship that includes such luminaries as Jeremy Taylor and Henry Vaughn.
• Aphra Behn is born.
• Deborah Moody (c. 1580-c. 1659) becomes the first woman to receive a land grant in colonial America when she is given the title to land in Kings County (now Brooklyn), New York. She is also the first colonial woman to vote.
• Glückel of Hameln, who records her life as a Jewish merchant in Germany in her memoirs, is born in Hamburg.
• Juana Ramírez de Asbaje (later known as Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz) is born on 12 November on a small farm called San Miguel de Nepantla in New Spain (now Mexico).
■ Aphra Behn becomes the first professional woman writer in England when her first play The Forced Marriage; or, The Jealous Bridegroom, is performed in London.
• Anne Bradstreet dies on 16 September in Andover, Massachusetts.
■ Francois Poulain de la Barre publishes The Equality of the Sexes, in which he supports the idea that women have intellectual powers equal to those of men. His work stimulates the betterment of women's education in succeeding centuries.
• Margaret Lucas Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, dies in England.
■ After being captured and then released by Wampanaoag Indians, Puritan settler Mary White Rowlandson (1636-1678) writes what becomes a famous account of her captivity.
• Mary Pierrpont (later Lady Mary Wortley Montagu) is born on 26 May in London, England.
• Aphra Behn dies on 16 April and is buried in the cloisters at Westminster Abbey.
• The Salem, Massachusetts, witch hysteria begins in February, and eventually leads to the execution of eighteen women convicted of witchcraft in the infamous Salem Witchcraft Trials (1692-1693).
■ Mary Astell (1666-1731) publishes the treatise A Serious Proposal to the Ladies in two volumes (1694-1697). In the work, Astell calls for the establishment of private institutions where single women live together for a time and receive quality education.
• Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz dies on 17 April at the Convent of St. Jerome in Mexico.
• Madeleine de Scudéry dies on 2 June in Paris, France.
■ Sarah Kemble Knight (1666-1727), a Puritan author, records her arduous journey from Boston to New York to settle the estate of her cousin.
■ Anne Kingsmill Finch (1661-1720) writes many poems dealing with the injustices suffered by women of the aristocratic class to which she belonged. As Countess of Winchilsea, she becomes the center of a literary circle at her husband's estate in Eastwell, England.
• Mercy Otis Warren is born on 14 September in Barnstable, Massachusetts.
• Catherine the Great is born on 2 May in Germany as Sophia Friederica Augusta.
• Abigail Adams is born Abigail Smith on 11 November in Weymouth, Massachusetts.
• Olympe de Gouges, French Revolutionary feminist, is born Olympe Gouze in Montauban, France. She plays an active role in the French Revolution, demanding equal rights for women in the new French Republic.
• Frances "Fanny" Burney is born on 13 June in England.
• Phillis Wheatley is born in Africa.
• Mary Wollstonecraft is born on 27 April in England.
• Lady Mary Wortley Montagu dies on 21 August in London, England.
• Catherine the Great becomes Empress of Russia.
• Germaine Necker (later Madame de Staël) is born on 22 April in Paris, France.
• Maria Edgeworth is born on 1 January at Black Bourton in Oxfordshire, England.
■ Clementina Rind (1740-1774) is appointed publisher of the Virginia Gazette by the House of Burgesses in Virginia.
• Jane Austen is born on 16 December at Steventon Rectory, Hampshire, England.
• Men and women who hold property worth over 50 pounds are granted suffrage in New Jersey.
■ Madame Roland (1754-1793), formerly Marie Philppon, hosts an important salon where revolutionary politicians and thinkers debate during the French Revolution. An outspoken feminist, she presses for women's political and social rights.
■ Hannah Adams (1758-1831) becomes the first American woman author to support herself with money earned from writing, with the publication of her first book, View of Religions (later Dictionary of Religions).
• Phillis Wheatley dies on 5 December in Boston, Massachusetts.
■ Catherine Sawbridge Macaulay publishes Letters on Education, an appeal for better education of women.
■ Mary Wollstonecraft's Thoughts on the Education of Daughters: With Reflections on Female Conduct, in the More Important Duties of Life is published by J. Johnson.
• Catharine Maria Sedgwick is born on 28 December in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
■ Olympe de Gouges writes The Declaration of the Rights of Women and Citizen, a 17-point document demanding the recognition of women as political, civil, and legal equals of men, and including a sample marriage contract that emphasizes free will and equality in marriage.
• Sarah Moore Grimké is born on 26 November in Charleston, South Carolina.
■ Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects is published by J. Johnson.
• Lucretia Coffin Mott is born on 3 January in Nantucket, Massachusetts.
• Olympe de Gouges is executed by guillotine for treason on 3 November.
• Madame Roland is executed in November, ostensibly for treason, but actually because the Jacobins want to suppress feminist elements in the French Revolution.
• Catherine the Great dies following a stroke on 6 November in Russia.
• Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley is born on 30 August, in London, England.
• Mary Wollstonecraft dies on 10 September in London, England, from complications following childbirth.
• Sojourner Truth is born Isabella Bomefree in Ulster County, New York.
■ Mary Wollstonecraft's Maria; or, The Wrongs of Woman: A Posthumous Fragment is published by James Carey.
• Caroline M. (Stansbury) Kirkland is born on 11 January in New York City.
• Lydia Maria Child is born on 11 February in Medford, Massachusetts.
• George Sand (pseudonym of Armandine Aurore Lucille Dupin) is born on 1 July in Paris, France.
• The Napoleonic Code is established in France under Napoleon I, and makes women legally subordinate to men. The code requires women to be obedient to their husbands, bars women from voting, sitting on juries, serving as legal witnesses, or sitting on chambers of commerce or boards of trade.
• Angelina Emily Grimké is born on 20 February in Charleston, South Carolina.
• Elizabeth Barrett Browning is born on 6 March in Coxhoe Hall, Durham, England.
■ Germaine de Staël's Corinne, ou l'Italie (Corinne, or Italy) is published by Nicolle.
• Suffrage in New Jersey is limited to "white male citizens."
• Caroline Sheridan Norton is born on 22 March in England.
• (Sarah) Margaret Fuller is born on 23 May in Cambridgeport, Massachusetts.
• Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell is born on 29 September in London, England.
• Harriet Beecher Stowe is born on 14 June in Litchfield, Connecticut.
■ Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility is published by T. Egerton.
• Harriet A. Jacobs is born in North Carolina.
■ Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is published by T. Egerton.
• Mercy Otis Warren dies on 19 October in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
• Elizabeth Cady Stanton is born on 12 November in Johnstown, New York.
• King Louis XVIII of France outlaws divorce.
• Charlotte Brontë is born on 21 April in Thornton, Yorkshire, England.
■ Jane Austen's Emma is published by M. Carey.
• Madame Germaine de Staël dies on 14 July in Paris, France.
• Jane Austen dies on 18 July in Winchester, Hampshire, England.
• Emily Brontë is born on 30 July in Thornton, Yorkshire, England.
• Lucy Stone is born on 13 August near West Brookfield, Massachusetts.
• Abigail Adams dies on 28 October in Quincy, Massachusetts.
■ Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey and Persuasion is published by John Murray.
■ Educator Emma Hart Willard's A Plan for Improving Female Education is published by Middlebury College.
■ Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus is published by Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor & Jones.
• Julia Ward Howe is born on 27 May in New York City.
• George Eliot (pseudonym of Mary Ann Evans) is born on 22 November in Arbury, Warwickshire, England.
• Susan B. Anthony is born on 15 February in Adams, Massachusetts.
• Emma Hart Willard establishes the Troy Female Seminary in Troy, New York.
• Frances Power Cobbe is born on 4 December in Dublin, Ireland.
• Charlotte Yonge is born 11 August in Otterbourne, Hampshire, England.
• Frances Ellen Watkins Harper is born on 24 September in Baltimore, Maryland.
• Matilda Joslyn Gage is born on 24 March in Cicero, New York.
• Christina Rossetti is born on 5 December in London, England.
• Emily Dickinson is born on 10 December in Amherst, Massachusetts.
■ Godey's Lady's Book—the first American women's magazine—is founded by Louis Antoine Godey and edited by Sarah Josepha Hale (1788-1879).
• Louisa May Alcott is born on 29 November in Germantown, Pennsylvania.
■ George Sand's Indiana is published by Roret et Dupuy.
• Oberlin Collegiate Institute—the first coeducational institution of higher learning—is established in Oberlin, Ohio.
• Marietta Holley is born on 16 July near Adams, New York.
• Mt. Holyoke College—the first college for women—is founded by Mary Lyon in South Hadley, Massachusetts.
• Alexandria Victoria (1819-1901) becomes Queen Victoria at the age of eighteen. Her reign lasts for 63 years, the longest reign of any British monarch.
• Victoria Woodhull is born on 23 September in Homer, Ohio.
■ Sarah Moore Grimké's Letters on the Equality of the Sexes, and the Condition of Woman is published by I. Knapp.
• Frances "Fanny" Burney dies on 6 January in London, England.
• Ernestine Rose (1810-1892) writes the petition for what will become the Married Woman's Property Law (1848).
• Sarah Winnemucca is born on Paiute land near Humboldt Lake in what is now Nevada.
■ Margaret Fuller's Woman in the Nineteenth Century is published by Greeley & McElrath.
■ Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre is published by Smith, Elder.
■ Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights is published by T. C. Newby.
• The first women's rights convention is called by Lucretia Coffin Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton on 19 July and is held in Seneca Falls, New York on 20 July.
• Emily Brontë dies on 19 December in Haworth, Yorkshire, England.
• New York State Legislature passes the Married Woman's Property Law, granting women the right to retain possession of property they owned prior to marriage.
• Maria Edgeworth dies on 22 May in Edgeworthstown, her family's estate in Ireland.
• Sarah Orne Jewett is born on 3 September in South Berwick, Maine.
■ Amelia Bloomer publishes the first issue of her Seneca Falls newspaper The Lily, which provides a forum for both temperance and women's rights reformers.
• The first state constitution of California extends property rights to women in their own name.
• Margaret Fuller drowns—along with her husband and son—on 19 July in a shipwreck off of Fire Island, New York.
• The first National Woman's Rights Convention, planned by Lucy Stone and Lucretia Mott, is attended by over one thousand women on 23 and 24 October in Worcester, Massachusetts.
■ Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Poems, containing her Sonnets from the Portuguese, is published by Chapman & Hall.
■ The Narrative of Sojourner Truth, transcribed by Olive Gilbert, is published in the Boston periodical, the Liberator.
• Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley dies on 1 February in Bournemouth, England.
• Kate Chopin is born on 8 February in St. Louis, Missouri.
■ Sojourner Truth delivers her "A'n't I a Woman?" speech at the Women's Rights Convention on 29 May in Akron, Ohio.
■ Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin; or, Life among the Lowly is published by Jewett, Proctor & Worthington.
• Susan B. Anthony founds The Women's Temperance Society, the first temperance organization in the United States.
■ Charlotte Brontë's Villette is published by Smith, Elder.
■ Paulina Kellogg Wright Davis (1813-1876) edits and publishes Una, the first newspaper of the women's rights movement.
■ Margaret Oliphant's A Brief Summary in Plain Language of the Most Important Laws Concerning Women, a pamphlet explaining the unfair laws concerning women and exposing the need for reform, is published in London.
• Charlotte Brontë dies on 31 March in Haworth, Yorkshire, England.
• Elizabeth Cady Stanton, speaking in favor of expanding the Married Woman's Property Law, becomes the first woman to appear before the New York State Legislature.
• Harriot Eaton Stanton Blatch is born on 20 January in Seneca Falls, New York.
■ Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh is published by Chapman & Hall.
• Emmeline Pankhurst is born on 4 July in Manchester, England.
• Anna Julia Haywood Cooper is born on 10 August in Raleigh, North Carolina.
• Carrie Chapman Catt is born on 9 January in Ripon, Wisconsin.
• Charlotte Perkins Gilman is born on 3 July in Hartford, Connecticut.
• Jane Addams is born on 6 September in Cedarville, Illinois.
• Victoria Earle Matthews is born on 27 May in Fort Valley, Georgia.
• Elizabeth Barrett Browning dies on 29 June in Florence, Italy.
■ Harriet Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself, edited by Lydia Maria Child, is published in Boston.
• Edith Wharton is born on 24 January in New York City.
• Ida B. Wells-Barnett is born on 16 July in Holly Springs, Mississippi.
■ Julia Ward Howe's "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" is published in the Atlantic Monthly.
• Caroline M. (Stansbury) Kirkland dies of a stroke on 6 April in New York City.
• Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell dies on 12 November in Holybourne, Hampshire, England.
• The American Equal Rights Association—dedicated to winning suffrage for African American men and for women of all colors—is founded by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton on 1 May. Lucretia Coffin Mott is elected as the group's president.
• Elizabeth Cady Stanton runs for Congress as an independent; she receives 24 of 12,000 votes cast.
• Catharine Maria Sedgwick dies on 31 July in Boston, Massachusetts.
■ Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton found the New York-based weekly newspaper, The Revolution, with the motto: "The true republic—men, their rights and nothing more; women, their rights and nothing less," in January.
• Julia Ward Howe founds the New England Woman Suffrage Association and the New England Women's Club.
■ Louisa May Alcott's Little Women; or, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy (2 vols., 1868-69) is published by Roberts Brothers.
■ John Stuart Mill's treatise in support of women's suffrage, The Subjection of Women, is published in London.
• Emma Goldman is born on 27 June in Kovno, Lithuania.
■ Louisa May Alcott's Hospital Sketches and Camp and Fireside Stories is published by Roberts Brothers.
• Women are granted full and equal suffrage and are permitted to hold office within the territory of Wyoming.
• The National Woman Suffrage Association is founded by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony in May in New York City.
• The American Woman Suffrage Association is founded by Lucy Stone, Julia Ward Howe, and others in November in Boston, Massachusetts.
■ The Woman's Journal, edited by Lucy Stone, Henry Blackwell, and Mary Livermore, begins publication on 8 January.
■ Victoria Woodhull and Tennessee Claflin publish the first issue of their controversial New York weekly newspaper, Woodhull and Claflin's Weekly.
• Women are granted full and equal suffrage in the territory of Utah. Their rights are revoked in 1887 and restored in 1896.
• Victoria Woodhull presents her views on women's rights in a passionate speech to the House Judiciary Committee, marking the first personal appearance before such a high congressional committee by a woman.
• Wives of many prominent U. S. politicians, military officers, and businessmen found the Anti-Suffrage party to fight against women's suffrage.
• Victoria Woodhull, as a member of the Equal Rights Party (or National Radical Reform Party), becomes the first woman candidate for the office of U.S. President. Her running mate is Frederick Douglass.
• Susan B. Anthony and 15 other women attempt to cast their votes in Rochester, New York, in the presidential election. Anthony is arrested and fined $100, which she refuses to pay.
• Sojourner Truth attempts to cast her vote in Grand Rapids, Michigan in the presidential election but is denied a ballot.
• Colette is born on 28 January in Burgundy, France.
• Maria Mitchell (1818-1889), astronomer and faculty member at Vassar College, establishes the Association of the Advancement of Women.
• Willa Cather is born on 7 December in Back Creek Valley, Virginia.
• Sarah Moore Grimké dies on 23 December in Hyde Park, Massachusetts.
■ Louisa May Alcott's Work: A Story of Experience is published by Roberts Brothers.
• Gertrude Stein is born on 3 February in Allegheny, Pennsylvania.
• Amy Lowell is born on 9 February in Brookline, Massachusetts.
• George Sand dies on 9 June in Nohant, France.
• Susan Glaspell is born on 1 July (some sources say 1882) in Davenport, Iowa.
• Caroline Sheridan Norton dies on 15 June in England.
• Passage of the Matrimonial Causes Act in England enables abused wives to obtain separation orders to keep their husbands away from them.
• The "Susan B. Anthony Amendment," which will extend suffrage to women in the United States, is first proposed in Congress by Senator A. A. Sargent.
• Margaret Sanger is born on 14 September in Corning, New York.
• Angelina Emily Grimké dies on 26 October in Hyde Park, Massachusetts.
• Christabel Pankhurst is born on 22 September in Manchester, England.
• Lydia Maria Child dies on 20 October in Wayland, Massachusetts.
• Lucretia Coffin Mott dies on 11 November in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
• George Eliot (pseudonym of Mary Ann Evans) dies on 22 December in London, England.
■ Hubertine Auclert founds La Citoyenne (The Citizen), a newspaper dedicated to female suffrage.
■ The first volume of A History of Woman Suffrage (Vols. 1-3, 1881-1888; Vol. 4, 1903), edited and compiled by Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Ida Harper Husted, and Matilda Joslyn Gage, is published by Fowler & Welles.
• Virginia Woolf is born on 25 January in London, England.
• Sylvia Pankhurst is born on 5 May in Manchester, England.
• Aletta Jacobs (1854-1929), the first woman doctor in Holland, opens the first birth control clinic in Europe.
• Sojourner Truth dies on 26 November in Battle Creek, Michigan.
■ Olive Schreiner's The Story of an African Farm is published by Chapman & Hall.
• Eleanor Roosevelt is born on 11 October in New York City.
• Alice Paul is born on 11 January in Moore-stown, New Jersey.
• Isak Dinesen is born Karen Christentze Dinesen on 17 April in Rungsted, Denmark.
• Emily Dickinson dies on 15 May in Amherst, Massachusetts.
• H. D. (Hilda Doolittle) is born on 10 September in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
• Marianne Moore is born on 15 November in Kirkwood, Missouri.
• Article five of the Peace Preservation Law in Japan prohibits women and minors from joining political organizations and attending meetings where political speeches are given, and from engaging in academic studies of political subjects.
• Louisa May Alcott dies on 6 March in Boston, Massachusetts, and is buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, Massachusetts.
• Susan B. Anthony organizes the International Council of Women with representatives from 48 countries.
■ Louisa Lawson (1848-1920) founds Australia's first feminist newspaper, The Dawn.
• The National Council of Women in the United States is formed to promote the advancement of women in society. The group also serves as a clearinghouse for various women's organizations.
• Anna Akhmatova is born Anna Adreyevna Gorenko on 23 June in Bolshoy Fontan, Russia.
• The National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) is formed by the merging of the American Woman Suffrage Assocation and the National Woman Suffrage Association. Elizabeth Cady Stanton is the NAWSA's first president; she is succeeded by Susan B. Anthony in 1892.
• Zora Neale Hurston is born on 15 (some sources say 7) January in Nostasulga, Alabama. (Some sources cite birth year as c. 1901 or 1903, and birth place as Eatonville, Florida).
• Sarah Winnemucca dies on 16 October in Monida, Montana.
• Edna St. Vincent Millay is born on 22 February in Rockland, Maine.
• Djuna Barnes is born on 12 June in Cornwall on Hudson, New York.
• Rebecca West (pseudonym of Cicily Isabel Fair-field) is born on 21 December in County Kerry, Ireland.
■ Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper is published in New England Magazine.
■ Frances E. W. Harper's Iola Leroy; or, Shadows Uplifted is published by Garrigues Bros.
• Olympia Brown (1835-1926), first woman ordained minister in the United States, founds the Federal Suffrage Association to campaign for women's suffrage.
■ Ida Wells-Barnett's Southern Horrors. Lynch Law in All its Phases is published by Donohue and Henneberry.
• Lucy Stone dies on 18 October in Dorchester, Massachusetts.
• The National Council of Women of Canada is founded by Lady Aberdeen.
• Suffrage is granted to women in Colorado.
• New Zealand becomes the first nation to grant women the vote.
• Christina Rossetti dies on 29 December in London, England.
■ The first volume of Elizabeth Cady Stanton's The Woman's Bible (3 vols., 1895-1898) is published by European Publishing Company.
• Harriet Beecher Stowe dies on 1 July in Hartford, Connecticut.
• Idaho grants women the right to vote.
• The National Assocation of Colored Women's Clubs is founded in Washington, D.C.
• Harriet A. Jacobs dies on 7 March in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
• Matilda Joslyn Gage dies on 18 March in Chicago, Illinois.
■ Charlotte Perkins Gilman's Women and Economics is published by Small Maynard.
• The Meiji Civil Law Code, the law of the Japanese nation state, makes the patriarchal family, rather than the individual, the legally recognized entity.
• Elizabeth Bowen is born on 7 June in Dublin, Ireland.
■ Kate Chopin's The Awakening is published by Herbert S. Stone.
■ Colette's Claudine a l'ecole (Claudine at School, 1930) is published by Ollendorf.
• Carrie Chapman Catt succeeds Susan B. Anthony as president of the NAWSA.
• Charlotte Yonge dies of bronchitis and pneumonia on 24 March in Elderfield, England.
• Elizabeth Cady Stanton dies on 26 October in New York City.
• Women of European descent gain suffrage in Australia.
• The Women's Social and Political Union, led by suffragists Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst, stage demonstrations in Hyde Park in London, England.
• Frances Power Cobbe dies on 5 April.
• Kate Chopin dies following a cerebral hemorrhage on 22 August in St. Louis, Missouri.
• Susan B. Anthony establishes the International Woman Suffrage Alliance in Berlin, Germany.
• Lillian Hellman is born on 20 June in New Orleans, Louisiana.
• Austrian activist and novelist Bertha von Suttner (1843-1914) receives the Nobel Peace Prize.
• Susan B. Anthony dies on 13 March in Rochester, New York.
• Finnish women gain suffrage and the right to be elected to public office.
• Victoria Earle Matthews dies of tuberculosis on 10 March in New York City.
■ Mary Edwards Walker, M.D.'s pamphlet on women's suffrage, "Crowning Constitutional Argument," is published.
• Harriot Stanton Blatch founds the Equality League of Self-Supporting Women, later called the Women's Political Union.
• Simone de Beauvoir is born on 9 January in Paris, France.
• Julia Ward Howe becomes the first woman to be elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
• Sarah Orne Jewett dies on 24 June in South Berwick, Maine.
■ Swedish author Selma Lagerlöf (1858-1940) becomes the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature.
• "The Uprising of the 20,000" grows from one local to a general strike against several shirt-waist factories in New York City. Over 700 women and girls are arrested, and 19 receive workhouse sentences. The strike is called off on 15 February 1910. Over 300 shops settle with the union, and workers achieve the terms demanded.
• Jeanne-Elisabeth Archer Schmahl (1846-1915) founds the French Union for Woman Suffrage.
• Julia Ward Howe dies of pneumonia on 17 October in Newport, Rhode Island.
• The Women' Political Union holds the first large suffrage parade in New York City.
• Suffrage is granted to women in Washington State.
■ Jane Addams's Twenty Years at Hull House is published by Macmillan.
• Frances Ellen Watkins Harper dies on 22 February in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
• A fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City on 25 March claims the lives of 146 factory workers, 133 of them women. Public outrage over the fire leads to reforms in labor laws and improvement in working conditions.
• Suffrage is granted to women in California.
■ Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome is published by Scribner.
• Suffrage is granted to women in Arizona, Kansas, and Oregon.
• A parade in support of women's suffrage is held in New York City and draws 20,000 participants and half a million onlookers.
• Muriel Rukeyser is born on 15 December in New York City.
■ Willa Cather's O Pioneers! is published by Houghton.
• Ida Wells-Barnett founds the Alpha Suffrage Club in Chicago.
• Suffrage is granted to women in Alaska.
• The Congressional Union is founded by Alice Paul and Lucy Burns.
• Marguerite Duras is born on 4 April in Gia Dinh, Indochina (now Vietnam).
• The National Federation of Women's Clubs, which includes over two million white women and women of color, formally endorses the campaign for women's suffrage.
• Suffrage is granted to women in Montana and Nevada.
■ Margaret Sanger begins publication of her controversial monthly newsletter The Woman Rebel, which is banned as obscene literature.
■ Charlotte Perkins Gilman's Herland is published in the journal Forerunner.
■ Woman's Work in Municipalities, by American suffragist and historian Mary Ritter Beard (1876-1958), is published by Appleton.
• Icelandic women who are age 40 or older gain suffrage.
• Members of the NAWSA from across the United States hold a large parade in New York city.
• Most Danish women over age 25 gain suffrage.
• Ardent suffragist and pacifist Jeannette Pickering Rankin (1880-1973) of Montana becomes the first woman elected to the U. S. House of Representatives. She later votes against U. S. involvement in both World Wars.
• The Congressional Union becomes the National Women's Party, led by Alice Paul and Lucy Burns.
• NAWSA president Carrie Chapman Catt unveils her "Winning Plan" for American women's suffrage at a convention held in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
• Suffrage is granted to women in Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan, Canada.
• Margaret Sanger opens the first U. S. birth-control clinic in Brooklyn, New York. The clinic is shut down 10 days after it opens and Sanger is arrested.
• Margaret Sanger's What Every Mother Should Know; or, How Six Little Children were Taught the Truth is published by M. N. Maisel.
• Gwendolyn Brooks is born on 7 June in Topeka, Kansas.
• The National Women's Party becomes the first group in U.S. history to picket in front of the White House. Picketers are arrested and incarcerated; during their incarceration, Alice Paul leads them in a hunger strike. Many of the imprisoned suffragists are brutally force-fed, including Paul. The suffragettes' mistreatment is published in newspapers, the White House bows to public pressure, and they are released.
• White women in Arkansas are granted partial suffrage; they are able to vote in primary, but not general, elections.
• Suffrage is granted to women in New York.
• Suffrage is granted to women in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
• Women in Ontario and British Columbia, Canada, gain suffrage.
• Suffragists and members of the NAWSA, led by president Carrie Chapman Catt, march in a parade in New York City.
■ Margaret Sanger founds and edits The Birth Control Review, the first scientific journal devoted to the subject of birth control.
■ Willa Cather's My Antonia is published by Houghton.
• Suffrage is granted to women in Michigan, Oklahoma, and South Dakota; women in Texas gain suffrage for primary elections only.
• President Woodrow Wilson issues a statement in support of a federal constitutional amendment granting full suffrage to American women.
• A resolution to amend the U.S. constitution to ensure that the voting rights of U.S. citizens cannot "be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex" passes in the House of Representatives.
• President Wilson urges the Senate to support the 19th amendment, but fails to win the two-thirds majority necessary for passage.
• Women in the United Kingdom who are married, own property, or are college graduates over the age of 30, are granted suffrage.
• Women in Austria, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Luxembourg, and Poland gain suffrage.
• Women in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, Canada, gain suffrage. Canadian women of British or French heritage gain voting rights in Federal elections.
■ Marie Stopes's Married Love and Wise Parenthood are published by A. C. Fifield.
■ Harriot Stanton Blatch's Mobilizing Woman-Power, with a foreword by Theodore Roosevelt, is published by The Womans Press.
• Women in the Netherlands, Rhodesia, and Sweden gain suffrage.
• Doris Lessing is born on 22 October in Kermanshah, Persia (now Iran).
• The "Susan B. Anthony Amendment," also known as the 19th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, after it is defeated twice in the Senate, passes in both houses of Congress. The amendment is sent to states for ratification.
• The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is ratified by the necessary two-thirds of states and American women are guaranteed suffrage on 26 August when Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby signs the amendment into law.
• The NAWSA is reorganized as the National League of Women Voters and elects Maud Wood Park as its first president.
• Bella Abzug is born on 24 July in New York City.
• Icelandic women gain full suffrage.
■ Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence is published by Meredith.
■ Colette's Cheri is published by Fayard.
• Betty Friedan is born on 4 February in Peoria, Illinois.
■ Edith Wharton receives the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for The Age of Innocence.
• Margaret Sanger organizes the first American Conference on Birth Control in New York City.
• Irish women gain full suffrage.
• Grace Paley is born on 11 December in New York City.
■ Edna St. Vincent Millay's The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver is published by F. Shay.
■ Edna St. Vincent Millay receives the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver.
• Margaret Sanger opens the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau in New York to dispense contraceptives to women under the supervision of a licensed physician and to study the effect of contraception upon women's health.
• Margaret Sanger founds the American Birth Control League.
• The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), written by Alice Paul, is introduced in Congress for the first time in December.
• Phyllis Schlafly is born on 15 August in St. Louis, Missouri.
• Shirley Chisolm is born on 30 November in Brooklyn, New York.
• Amy Lowell dies on 12 May in Brookline, Massachusetts.
■ Collected Poems of H.D. is published by Boni & Liveright.
■ Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway is published by Harcourt.
• Marietta Holley dies on 1 March near Adams, New York.
■ Marianne Moore becomes the first woman editor of The Dial in New York City, a post she holds until 1929.
■ Carrie Chapman Catt and Nettie Rogers Schuler's Woman Suffrage and Politics; the Inner Story of the Suffrage Movement is published by Charles Scribner's Sons.
■ Grazia Deledda receives the Nobel Prize in Literature.
• Victoria Woodhull dies on 10 June in Norton Park, England.
■ Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse is published by Harcourt.
• Maya Angelou is born Marguerite Johnson on 4 April in St. Louis, Missouri.
• Emmeline Pankhurst dies on 14 June in London, England.
• Anne Sexton is born on 9 November in Newton, Massachusetts.
■ Virginia Woolf's Orlando is published by Crosby Gaige.
• Women are granted full suffrage in Great Britain.
■ Gertrude Stein's Useful Knowledge is published by Payson & Clarke.
■ Sigrid Undset receives the Nobel Prize in Literature.
• Adrienne Rich is born on 16 May in Baltimore, Maryland.
• Marilyn French is born on 21 November in New York City.
• While Arthur M. Schlesinger Sr. reads her speech for her, Margaret Sanger appears in a gag on a stage in Boston where she has been prevented from speaking.
■ Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own is published by Harcourt.
• Lorraine Hansberry is born on 19 May in Chicago, Illinois.
• Cairine Wilson is appointed the first woman senator in Canada.
• Jane Addams receives the Nobel Peace Prize.
• Toni Morrison is born Chloe Anthony Wofford on 18 February in Lorain, Ohio.
• Ida B. Wells-Barnett dies on 25 March in Chicago, Illinois.
• Sylvia Plath is born on 27 October in Boston, Massachusetts.
■ Gertrude Stein's The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas is published by Harcourt.
• Frances Perkins (1882-1965) is appointed Secretary of Labor by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and becomes the first female cabinet member in the United States.
• Gloria Steinem is born on 25 March in Toledo, Ohio.
• Kate Millett is born on 14 September in St. Paul, Minnesota.
■ Lillian Hellman's The Children's Hour debuts on 20 November at Maxine Elliot's Theatre in New York City.
• Jane Addams dies of cancer on 21 May in Chicago, Illinois.
• Charlotte Perkins Gilman commits suicide on 17 August in Pasadena, California.
• The National Council of Negro Women is founded by Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955).
• First lady Eleanor Roosevelt begins writing a daily syndicated newspaper column, "My Day."
■ Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind is published by Macmillan.
• Hélène Cixous is born on 5 June in Oran, Algeria.
• Bessie Head is born on 6 July in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.
• Edith Wharton dies on 11 August in St. Bricesous-Foret, France.
■ Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God is published by Lippincott.
■ Margaret Mitchell (1900-1949) receives the Pulitzer Prize in Letters & Drama for novel for Gone with the Wind.
■ Anne O'Hare McCormick becomes the first woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize in Journalism, which she is given for distinguished correspondence for her international reporting on the rise of Italian Fascism in the New York Times.
• Joyce Carol Oates is born on 16 June in Lockport, New York.
■ Pearl Buck receives the Nobel Prize in Literature.
• Germaine Greer is born on 29 January near Melbourne, Australia.
■ Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes debuts on 15 February at National Theatre in New York City.
• Margaret Atwood is born on 18 November in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
• Paula Gunn Allen is born in Cubero, New Mexico.
• French physician Madeleine Pelletier (1874-1939) is arrested for performing abortions in Paris, France; she dies later the same year. Throughout her medical career, Pelletier advocated women's rights to birth control and abortion, and founded her own journal, La Suffragist.
• Emma Goldman dies on 14 May in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
• Maxine Hong Kingston is born on 27 October in Stockton, California.
• Harriot Eaton Stanton Blatch dies on 20 November in Greenwich, Connecticut.
• Virginia Woolf commits suicide on 28 March in Lewes, Sussex, England.
• Erica Jong is born on 26 March in New York City.
• Isabel Allende is born on 2 August in Lima, Peru.
■ Ellen Glasgow (1873-1945) receives the Pulitzer Prize for her novel In This Our Life.
■ Margaret Walker (1915-1998) becomes the first African American to receive the Yale Series of Young Poets Award for her collection For My People.
• Alice Walker is born on 9 February in Eatonton, Georgia.
• Martha Gellhorn (1908-1998) is the only woman journalist to go ashore with Allied troops during the D-Day invasion of Normandy, France in June.
• Buchi Emecheta is born on 21 July in Yaba, Lagos, Nigeria.
• Rita Mae Brown is born on 28 November in Hanover, Pennsylvania.
• Women are granted suffrage in France and Jamaica.
• Eleanor Roosevelt becomes the first person to represent the U. S. at the United Nations. She serves until 1951, is reappointed in 1961, and serves until her death in 1962.
■ Gabriela Mistral receives the Nobel Prize in Literature.
■ Louise Bogan is named U. S. Poet Laureate.
• Gertrude Stein dies of cancer on 27 July in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France.
• Andrea Dworkin is born on 26 September in Camden, New Jersey.
■ Mary Ritter Beard's Woman as a Force in History: A Study in Traditions and Realities is published by Macmillan.
• Eleanor Roosevelt becomes chair of the United Nations Human Rights Commission. She remains chair until 1951.
• Carrie Chapman Catt dies on 9 March in New Rochelle, New York.
• Willa Cather dies on 24 April in New York City.
• Dorothy Fuldheim, a newscaster in Cleveland, Ohio, becomes the first female television news anchor at WEWS-TV.
• Susan Glaspell dies on 27 July in Provincetown, Massachusetts.
• Ntozake Shange is born Paulette Linda Williams on 18 October in Trenton, New Jersey.
■ Leonie Adams is named U. S. Poet Laureate.
■ Simone de Beauvoir's Le deuxième sexe (The Second Sex, H. M. Parshley, translator: Knopf, 1953) is published by Gallimard.
■ Elizabeth Bishop is named U. S. Poet Laureate.
■ Gwendolyn Brooks's Annie Allen is published by Harper.
• Gloria Naylor is born on 25 January in New York City.
• Edna St. Vincent Millay dies of a heart attack on 19 October at Steepletop, Austerlitz, New York.
■ Gwendolyn Brooks receives the Pulitzer Prize for poetry for Annie Allen.
■ Marianne Moore's Collected Poems is published by Macmillan.
■ Marguerite Higgins (1920-1960) receives the Pulitzer Prize for Journalism in overseas reporting for her account of the battle at Inchon, Korea in September, 1950.
• Amy Tan is born on 19 February in Oakland, California.
• Rita Dove is born on 28 August in Akron, Ohio.
• bell hooks is born Gloria Jean Watkins on 25 September in Hopkinsville, Kentucky.
■ Marianne Moore receives the National Book Critics Circle award for poetry and the Pulizter Prize for poetry for Collected Poems.
■ A Writer's Diary: Being Extracts from the Diary of Virigina Woolf, edited by Leonard Woolf, is published by Hogarth.
• The International Planned Parenthood Federation is founded by Margaret Sanger, who serves as the organization's first president.
• Women are granted suffrage in Mexico.
• Louise Erdrich is born on 7 June in Little Falls, Minnesota.
• Colette dies on 3 August in Paris, France.
• Sandra Cisneros is born on 20 December in Chicago, Illinois.
• On 1 December American civil rights activist Rosa Parks (1913-) refuses to move from her seat for a white passenger on a Montgomery, Alabama bus and is arrested.
• The Anti-Prostitution Act, written and campaigned for by Kamichika Ichiko, makes prostitution illegal in Japan.
• Christabel Pankhurst dies on 13 February in Los Angeles, California.
• Susan Faludi is born on 18 April in New York City.
■ Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun debuts in March at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in New York City.
■ Lorraine Hansberry becomes the youngest woman and first black artist to receive a New York Drama Critics Circle Award for best American play for A Raisin in the Sun.
• Zora Neale Hurston dies on 28 January in Fort Pierce, Florida.
• Sylvia Pankhurst dies on 27 September in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
• The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves the first oral contraceptive for distribution to consumers in May.
■ Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird is published by Lippincott.
• H. D. (Hilda Doolittle) dies on 27 September in Zurich, Switzerland.
■ Harper Lee receives the Pulitzer Prize for the novel for To Kill a Mockingbird.
• President John F. Kennedy establishes the President's Commission on the Status of Women on 14 December and appoints Eleanor Roosevelt as head of the commission.
• Isak Dinesen dies on 7 September in Rungsted Kyst, Denmark.
• Eleanor Roosevelt dies on 7 November in New York City.
• Naomi Wolf is born on 12 November in San Francisco, California.
■ Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook is published by Simon & Schuster.
■ Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique is published by Norton and becomes a bestseller.
■ Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar is published under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas by Heinemann.
• Sylvia Plath commits suicide on 11 February in London, England.
■ Barbara Wertheim Tuchman (1912-1989) becomes the first woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction for The Guns of August.
• The Equal Pay Act is passed by the U.S. Congress on 28 May. It is the first federal law requiring equal compensation for men and women in federal jobs.
• Entitled American Women, the report issued by the President's Commission on the Status of Women documents sex discrimination in nearly all corners of American society, and urges the U.S. Supreme Court to clarify legal status of women under the U.S. Constitution.
• Anna Julia Haywood Cooper dies on 27 February in Washington, DC.
• Lorraine Hansberry dies of cancer on 12 January in New York City.
• Women are granted suffrage in Afghanistan.
• Anna Akhmatova dies on 6 March in Russia.
• Margaret Sanger dies on 6 September in Tucson, Arizona.
• National Organization for Women (NOW) is founded on 29 June by Betty Friedan and 27 other founding members. NOW is dedicated to promoting full participation in society for women and advocates for adequate child care for working mothers, reproductive rights, and the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
■ Anne Sexton's Live or Die is published by Houghton.
■ Nelly Sachs (1891-1970) receives the Nobel Prize in Literature, which she shares with Shmuel Yosef Agnon.
• Anne Sexton receives the Pulitzer Prize for poetry for Live or Die.
• Senator Eugene McCarthy, with 37 cosponsors, introduces the Equal Rights Amendment in the U.S. Senate.
■ Audre Lorde's The First Cities is published by Poets Press.
■ Joyce Carol Oates's them is published by Vanguard Press.
• Shirley Chisolm becomes the first African American woman elected to Congress when she takes her seat in the U.S. House of Representatives on 3 January.
• Golda Meir (1898-1978) becomes the fourth Prime Minister of Israel on 17 March.
• California adopts the nation's first "no fault" divorce law, allowing divorce by mutual consent.
■ Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye is published by Holt.
■ Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch is published by MacGibbon & Kee.
■ Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is published by Random House.
■ Kate Millett's Sexual Politics is published by Doubleday and becomes a bestseller.
■ Joyce Carol Oates receives the National Book Award for fiction for them.
• The Equal Rights Amendment passes in the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 350 to 15 on 10 August.
• Bella Abzug is elected to the U.S. House of Representatives on 3 November.
■ The Feminist Press is founded at the City University of New York.
■ Off Our Backs: A Women's News Journal is founded in Washington, D.C.
■ The Women's Rights Law Reporter is founded in Newark, New Jersey.
• Josephine Jacobsen is named U. S. Poet Laureate.
• Marianne Moore dies on 5 February in New York City.
■ Ms. magazine is founded; Gloria Steinem serves as editor of Ms. until 1987. The 300,000 copy print run of the first issue of Ms. magazine sells out within a week of its release in January.
• Shirley Chisolm becomes the first African American woman to seek the presidential nomination of a major political party, although her bid for the Democratic Party nomination is unsuccessful.
• The Equal Rights Amendment is passed by both houses of the U.S. Congress and is signed by President Richard M. Nixon. The amendment expires in 1982, without being ratified by the required two-thirds of the states; it is three states short of full ratification.
• President Nixon signs into law Title IX of the Higher Education Act banning sex bias in athletics and other activities at all educational institutions receiving federal assistance.
■ Women's Press is established in Canada.
• The U.S. Supreme Court, in their decision handed down on 21 January in Roe v. Wade, decides that in the first trimester of pregnancy women have the right to choose an abortion.
• Elizabeth Bowen dies of lung cancer on 22 February in London, England.
■ Rita Mae Brown's Rubyfruit Jungle is published by Daughters, Inc.
■ Erica Jong's Fear of Flying is published by Holt and becomes a bestseller.
■ Alice Walker's In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women is published by Harcourt.
■ The Boston Women's Health Book Collective's Our Bodies, Ourselves: A Book By and For Women is published by Simon and Schuster.
■ Andrea Dworkin's Women Hating is published by Dutton.
■ Adrienne Rich receives the National Book Award for Diving into the Wreck: Poems, 1971-1972.
• Anne Sexton commits suicide on 4 October in Weston, Massachusetts.
• Katharine Graham (1917-2001), publisher of the Washington Post, becomes the first woman member of the board of the Associated Press.
■ Paula Gunn Allen' essay "The Sacred Hoop: A Contemporary Indian Perspective on American Indian Literature" appears in Literature of the American Indian: Views and Interpretations, edited by Abraham Chapman and published by New American Library.
■ Hélène Cixous and Catherine Clement's La Jeune nee (The Newly Born Woman, University of Minnesota Press, 1986) is published by Union Generale.
• Margaret Thatcher is elected leader of the Conservative Party and becomes the first woman to head a major party in Great Britain.
■ Susan Brownmiller's Against our Will: Men, Women, and Rape is published by Simon and Schuster.
■ Andrea Dworkin's Our Blood: Prophecies and Discourses on Sexual Politics is published by Harper.
■ Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood among Ghosts is published by Knopf.
■ Maxine Hong Kingston's receives the National Book Critics Circle award for general nonfiction for The Woman Warrior.
• Barbara Walters (1931-) becomes the first female network television news anchorwoman when she joins Harry Reasoner as coanchor of the ABC Evening News.
■ Shere Hite's The Hite Report: A Nationwide Study of Female Sexuality is published by Macmillan.
• Alice Paul dies on 9 July in Moorestown, New Jersey.
■ Marilyn French's The Women's Room is published by Summit.
■ Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon is published by Knopf.
■ Toni Morrison receives the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction for Song of Solomon.
• Labor organizer Barbara Mayer Wertheimer's We Were There: The Story of Working Women in America is published by Pantheon.
■ Women's Press is established in Great Britain.
• The Pregnancy Discrimination Act bans employment discrimination against pregnant women.
■ Tillie Olsen's Silences is published by Delcorte Press/Seymour Lawrence.
• Margaret Thatcher becomes the first woman prime minister of Great Britain. She serves until her resignation in 1990, marking the longest term of any twentieth-century prime minister.
• Barbara Wertheim Tuchman becomes the first woman elected president of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.
• Mother Teresa (1910-1997) receives the Nobel Peace Prize.
■ Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar's The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Imagination is published by Yale University Press.
• Muriel Rukeyser dies on 12 February in New York City.
■ Adrienne Rich's essay "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Experience" is published in Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society.
■ bell hooks's Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism is published by South End Press.
■ Sylvia Plath's Collected Poems, edited by Ted Hughes, is published by Harper.
• Sandra Day O'Connor (1930-) becomes the first woman Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, after being nominated by President Ronald Reagan and sworn in on 25 September.
■ Women of Color Press is founded in Albany, New York by Barbara Smith.
■ Cleis Press is established in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and San Francisco, California.
■ This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, is published by Persephone Press.
■ Maxine Kumin is named U. S. Poet Laureate.
• Djuna Barnes dies on 19 June in New York City.
■ Sylvia Plath is posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize in poetry for Collected Poems.
■ Alice Walker's The Color Purple is published by Harcourt.
■ Carol Gilligan's In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development is published by Harvard University Press.
• Rebecca West dies on 15 March in London, England.
■ Gloria Steinem's Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions is published by Holt.
■ Sandra Cisneros's The House on Mango Street is published by Arte Publico.
• Lillian Hellman dies on 30 June in Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts.
• Geraldine Ferraro (1935-) becomes the first woman to win the Vice-Presidential nomination and runs unsuccessfully for office with Democratic Presidential candidate Walter Mondale.
■ Firebrand Books, publisher of feminist and lesbian literature, is established in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
■ bell hooks's Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center is published by South End Press.
■ Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale is published by McClelland & Stewart.
• Wilma P. Mankiller is sworn in as the first woman tribal chief of the Cherokee nation. She serves until 1994.
■ Gwendolyn Brooks is named U. S. Poet Laureate.
• Simone de Beauvoir dies on 14 April in Paris, France.
• Bessie Head dies on 17 April in Botswana.
■ Rita Dove's Thomas and Beulah is published by Carnegie-Mellon University Press.
■ Sylvia Ann Hewlett's A Lesser Life: The Myth of Women's Liberation in America is published by Morrow.
■ Toni Morrison's Beloved is published by Knopf.
■ Rita Dove receives the Pulitzer Prize for poetry for Thomas and Beulah.
■ Toni Morrison receives the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for Beloved.
■ The War of the Words, Volume 1 of Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar's No Man's Land: The Place of the Woman Writer in the Twentieth Century, is published by Yale University Press.
■ Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club is published by Putnam.
■ Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used against Women is published by Chatto & Windus.
• The Norplant contraceptive is approved by the FDA on 10 December.
■ Camille Paglia's Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson is published by Yale University Press.
■ Wendy Kaminer's A Fearful Freedom: Women's Flight from Equality is published by Addison-Wesley.
■ Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812 is published by Knopf.
■ Judith Butler's Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity is published by Routledge.
■ Susan Faludi's Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women is published by Crown.
• Antonia Novello (1944-) is appointed by President George H.W. Bush and becomes the first woman and first person of Hispanic descent to serve as U. S. Surgeon General.
• Bernadine Healy, M.D. (1944-) is appointed by President George H.W. Bush and becomes the first woman to head the National Institutes of Health.
■ Suzanne Gordon's Prisoners of Men's Dreams: Striking Out for a New Feminine Future is published by Little, Brown.
■ Laurel Thatcher Ulrich receives the Pulitzer Prize for history for A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812.
• Carol Elizabeth Moseley Braun (1947-) becomes the first African American woman elected to the U. S. Senate on 3 November.
■ Carolyne Larrington's The Feminist Companion to Mythology is published by Pandora.
■ Marilyn French's The War against Women is published by Summit.
■ Clarissa Pinkola Estes's Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype is published by Ballantine.
■ Naomi Wolf's Fire with Fire: The New Female Power and How It Will Change the Twenty-first Century is published by Random House.
■ Mona Van Duyn is named U. S. Poet Laureate.
• Appointed by President Bill Clinton, Janet Reno (1938-) becomes the first woman U.S. Attorney General when she is sworn in on 12 March.
■ Toni Morrison receives the Nobel Prize in Literature.
• Toni Morrison receives the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Award from the National Organization for Women.
• Canada's Progressive Conservative party votes on 13 June to make Defense Minister Kim Campbell the nation's first woman prime minister. Canadian voters oust the Conservative party in elections on 25 October as recession continues; Liberal leader Jean Chrétien becomes prime minister.
■ On 1 October Rita Dove becomes the youngest person and the first African American to be named U. S. Poet Laureate.
■ Faye Myenne Ng's Bone is published by Hyperion.
• The Violence Against Women Act tightens federal penalties for sex offenders, funds services for victims of rape and domestic violence, and provides funds for special training for police officers in domestic violence and rape cases.
■ Mary Pipher's Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls is published by Putnam.
• Ireland's electorate votes by a narrow margin in November to end the nation's ban on divorce (no other European country has such a ban), but only after 4 years' legal separation.
• Marguerite Duras dies on 3 March in Paris, France.
■ Hillary Rodham Clinton's It Takes a Village, and Other Lessons Children Teach Us is published by Simon and Schuster.
• Bella Abzug dies on 31 March in New York City.
■ Drucilla Cornell's At the Heart of Freedom: Feminism, Sex, and Equality is published by Princeton University Press.
■ Susan Brownmiller's In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution is published by Dial Press.
■ Gwendolyn Mink's Welfare's End is published by Cornell University Press.
■ Martha C. Nussbaum's Sex and Social Justice is published by Oxford University Press.
• Gwendolyn Brooks dies on 3 December in Chicago, Illinois.
■ Patricia Hill Collins's Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment is published by Routledge.
■ Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards's Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future is published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.
■ Estelle B. Freedman's No Turning Back: The History of Feminism and the Future of Women is published by Ballantine.
■ Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today's Feminism, edited by Daisy Hernandez and Bushra Rehman, is published by Seal Press.
• Iranian feminist and human rights activist Shirin Ebadi (1947-) receives the Nobel Peace Prize.
■ Louise Glück is named U. S. Poet Laureate.
■ Catching a Wave: Reclaiming Feminism for the 21st Century, edited by Rory Cooke Dicker and Alison Piepmeier, is published by Northeastern University Press.
• The FDA approves the contraceptive mifepristone, following a 16-year struggle by reproductive rights activists to have the abortion drug approved. Opponents made repeated efforts to prevent approval and distribution of mifepristone.
■ The Fire This Time: Young Activists and the New Feminism, edited by Vivien Labaton and Dawn Lundy Martin, is published by Anchor Books.
■ The Future of Women's Rights: Global Visions and Strategies, edited by Joanna Kerr, Ellen Sprenger, and Alison Symington, is published by ZED Books and Palgrave Macmillan.
Suffrage in the 20th Century
Before suffragists began arguing for legislation that would guarantee women the right to vote, governments assumed that women's interests should be and were represented by their husbands, fathers, or brothers. In the last decades of the nineteenth century the movement for women's right to vote gathered momentum. Led by such charismatic figures as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Christabel, Emmeline, and Sylvia Pankhurst, many women organized into groups, the largest of which were the National American Women Suffrage Association (NAWSA), the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), and the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). Such groups participated in public demonstrations, parades, marches, and meetings, and circulated literature designed to call attention to their cause and demand equal treatment under the law. Despite strong opposition from those opposed to suffrage and the suffragists's own wide-ranging differences in interests, beliefs, methodology, and ideology, women around the world were successful in increasing awareness of and support for equal treatment of women under the law, as well as for labor reform and other social issues.
Because of the efforts of members of the WCTU, women of European descent in Australia gained suffrage in 1902. Susan B. Anthony established the International Woman Suffrage Alliance in Berlin, Germany, in 1904, and Finnish women gained suffrage and the right to hold public office in 1906. Between 1900 and the beginning of World War I in 1914, British suffrage groups such as the WSPU, led by Christabel and Emmeline Pankhurst, engaged in militant tactics to enact social and legislative change. They interrupted political meetings, held public demonstrations, and subjected themselves to hunger strikes, arrest, and imprisonment. The British movement was divided mainly along class lines, with some suffragists calling for support of working-class issues and others focusing on the issue of suffrage alone, but there were also disagreements over politics (particularly socialism), and peaceful, lawful protests versus militant, sometimes violent protests. These divisions deepened as Great Britain entered World War I. Members of the WSPU and other groups left to form other special-interest groups, such as the Women's Peace Army, founded by Sylvia Pankhurst and Charlotte Despard, while the WSPU focused its efforts primarily on supporting the war, rather than on women's suffrage. Women in the United Kingdom were granted suffrage in 1918.
The American suffrage movement was also somewhat fragmented: women of color, women trade workers, and women advocating temperance pushed for more activism in support of racial equality, temperance, and labor reforms in addition to pursuing suffrage, and suffragists disagreed over both ideology and overall strategy. The right to suffrage was divided along geographic lines as well, as women in the western United States gained suffrage much earlier than women in other parts of the country. In 1913, Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, who had been active in militant protests with British suffragists and who disagreed with NAWSA leadership over the most effective course of action, formed the Congressional Union of Woman Suffrage, a branch of NAWSA that became an independent organization the following year. Paul and Burns led many protests, including one in front of the White House, and a well-publicized hunger strike that brought widespread public attention to the suffragists's cause. They formed the National Women's Party in 1916, the same year that NAWSA President Carrie Chapman Catt delivered a speech entitled "The Crisis," in which she revealed what she called her "winning plan" to focus the group's efforts on a national campaign (versus separate, state-wide campaigns) for a Constitutional amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote. In 1918 President Wilson delivered a speech pleading for the passage of women's vote legislation as an emergency measure, arguing that the full support of women's groups was an essential component of the anti-war effort. Victory came in 1920 with the ratification of the nineteenth amendment to the Constitution guaranteeing women the right to vote nationwide in all elections. After the amendment was signed into law, the NAWSA was reorganized and named the League of Women Voters.
The suffrage movement generated critical commentary beginning in the late nineteenth century, and continues to receive widespread scholarly attention. One recent trend has centered on exploring the global dimensions of the suffrage movement, especially the formal and informal international coalitions formed by suffragists. Scholars analyze the suffrage movement in the context of Progressive Era politics in general, identifying how it influenced and was, in turn, influenced by other events of that time period. Modern scholarship also focuses on the role of women of color and working-class women in the movement, and biographical research has led to revisionist biographies of some of the key figures of the suffrage movement. Historians continue to explore the effect of the movement on later labor and social legislation. Literary scholars examine both written responses to suffrage issues, the representation of women's issues in literature, and suffragist authors's use of imagery and symbolism as a means of influencing public sentiment in favor of their cause.
Mary Ritter Beard
A Short History of the American Labor Movement (history) 1920
On Understanding Women (nonfiction) 1931
Harriot Stanton Blatch
Mobilizing Woman-Power (nonfiction) 1918
A Woman's Point of View: Some Roads to Peace (nonfiction) 1920
Challenging Years [with Alma Lutz] (memoir) 1940
Carrie Chapman Catt
Woman Suffrage and Politics: The Inner Story of the Suffrage Movement [with Nettie Rogers Shuler] (nonfiction) 1923
Why Wars Must Cease [with Eleanor Roosevelt, Jane Addams, and others] (nonfiction) 1935
Charlotte Despard and Mabel Collins
Outlawed: A Novel on the Woman Suffrage Question (novel) 1908
Suffragette Sally (novel) 1911
How the Vote Was Won (play) 1909
Inez Hayes Irwin
The Story of the Woman's Party (nonfiction) 1921
The Great Scourge and How to End It (nonfiction) 1913
The Convert (novel) 1907
(The entire section is 165 words.)
SOURCE: Catt, Carrie Chapman, Anna Howard Shaw, Alice Stone Blackwell, and Ida Husted Harper. "NAWSA Declaration of Principles." In History of Woman Suffrage, Ida Husted Harper, pp. 742-43. New York: J. J. Little and Ives, 1922.
The following is an excerpt from the 1904 declaration of principles by the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA).
When our forefathers gained the victory in a seven years' war to establish the principle that representation should go hand in hand with taxation, they marked a new epoch in the history of man; but though our foremothers bore an equal part in that long conflict its triumph...
(The entire section is 339 words.)
SOURCE: Le Roy, Virginia B. "A Woman's Argument against Woman's Suffrage." The World To-Day (15 October 1908): pp.
In the following excerpt, Le Roy argues against suffrage, stating that social change and public responsibility are values that dig deeper than mere voting rights, and that women have been active participants in those activities for generations, with or without voting rights.
This age is developing an acute consciousness of the symptoms of our social disorders. Masterly and brilliant are the arraignments of our public corruptions; the pitiless searchlight of publicity illumines our most subtle perversities. We are,...
(The entire section is 2329 words.)
SOURCE: Dix, Dorothy. "Dorothy Dix on Women's Suffrage." In Women in America, edited by Elizabeth Meriwether Gilmer. N.p., 1908.
In the following excerpt, Dix (a pseudonym for Elizabeth Meriwether Gilmer) makes a case for women's suffrage, listing reasons why women should have the right to vote.
Women Ought to Vote, Because—
Taxation without representation is tyranny, whether the individual who pays the taxes wears trousers or petticoats, and because all just government must rest upon the consent of the governed.
Women form one half of the population, and as long as they have no voice in...
(The entire section is 491 words.)
SOURCE: Catt, Carrie Chapman. "The Crisis." Rhetoric Society Quarterly 28, no. 3 (spring 1998): 52.
The following is an excerpt from Catt's famous 1916 presidential address to the National American Woman Suffrage Association. This excerpt is taken from a complete text compiled in Rhetoric Society Quarterly that combines versions of the address that were printed in The Women's Journal on September 16, 1916; the Catt papers in the New York Public Library; the Catt papers at the Library of Congress; and an article in the New York Times dated September 8, 1916.
(The entire section is 568 words.)
SOURCE: Wilson, Woodrow. "Appeal to the U.S. Senate to Submit the Federal Amendment for Woman Suffrage." 1918.
The following is an excerpt from President Woodrow Wilson's speech to the U.S. Senate on September 30, 1918, to grant the federal amendment for women's Suffrage.
This is a people's war and the people's thinking constitutes its atmosphere and morale, not the predilections of the drawing room or the political considerations of the caucus. If we be indeed democrats and wish to lead the world to democracy, we can ask other peoples to accept in proof of our sincerity and our ability to lead them whither they wish to be led,...
(The entire section is 1088 words.)
SOURCE: Paul, Alice. "The Woman's Party and the Minimum Wage for Women." In Party Papers: 1913-1974. Glen Rock: Microfilming Corporation of America, 1978.
In the following excerpt, Paul clarifies the Woman's Party position on minimum wage laws as applied to women.
The Woman's Party takes no stand upon minimum wage legislation, except that it stands for the principle that wage legislation, if enacted, should be upon a non-sex basis, as is already the case in various foreign countries.
The Woman's Party opposes a sex basis for a minimum wage law, because it believes that establishing minimum wage laws which...
(The entire section is 742 words.)
SOURCE: Showalter, Elaine. "Women Writers and the Suffrage Movement." In A Literature of Their Own: British Women Novelists from Brontë to Lessing, pp. 216-39. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1977.
In the following essay, Showalter explores the response of British women writers to the suffrage movement, noting that the struggle for votes did not seem to have a generally positive influence on writers, stimulating guilt, hostility, and class-based criticism instead.
The lyrical and diffuse feminist protest literature of the 1890s became political in the hands of the suffragettes. Most Victorian women novelists had...
(The entire section is 8226 words.)
SOURCE: DuBois, Ellen Carol. "Woman Suffrage around the World: Three Phases of Suffragist Internationalism." In Suffrage and beyond: International Feminist Perspectives, edited by Caroline Daley and Melanie Nolan, pp. 252-74. New York: New York University Press, 1994.
In the following essay, DuBois examines the international dimensions of the women's suffrage movement, commenting on the influence of the temperance movement, the development of socialism, and the rise of women's conventions, respectively.
Why Have Woman Suffrage Movements So Little History?
Even with the revival of modern feminism...
(The entire section is 9706 words.)
SOURCE: Lumsden, Linda J. "The Right of Association: Mass Meetings, Delegations, and Conventions." In Rampant Women: Suffragists and the Right of Assembly, pp. 1-22. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1997.
In the essay below, Lumsden presents a survey of the various ways in which suffragettes exercised their right to association through participation in mass meetings, delegations, and conventions.
The right of association lay at the heart of the woman suffrage movement, as it does with all political and social movements. Individuals who gather to achieve common aims exercise the right of association, which...
(The entire section is 11621 words.)
SOURCE: Fowler, Robert Booth. "The Case for Suffrage: Catt's Ideal for Women." In Carrie Catt: Feminist Politician, pp. 61-76. Boston, Mass.: Northeastern University Press, 1986.
In the following essay, Fowler identifies and analyzes the personal and social values that informed Catt's political position regarding suffrage.
Carrie Catt was not a great political philosopher or even an important contributor to political theory within the modest tradition of American political thought. She neither claimed to be nor wanted to be. Yet, outside her ideas, Catt cannot really be understood as a feminist politician. While they may not...
(The entire section is 8625 words.)
SOURCE: Lunardini, Christine A. "The Founding of the National Woman's Party and the Campaign of 1916." In From Equal Suffrage to Equal Rights: Alice Paul and the National Women's Party, 1910-1928, pp. 85-103. New York: New York University Press, 1986.
In the following essay, Lunardini describes the role of Alice Paul and the National Woman's party in the electoral campaign of 1916.
With a successful year of organizing ended, and buoyed by the prospects for the ensuing year, Alice Paul revealed her plans for the months ahead. The Executive Committee called a meeting of the Advisory Council and the state and national officers on...
(The entire section is 8880 words.)
SOURCE: DuBois, Ellen Carol. "Working Women, Class Relations, and Suffrage Militance: Harriot Stanton Blatch and the New York Woman Suffrage Movement, 1894-1909." In, pp. 176-209. New York: New York University Press, 1998.
In the following essay, DuBois discusses Blatch's ideas and suffrage work in the context of the politics of the Progressive Era.
More than any other period in American reform history, the Progressive Era eludes interpretation. It seems marked by widespread concern for social justice and by extraordinary elitism, by democratization and by increasing social control. The challenge posed to historians is to understand...
(The entire section is 12065 words.)
SOURCE: Berry, Mary Frances. “Legal Developments in the Courts and in the States: The Brooding Omnipresence of ERA.” In Why ERA Failed: Politics, Women’s Rights, and the Amending Process of the Constitution, pp. 86-100. Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1986.
In the following essay, Berry charts the progress of Equal Rights Amendment ratification in various states, noting that pro-women judicial decisions actually detracted from the perceived need for the Equal Rights Amendment.
Despite its failure, the campaign for ERA’s ratification stimulated significant alteration in the legal status of women. Brown,...
(The entire section is 7814 words.)
SOURCE: Cott, Nancy F. “Historical Perspectives: The Equal Rights Amendment Conflict in the 1920s.” In Conflicts in Feminism, edited by Marianne Hirsch and Evelyn Fox Keller, pp. 44-59. New York: Routledge, 1990.
In the following essay, Cott discusses the perceived conflict of interest between equal rights for women and gender-based protective legislation in the aftermath of the ratification the nineteenth amendment.
Campaigning for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment during the 1970s, feminists who found it painful to be opposed by other groups of women were often unaware that the first proposal of that amendment...
(The entire section is 7434 words.)
Becker, Susan D. The Origins of the Equal Rights Amendment: American Feminism between the Wars, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1981, 300 p.
Examines the various efforts of feminist organizations to bring about legal changes for women between the two wars.
Buechler, Steven M. The Concise History of Woman Suffrage: Selections from the Classic Work of Stanton, Anthony, Gage, and Harper, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1978, 468 p.
Introduces and presents writings of several representatives of the suffrage movement....
(The entire section is 961 words.)
The Feminist Movement in the 20th Century
The feminist movement in the United States and abroad was a social and political movement that sought to establish equality for women. The movement transformed the lives of many individual women and exerted a profound effect upon American society throughout the twentieth century. During the first two decades of the century, women's groups in the United States worked together to win women's suffrage, culminating in the ratification of a constitutional amendment in 1920 that guaranteed women the right the vote. During the later twentieth century, women's groups would again band together, this time to formulate and advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Though this proposed constitutional amendment ultimately failed to gain approval in the late 1970s, it became a rallying point for diverse women's groups and drew national attention to the feminist cause.
The period between 1917 and the early 1960s was marked by two world wars and a subsequent economic boom that brought many American women into the workplace, initially to provide labor during the war, and then to help achieve and maintain a new higher standard of living enjoyed by many middle-class families. However, as women joined the workforce they became increasingly aware of their unequal economic and social status. Women who were homemakers, many with college educations, began to articulate their lack of personal fulfillment—what Betty Friedan in her enormously influential The Feminine Mystique (1963) called "the problem that has no name."
Other events in the United States, notably the civil rights movement, contributed to the rise of the feminist movement. During the early 1960s, the civil rights movement gathered momentum, aided by new anti-racist legislation, and reached a major goal in 1964 with the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Many feminists interpreted the ban on racial discrimination, established by the Civil Rights Act, to apply to gender discrimination as well. The student movement was also at its height in the 1960s, leading many younger citizens to question traditional social values and to protest against American military involvement in Vietnam. Feminist groups followed the example set by these movements, adopting the techniques of consciousness raising, protests, demonstrations, and political lobbying in order to further their own agenda.
The founding of the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1966 marked the formation of an official group to represent and campaign for women's concerns. Leaders such as Friedan, Bella Abzug, Shirley Chisholm, and Gloria Steinem pressured politicians to become aware of women's concerns and to work on legislation that would improve the quality of women's lives. At the same time, many other organizations emerged to deal with feminist causes, including the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, National Displaced Homemakers, the battered women's movement, the Women's Equity Action League, Women Organized for Employment, and Women Office Workers. In the early 1970s feminist leaders also established a detailed program of proposed political and legal reforms, and in 1975 the National Women's Agenda was presented to President Gerald Ford, all state governors, and all members of Congress. In 1977, feminists organized a National Women's Conference in Houston, where they drafted an action plan that included twenty-six resolutions; the plan was subsequently distributed to government officials to remind them of their responsibility to female constituents. NOW and the newly organized National Women's Political Caucus worked to influence politicians and legislators while continuing their effort to keep women's issues prominent in the media.
During the 1980s, American society was colored by an increasingly conservative political climate and the feminist movement experienced a backlash within their ranks and from anti-feminist detractors. Feminism had always been criticized for being a predominantly white, upperclass movement and for its failure to adequately understand and represent the concerns of poor, African-American, and Hispanic women. The movement had already splintered in the 1970s along the lines of liberal feminists, who focused on the rights of women as individuals; radical feminists, who aligned themselves with revolutionary groups, viewing women as a disenfranchised class of citizens; and lesbians, who had been very much a part of the early feminist movement, but now found more in common with the gay liberation movement. Legislative gains achieved in the 1970s—notably Congress's passing of the ERA amendment and key judicial decisions, chief among them Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed women's reproductive rights—were under attack by conservative and religious antiabortion coalitions and an organized anti-ERA effort led by Phyllis Schlafly. Some state legislatures backtracked under pressure, overturning or diluting court decisions made in the previous decade. President Ronald Reagan also made his opposition to the ERA public. Due to a combination of political and social factors, the amendment failed to pass in the individual states. In addition, some women who had subscribed to the tenets of the feminist movement now voiced their displeasure at being negatively labeled anti-male and expressed regret at the loss of personal security that traditional women's roles offer. Their concerns echoed in the neoconservative writings of authors such as Naomi Wolf, Susan Faludi, and Camille Paglia.
Nevertheless, feminists pressed on, maintaining pressure on legislators to address women's issues such as reproductive rights, pay equity, affirmative action, sexual harassment, and the handling of rape victims in the courts. In retrospect, the early 1960s has been termed the "first wave" of the feminist movement, and the activists of the 1970s and 1980s have been called the "second wave." In the 1990s there emerged a "third wave" of feminists, still concerned with many of the same problems as their predecessors, but now wishing to work from within the political and legal establishments rather than criticizing them from the outside. This mostly younger generation of feminists would also stress the need to broaden the scope of feminism, emphasizing global networking, human rights, worldwide economic justice, and issues pertaining to race, gender, and class.
United States Suffrage Movement in the 19th Century
For two days in July 1848, a convention of women and a number of male supporters met in Seneca Falls, New York, to publicly address a number of grievances related to the subjugation of women. The culmination of this gathering was the Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions, modeled directly on the language of the 1776 Declaration of Independence, and it called for gender equality in relation to marriage, property rights, legal status, contract law, child custody matters, and, most radically, voting rights. Undeterred by the chorus of criticism they received from the press and the public at large, women leaders from the Seneca Falls Convention, among them Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Julia Ward Howe, and Lucy Stone, began a lifetime crusade to win voting rights for American women. Most of these early suffragists, including Susan B. Anthony, and Sojourner Truth, would not live long enough to enjoy the right for which they fought so long. Only in 1920, with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, were women given federal access to the polling booth.
The most common explanation for why the Seneca Falls convention took place has to do with the outrage that American women abolitionists felt when they were denied positions as delegates at the World Anti-Slavery Convention held in London in 1840. They were forced to sit behind a curtain during the official proceedings, silently listening to the arguments of men. Spurred by this event, as well as countless jeers from an audience that overwhelmingly believed it unseemly for a woman to speak in public, nineteenth-century abolitionists vented their anger about their imposed inferiority in their declarations of woman's rights at the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention. There, in the hometown of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, women demanded that they be given rights traditionally enjoyed only by property-owning, white men—especially the right to vote, which Stanton argued was the most important obstacle in the path of true gender equality. The following year, in 1849, the National Woman's Rights Association was formed, its membership firmly committed to winning voting rights for American women.
For the remainder of the century, women's suffrage gradually gained support from an ever-skeptical public that often argued that American social and national stability would be undermined if women were allowed to vote. After the American Civil War ended in 1865, momentum for women's suffrage increased as questions related to whether former slaves should be allowed to vote consumed the nation's attention. While nearly all suffragists had supported the extension of citizenship, civil rights, and liberties to freed blacks in the Fourteenth Amendment, their leadership split over whether to support the Fifteenth Amendment as it was proposed—guaranteeing citizens the right to vote, regardless of their race—or to campaign for the inclusion of gender in the equal protection clause. In 1869 suffragists divided into two organizations over this debate: the American Woman Suffrage Association, led by Howe and Stone, which supported ratification, and the National Woman Suffrage Association, led by Anthony and Stanton, which argued that although black men should be allowed to vote, any constitutional amendment which excluded women could not in good conscience be supported. After passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, the rival suffrage organizations continued their work. In 1869 the National Woman Suffrage Association held its first convention in what would become an annual event for the next fifty years to build grassroots support for a federal amendment to the constitution, granting women voting rights. The American Woman Association increasingly turned its attention to state congresses in hopes of winning female enfranchisement state by state. Their first victory came quickly in 1869 when the Territory of Wyoming became the first place where women were allowed to vote; in 1870 Utah followed suit. Other western states and territories would continue this trend over the next two decades, probably due to social conditions in frontier regions where women often assumed roles that were not available to them in eastern states.
After 1870, women suffragists also became increasingly militant in their tactics to win voting rights. Victoria Woodhull ran for president in 1872 despite the fact that she and the women she hoped to represent could not vote. Also in 1872, Anthony tested voting rights in New York by placing her ballot in a local election. She was promptly arrested for illegal voting, and the following year she was pronounced guilty in a trial in which she was not allowed to testify in her own defense because she was a woman. Anthony's eloquent and forceful denunciation of that verdict after the judge asked her if she had anything to say about her sentence and fine became a lightning rod for fellow suffragists. Over the next decades, numerous women intentionally challenged the law against voting, using their acts of civil disobedience and the guilty verdicts they invariably received to showcase the injustice of unequal voting rights. For the remainder of the nineteenth century, suffragists continued to work for voting rights. In 1890 the American Woman Suffrage Association and the National Woman Suffrage Association merged to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association. As many scholars have noted, their tactics in the last decade of the century were often aimed at gaining popular support for their movement by making the cause seem less radical than it was commonly perceived. This was done in a variety of ways, some women stressing that woman's supposed moral superiority would prove itself a boon for social reform and regeneration through the ballot box. Others argued that women needed the vote to gain power in relationships too often dominated by drunken, abusive husbands.
Scholars continue to study the language, strategies, and influence of the nineteenth-century woman suffrage movement, examining in particular the outspoken articulations of women's increasing demand to be given rights traditionally denied them. These studies have also begun in the past three decades to focus on lesser-known voices for gender equality and woman suffrage, especially from black women who suffered the prejudices of both gender and race, even from white women who often excluded black women from their delegations and conventions either as a result of their own or the perceived prejudices of their audiences.
Susan B. Anthony
"Letter to the Colored Men's State Convention in Utica, New York" (letter) 1868
United States of America v. Susan B. Anthony (court records) 1873
"Discontented Women" (essay) 1896
Elizabeth Burrill Curtis
"The Present Crisis" (essay) 1897
Frances D. Gage
"Woman's Natural Rights, Address to the Woman's Rights Convention in Akron" (essay) 1851
Matilda Joslyn Gage
"Woman's Rights Catechism" (speech) 1871
The National Citizen and Ballot Box [editor] (journal) 1878-1881
"An Appeal to the Christian Women of the South" (essay) 1836
"Appeal to the Women of the Nominally Free States" (essay) 1837
"Address to Free Colored Americans" (essay) 1837
Ida Husted Harper
The Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony 2 vols. (biography) 1899
Frances Ellen Watkins Harper
"Dialogue on Woman's Rights" (poem) 1857
Isabella Beecher Hooker
"Two Letters on Women's Suffrage" (essay) 1868
Julia Ward Howe
(The entire section is 322 words.)
SOURCE: Cady Stanton, Elizabeth, Lucretia Mott, Martha C. Wright, Mary Ann McClintock, and Jane C. Hunt. "Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions at the First Woman's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls (1848)." In Public Women, Public Words: A Documentary History of American Feminism, edited by Dawn Keetley and John Pettegrew, pp. 190-93. Madison, Wis.: Madison House, 1997.
In the following excerpt, originally published in 1848, early suffragist leaders mimic the tone and sentiments of the American Declaration of Independence to advocate for women's rights, most notably equal voting rights.
(The entire section is 1810 words.)
SOURCE: Stone, Lucy. Woman Suffrage in New Jersey: An Address delivered by Lucy Stone at a Hearing Before the New Jersey Legislature, pp. 3-19. Boston: C. H. Simmons & Co., 1867.
In the following excerpted address, Stone underscores the importance of women's suffrage.
GENTLEMEN OF THE COMMITTEE:—
Grateful for the hearing so promptly accorded, I will proceed without preliminary to state the object of the petition, and to urge its claim.
Woman ask you to submit to the people of New Jersey amendments to the Constitution of the State, striking out respectively the words "white" and...
(The entire section is 6412 words.)
SOURCE: Truth, Sojourner. "Colored Men Will Be Masters Over the Women (1867)." In Public Women, Public Words: A Documentary History of American Feminism, edited by Dawn Keetley and John Pettegrew, pp. 237. Madison, Wis.: Madison House, 1997.
In the following speech, originally delivered in 1867 and published in History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 2, 1861-1876 in 1886, Truth argues that former slave women deserve the right to vote just as much as black men.
My friends, I am rejoiced that you are glad, but I don't know how you will feel when I get through. I come from another field—the country of the slave. They have got...
(The entire section is 1078 words.)
SOURCE: Hooker, Isabella Beecher. "If Women Could Vote." In Early American Women: A Documentary History, 1600-1900, edited by Nancy Woloch, pp. 512-15. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1992.
In the following excerpt, originally published in Putnam's Magazine in 1868, Hooker argues that women are in fact better suited for enfranchisement and political office than men.
My Dear Daughter:
You ask me what I think of the modesty and sense of a woman who can insist, in these days, that she is not sufficiently cared for in public and in private, and who...
(The entire section is 2136 words.)
National Woman Suffrage and Educational Committee. An Appeal to the Women of the United States, pp. 2-4. Hartford: Case, Lockwood & Brainard, 1871.
In the following letter, the committee for woman suffrage and education implores the women of America to ban together in an effort to attain equal rights.
The question of your rights as citizens of the United States, and the grave responsibilities which a recognition of those rights will involve, is becoming the great question of the day in this country, and is the culmination of the great question which has been struggling through the ages...
(The entire section is 2225 words.)
SOURCE: Anthony, Susan B. "United States of America vs. Susan B. Anthony (1873)." In Public Women, Public Words: A Documentary History of American Feminism, edited by Dawn Keetley and John Pettegrew, pp. 244-45. Madison, Wis.: Madison House, 1997.
In the following court transcript, originally published in History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 2, 1861-1876 in 1886, Anthony argues that the guilty verdict rendered against her for the crime of voting is unjust because she is denied the fundamental rights of an American taxpaying citizen.
… The Court, after listening to an argument from the District Attorney, denied the...
(The entire section is 1442 words.)
SOURCE: Anthony, Susan B. and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. "Political Lessons." In Early American Women: A Documentary History, 1600-1900, edited by Nancy Woloch, pp. 509-11. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1992.
In the following excerpt, originally published in History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 2 in 1882, Stanton and Anthony argue that the rejection of their movement by liberal male abolitionists over issues concerning the Fifteenth Amendment turned out to be a blessing in disguise, freeing women to fight for their rights without the need to compromise with the interests of men.
So utterly had the women been...
(The entire section is 1176 words.)
SOURCE: The National Woman Suffrage Association. Library of Congress. Gift of the National American Woman Association (1 November 1938).
In the following document, originally created in 1883, the members of the National Woman Suffrage Association detail the mission and structure of the organization.
The National Woman Suffrage Association
ARTICLE 1.—This organization shall be called the NATIONAL WOMAN SUFFRAGE ASSOCIATION.
ARTICLE 2.—The object of this Association shall be to secure NATIONAL protection for women citizens in the exercise of their right to vote.
(The entire section is 232 words.)
SOURCE: DuBois, Ellen Carol. Introduction to Feminism and Suffrage: The Emergence of An Independent Women’s Movement in America, 1848-1869, pp. 15-20. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1978.
In the following excerpt, DuBois argues that suffragism is best understood as a social movement that developed its core ideology in reaction to changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution, the Civil War, and Reconstruction.
This book is a study of the origins of the first feminist movement in the United States, the nineteenth-century woman suffrage movement. For three-quarters of a century, beginning in 1848, American women...
(The entire section is 2064 words.)
SOURCE: Wheeler, Marjorie Spruill. "Introduction: A Short History of the Woman Suffrage Movement in America." In One Woman, One Vote: Rediscovering the Woman Suffrage Movement, edited by Marjorie Spruill Wheeler, pp. 9-20. Troutdale, Oreg.: New Sage Press, 1995.
In the following excerpt, Wheeler traces the origins, strategies, divisions, and state victories of the woman's suffrage movement from 1848 to the end of the nineteenth century.
(The entire section is 2341 words.)
SOURCE: DuBois, Ellen Carol. "What Made Seneca Falls Possible?" In Remembering Seneca Falls: Honoring the Women Who Paved the Way: An Essay, pp. 4-16.: Boston: The Schlesinger Library for the History of Women, Radcliffe College, 1998.
In the following excerpt, DuBois compares and contrasts the revolutionary nature of the 1848 Seneca Falls convention calling for women's rights with popular democratic revolutions in Europe that same year.
For both the champions and the denigrators of women's rights, the Seneca Falls Woman's Rights Convention of 1848 was of a piece with the revolutionary upheavals of the age. The year 1848 was of...
(The entire section is 2739 words.)
SOURCE: DuBois, Ellen Carol. "Taking the Law Into Our Own Hands: Bradwell, Minor and Suffrage Militance in the 1870s." In One Woman, One Vote: Rediscovering the Woman Suffrage Movement, edited by Marjorie Spruill Wheeler, pp. 81-98. Troutdale, Oreg.: NewSage Press, 1995.
In the following excerpt, DuBois describes the increasingly militant strategies pursued by women in courts of law during the 1870s in reaction to their exclusion from enfranchisement in both the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.
Introduction to the New Departure
… Most histories of women's rights—my own...
(The entire section is 6688 words.)
SOURCE: Sigerman, Harriet. "Laborers for Liberty: 1865-1890." In No Small Courage: A History of Women in the United States, edited by Nancy F. Cott, pp. 303-10. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2000.
In the following excerpt, Sigerman discusses the setbacks and conflicts that plagued the suffrage movement following the Civil War and describes how the western states and territories proved most progressive in granting women the right to vote.
After the Civil War ended, American women had battles to wage on other fronts—for the right to vote, to attend college, and to gain greater control over their lives. As...
(The entire section is 3334 words.)
SOURCE: Marilley, Suzanne M. “Airs of Respectability: Racism and Nativism in the Woman Suffrage Movement.” In Woman Suffrage and the Origins of Liberal Feminism in the United States, 1820-1920, pp. 159-86. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996.
In the following excerpt, Marilley describes how suffragists shed their radical image between 1885 and 1900, using a variety of practical strategies, many of them playing on nativist and racist sympathies in order to build greater support for the right of women to vote.
Between 1885 and 1900 the American woman suffrage movement changed from the radical cause of former...
(The entire section is 6618 words.)
SOURCE: Weatherford, Doris. "The Hour Not Yet, 1871 to 1888." In A History of the American Suffragist Movement, pp. 127-54. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 1998.
In the following essay, Weatherford combines a detailed overview of how suffragists worked at the statewide level in the 1870s and 1880s to secure the right for women to vote, along with a discussion of how the movement began to unite with European organizations in order to gain global acceptance.
At their Chestnut Street headquarters for the Philadelphia centennial, the National Woman Suffrage Association kept "an immense autograph book" for visitors....
(The entire section is 10536 words.)
SOURCE: Brammer, Leila R. "Matilda Joslyn Gage and Woman Suffrage." In Excluded from Suffrage History: Matilda Joslyn Gage, Nineteenth-Century American Feminist, pp. 55-65. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2000.
In the following essay, Brammer describes the unwavering principle of natural rights underlying the suffrage work of Matilda Joslyn Gage, who, the critic argues, deserves to be remembered along with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton as one of the preeminent nineteenth-century advocates for women's rights.
Matilda Joslyn Gage's unwavering belief in liberty for all persons was grounded in her commitment to the...
(The entire section is 6494 words.)
Buhle, Mari Jo and Paul Buhle. The Concise History of Woman Suffrage: Selections from the Classic Work of Stanton, Gage, and Harper, edited by Mari Jo and Paul Buhle. Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 1978, 468 p.
Provides selections of suffrage writings from Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage, and Frances Harper's six-volume collection of speeches and writings from 1848 to 1920.
Catt, Carrie Chapman and Rogers Schuler. Woman Suffrage and Politics. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1923, 504 p.
Offers a full-length study of the American woman's...
(The entire section is 691 words.)
Women and Women's Writings from Antiquity Through the Middle Ages
Contemporary feminist theory has allowed social and literary critics to observe and reconstruct the past through the lens of the woman, and more specifically, through that of the woman writer. Looking to the premodern eras of antiquity and the Middle Ages, feminist scholars have studied women's roles as artists, leaders, and agents of history. Likewise, they have examined the status of ordinary individuals as the subjects of social and historical change across the millennia. Importantly, most classicists and medievalists who employ the tools of feminist theory in their work have been careful to note that feminism is a decidedly contemporary development, cautioning those who would describe women of the distant past as feminists to be aware of the consequent anachronism. Nevertheless, in their explorations of early literature and past civilizations, these scholars have recognized an emerging consciousness regarding women's issues. While women writers of ancient Greece, Alexandrian Egypt, or feudal Japan can scarcely be labeled feminists by contemporary standards, their unique awareness of themselves and their status in their societies has inspired the endeavor to read and write the history of women in art and literature.
Scholars have unearthed, in the early records of antique civilizations from Bronze Age Greece and Old Kingdom Egypt to ancient China and imperial Rome, suggestions of similar elements within the diversity of women's literature and social roles. Bringing together numerous common themes, such as the conflict between women of influence and the strong patriarchal tendency to marginalize the feminine and codify it symbolically, feminist criticism has offered a new way of looking at the ancient past that seeks to question some of the underlying assumptions of traditional humanist criticism. By examining textual and archeological evidence, critics have endeavored to reassess the society, daily lives, and literary production of women in various cultures of the ancient world. Because women writers of antiquity tended to be individuals with unique talent, their status is generally viewed as highly exceptional. Writers such as the Greek poet Sappho, the Alexandrian mathematician and philosopher Hypatia, and the Chinese scholar Pan Chao (Ban Zhao), in some fashion and for some limited period enjoyed favorable social or familial circumstances that assisted them in their vocations. For feminist critics, their rarity and the treatment they received in society—Hypatia, for instance, was murdered in the streets of Alexandria—suggest a prevalent lack of opportunity and respect for creative and intellectual women in antiquity. Such conclusions have led scholars to probe the origins of misogyny in the patriarchal societies these writers represent and to analyze the system of masculine and feminine semiotics upon which the notion of misogyny rests. Beginning with ancient Greece, commentators have evaluated the gendered distinction between private and public spheres, usually described as a symbolic tension between the feminine oikos (household) and masculine polis (city-state or society). Thus, women of the Athenian classical period in the fourth and fifth centuries B.C. were expected to attend to their domestic duties without mingling in political affairs. Women's ritual lives were also generally kept separate from those of men, giving rise to the feminine mysteries of ancient Greek religion. Ancient Sparta, in contrast, promoted a more egalitarian view of the sexes, but a woman's primary role remained the bearing of strong future warriors to defend the militaristic city-state. In later times, Roman law placed rather severe restrictions on women, making their legal and social status completely subject to the authority of their fathers and husbands. In a few cases, however, the position of aristocratic women in the ancient world may have been somewhat more favorable. In Ptolemaic Egypt, for example, Queens Nefertiti and Cleopatra appear to have been treated with much the same regard as their male counterparts. Notwithstanding these rare instances, the lives of most antique women were generally circumscribed by limits on education, mobility, and vocation precluding virtually all possibilities that might conflict with either domestic or reproductive responsibilities.
Women's relatively limited social roles are also reflected in the arts and literature of the antique period, from Athenian vase painting to Homeric verse, which suggest that the most common position of ancient woman was in the home, occupied with household duties—cooking, weaving, child rearing,—leaving men to handle political issues, which often meant war. Feminist critics have noted that such representations of women in the ancient period derive from the patriarchal assumptions of premodern societies, which were reflected in the symbolic order of the mythic past. Greco-Roman mythology—embodied for the purposes of literary scholarship here in the Homeric epics the Iliad and Odyssey, and in Ovid's Latin Metamorphoses—encapsulates classical perceptions of the feminine, depicting women as powerful goddesses, vengeful queens, cunning witches, and as the objects or victims of male aggression. Such mythic stereotypes inform an array of world literature and are precisely the sorts of ingrained depictions of women that contemporary feminists wish to discover and understand. Likewise, classical drama, perhaps best typified in the works of Aeschylus, Euripides, Aristophanes, and Sophocles, presents a somewhat divergent view of women, but one that nevertheless betrays antique assumptions about the nature of woman and man that modern feminists seek to question. Literary depictions of women in the Bible, additionally, contributed to a reductive dichotomy that informed the fundamental gender bias of medieval European society and literature. While self-possessed and heroic female figures such as Esther and Judith are present in the Bible, their stories are usually categorized with the Old Testament Apocrypha. For the most part, perceptions of women in biblical contexts became symbolically aligned with one of two poles—the sinning temptress Eve or the flawless Virgin Mary.
Studying continuity from classical and biblical perceptions of women, feminist scholars interested in the Middle Ages have generally focused on the social roles of women depicted in a wide array of texts, in the visual arts of the period, and in the works of a growing pool of female writers. The medieval epoch in Europe and Asia witnessed major developments in women's writings in large part due to the spread of religious education. Consequently, feminist critics have been drawn to the works of female mystic writers, among them Hildegard of Bingen, Julian of Norwich, St. Catherine of Siena, and St. Birgitta of Sweden. Their writings generally include revelatory visions of Christ and the Virgin Mary, religious poetry, and similar works of a spiritual nature. Other medieval European writers, such as Marie de France and Heloise (in her well-known correspondence with Pierre Abelard), offered unique contributions to the romantic and epistolary genres, respectively. In the Far East, the ninth-century Chinese poet Yu Xuanji produced some of the finest lyric poetry in her language, while writers such as Murasaki Shikibu, in her innovative novel The Tale of Genji, and Sei Shonagon, in her Pillow Book, recorded the flowering and decadence of the imperial court in Heian Japan around the turn of the eleventh century. Despite such literary accomplishments, the essential social and political status of women in the medieval period changed relatively little from that of the antique, and in some respects may even have declined. For the most part, women continued to be valued only for their domestic skills and reproductive role. Those who protested, and thereby failed to acquiesce to the patriarchal social order, were often harshly treated at all levels of society. Among the aristocracy, the example of the twelfth-century Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine demonstrates this point. Scornfully denounced in popular legend as the embodiment of feminine guile and malevolence for requesting a divorce from her husband, Eleanor was unfairly burdened with maintaining the integrity of her family at all costs and regardless of circumstances. Far worse, from the point of view of most men, was that a woman should be guilty of unchaste behavior—an accusation also leveled against the Queen. Critics have observed that this common theme in medieval society and literature was probably best articulated by Geoffrey Chaucer in his Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale. Ironically in the view of modern critics, Chaucer, with his compelling description of the Wife of Bath as a self-possessed, outspoken, and boastfully licentious woman, rendered an epitome of the medieval antifeminist tradition, while at the same time sketching a figure in whom many have seen the first inklings of an incipient feminist consciousness.
Izayoi nikki (travel diary) mid 13th century
Oresteia (dramas) c. 458 B.C.
Lysistrata (drama) c. 411 B.C.
Ecclesiazusae (drama) c. 393 B.C.
Book of Esther (prose) c. 2nd century B.C.
Birgitta of Sweden
Liber celestis revelaciones [Revelations] (prose) c. 1377
Catherine of Siena
Libro della divina dottrina [The Dialogue of the Seraphic Virgin Catherine of Siena] (prose) c. 1377-80
Troilus and Criseyde (poetry) c. 1385
Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale (poetry) c. 1387
Christine de Pizan
Letter of the God of Love (prose) c. 1399
The Book of the City of Ladies (dialogues) c. 1405
Elene (poetry) c. 8th-9th century
Elizabeth of Hungary
The Revelations of Saint Elizabeth (prose) c. 1231
Medea (drama) c. 431 B.C.
Hadewijch of Antwerp
(The entire section is 384 words.)
SOURCE: Pan Chao. Pan Chao: Foremost Woman Scholar of China, translated by Nancy Lee Swann. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Center for Chinese Studies, 1932.
The following is an excerpt from the poem "Traveling Eastward," the oldest surviving work composed by the first century A.D. Chinese writer Pan Chao (or Ban Zhao).
It is the seventh year of Yung-ch'u;
I follow my son in his journey eastward.
It is an auspicious day in Spring's first moon;
We choose this good hour, and are about to start.
Now I arise to my feet and ascend my carriage.
At eventide we...
(The entire section is 341 words.)
SOURCE: Yu Xuanji. "Joining Somebody's Mourning" and "Three Beautiful Sisters, Orphaned Young." In The Clouds Float North: The Complete Poems of Yu Xuanji, translated by David Young and Jiann I. Lin, pp. 52, 54-56. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1998.
The following are translations of two lyrics by the ninth-century Chinese poet Yu Xuanji (844-871), a nun who was executed in the latter years of the Tang Dynasty.
Many of [Yu Xuanji's] poems, to be sure, dwell on absence, longing, and loss, as do lyric poems in any culture and period. But their original handling of theme, their inspired sense of detail, their...
(The entire section is 290 words.)
We used to hear about the south,
its splendid fresh appearance
now it's these eastern neighbors
these sisters three
up in the loft, inspecting their trousseaus
reciting a verse about parrots
sitting by blue-green windows
embroidering phoenix garments
their courtyard filled with colorful petals
like red smoke, billowing unevenly
their cups full of good green wine
(The entire section is 266 words.)
SOURCE: Izumi Shikibu. "The Diary of Izumi Shikibu." In Diaries of Court Ladies of Old Japan, translated by Anne Sheply Omori and Kochi Doi, pp. 147-96. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1920.
The following excerpt from the diary of Izumi Shikibu, a Japanese noblewoman of the early eleventh century, describes a clandestine love affair in the imperial court of Heian Japan.
Many months had passed in lamenting the World, more shadowy than a dream. Already the tenth day of the Deutzia month was over. A deeper shade lay under the trees and the grass on the embankment was greener. These changes, unnoticed by any, seemed beautiful to her,...
(The entire section is 1698 words.)
SOURCE: Marie de France. "The Nightingale." In The Honeysuckle and the Hazel Tree: Medieval Stories of Men and Women, translated by Patricia Terry. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.
Below is a translated reprint of Marie de France's twelfth-century lai titled "The Nightingale."
The story I shall tell today
Was taken from a Breton lai
Called Laüstic in Brittany,
Which in proper French would be
Rossignol. They'd call the tale
In English lands The Nightingale.
(The entire section is 1149 words.)
SOURCE: Heloise. The Letters of Abelard and Heloise, translated by Betty Radice. Hammondsworth, England: Penguin Books, 1974.
In the following excerpts from her letters to Pierre Abelard, the twelfth-century nun Heloise (d. 1163/64) proclaims her love for the man who had seduced and secretly married her—a crime for which he was subsequently castrated.
God is my witness that if Augustus, Emperor of the whole world, thought fit to honour me with marriage and conferred all the earth on me to possess for ever, it would be dearer and more honourable to me to be called not his Empress but your whore.
For a man's...
(The entire section is 408 words.)
SOURCE: Catherine of Siena. The Dialogue of the Seraphic Virgin Catherine of Siena, translated by Algar Thorold. Westminster, Md.: The Newman Bookshop, 1943.
In the following excerpted translation of Catherine of Siena's 1370 Dialogue of the Seraphic Virgin, originally published in 1907, Catherine describes the sufferings and ecstasies of the soul on its path toward blissful union with God.
How a soul, elevated by desire of the honor of God, and of the salvation of her neighbors, exercising herself in humble prayer, after she had seen the union of the soul, through love, with God, asked of God four requests....
(The entire section is 1695 words.)
SOURCE: Birgitta of Sweden. "The Fifth Book of Revelations or Book of Questions" and "The Seventh Book of Questions." In Life and Selected Revelations, edited by Marguerite Tjader Harris, translated by Albert Ryle Kezel, pp. 99-156; 157-218. New York: Paulist Press, 1990.
In the following excerpt, originally written in the fourteenth-century, Saint Birgitta of Sweden relates portions of her mystic vision in which Christ and the Virgin Mary appeared before her and spoke. Christ begins on the subject of Birgitta's spiritual conversion, followed by Mary's admonition against priests marrying.
"For your heart was as cold toward my...
(The entire section is 482 words.)
SOURCE: Cartledge, Paul. “Spartan Wives: Liberation or Licence?” Classical Quarterly 31 n.s., no. 1 (1981): 84-105.
In the following excerpt, Cartledge studies the unique role women held within the militaristic society of ancient Sparta.
[I now begin] tracing the lives of Spartan women in the sixth to fourth centuries B.C. from the cradle to (in some cases) the grave. I use the vague term ‘Spartan women’ advisedly. The available evidence does not permit inferences of a statistical nature about the experience of a ‘typical’ Spartan woman, although in some contexts it will be necessary and possible to distinguish...
(The entire section is 2452 words.)
SOURCE: Coole, Diana H. "The Origin of Western Thought and the Birth of Misogyny." In Women in Political Theory: From Ancient Misogyny to Contemporary Feminism, pp. 10-28. Brighton, Sussex: Wheatsheaf Books, 1988.
In the following excerpt, Coole probes the sources of Western misogyny in the philosophy, literature, and social structure of classical Greece.
Western political philosophy first flourished in Athens, in the fourth century B.C.; it is the names of Plato and Aristotle that are most often associated with these origins. Their concern with arrangements for a just and stable state involved more than constitutional...
(The entire section is 7884 words.)
SOURCE: Sheridan, Jennifer A. "Not at a Loss for Words: The Economic Power of Literate Women in Late Antique Egypt." Transactions of the American Philological Association (1974-) 128 (1998): 189-203.
In the following excerpt, Sheridan discusses female literacy in Roman Egypt during the early centuries of the common era.
A literate woman was a rarity in the Graeco-Roman world. Only among the upper socio-economic classes could one expect to find any women who could read or write.1 Ancient men, themselves mostly illiterate, were clearly unsettled by the idea of a literate woman. It is apparent, in a number of sarcastic...
(The entire section is 3399 words.)
SOURCE: Grubbs, Judith Evans. “The Status of Women in Roman Law.” In Women and the Law in the Roman Empire: A Sourcebook on Marriage, Divorce, and Widow–hood, pp. 16-80. London: Routledge, 2002.
In the following excerpt, Grubbs details the legal status of women in imperial Rome.
Forms of Legal Power: Potestas, Manus and Tutela Impuberum
In ancient Rome, virtually all free Roman women were under one of the following three types of legal authority: patria potestas (“paternal power”), manus (subordination to a husband’s legal power), or tutela (“guardianship”), for those...
(The entire section is 3472 words.)
SOURCE: Hellwarth, Jennifer Wynne. "'I Wyl Wright of Women Prevy Sekenes': Imagining Female Literacy and Textual Communities in Medieval and Early Modern Midwifery Manuals." Critical Survey 14, no. 1 (January 2002): 44-64.
In the following excerpt, Hellwarth explores the subject of female literacy in the Middle Ages as a threat to patriarchal order, using late medieval midwifery manuals as her textual focus.
Defining the term 'literacy' in medieval and early modern England is not a simple task; it defies the more modern (and relatively uncomplicated) definition of having the ability to read and write. In medieval terminology,...
(The entire section is 2211 words.)
SOURCE: Masson, Sophie. "The Mirror of Honour and Love: A Woman's View of Chivalry." Quadrant 46, no. 11 (November 2002): 56-59.
In the following essay, Masson stresses the importance of chivalry and its attendant virtues to the lives of European women during the Middle Ages.
Chivalry. Isn't that a bloke's thing? Isn't it to do with being a man-at-arms, with strapping on armour and sallying forth into the wildwood on your horse, your lady's token on your arm, to right wrongs and do great deeds? Isn't the only role of the woman in chivalry to be the inspirer, the muse of a paragon of the knightly virtues? Well, yes—and no....
(The entire section is 3283 words.)
SOURCE: McNamara, Jo Ann. “Women and Power through the Family Revisited.” In Gendering the Master Narrative: Women and Power in the Middle Ages, edited by Mary C. Erler and Maryanne Kowaleski, pp. 17-30. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2003.
In the following excerpt, McNamara investigates the origins and limitations of feminine social and familial power in the medieval period.
The gender system that developed in the second millennium changed the nature of woman’s position as part of a couple and advantaged the male, whether celibate or married, by divorcing men from the couple as a functioning social unit and barring women...
(The entire section is 2672 words.)
SOURCE: Hallett, Judith P. “The Role of Women in Roman Elegy: Counter-Cultural Feminism.” In Women in the Ancient World: The Arethusa Papers, edited by John Peradotto and J. P. Sullivan, pp. 241-62. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1984.
In the following excerpt, Hallett investigates the position of women in Roman society as reflected through literature, arguing for an incipient “feminism”—which contradicts Roman women’s expected demeanor as subservient and compliant—in Latin love elegies.
Domum servavit. Lanam fecit: “She kept up her household; she made wool.” This was the ideal Roman woman—in the eyes and words...
(The entire section is 3677 words.)
SOURCE: Carmody, Denise Lardner. "Genesis 2:23-24." In Biblical Woman: Contemporary Reflections on Scriptural Texts, pp. 9-14. New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1988.
In the following essay, Carmody approaches the book of Genesis from an analytical perspective informed by contemporary feminism.
Then the man said, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man." Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.
The scholarly consensus is that this text occurs in a stratum of the...
(The entire section is 1807 words.)
SOURCE: Depla, Annette. “Women in Ancient Egyptian Wisdom Literature.” In Women in Ancient Societies: An Illusion of the Night, edited by Lé Léonie J. Archer, Susan Fischler, and Maria Wyke, pp. 24-52. London: Macmillan Press, 1994.
In the following excerpt, Depla focuses on three texts of Old Kingdom Wisdom Literature as they relate to women in ancient Egyptian society.
The Old Kingdom (2628-2134 B.C.) was a period of relative prosperity and stability with ‘no obvious challenge to, or major malfunction in, the social order’.1 Instructions from this period are resolutely upper-class, reflecting the mores...
(The entire section is 2144 words.)
SOURCE: Blundell, Sue. "Myth: An Introduction." In Women in Ancient Greece, pp. 14-19. London: British Museum Press, 1995.
In the following excerpt, Blundell reviews the principal ways in which women are portrayed in Greek myth: typically as powerful goddesses, royal figures, or destructive monsters, but in many cases as liminal or victimized individuals.
Women in Myth: Goddesses, Royals and Monsters
The heading above refers to the three levels of being which women assume in Greek myth. The divine level is dominated by the figures of the six goddesses (Hera, Athena, Artemis, Aphrodite, Demeter,...
(The entire section is 2275 words.)
CHRISTA GRÖSSINGER (ESSAY DATE 1997)
SOURCE: Grössinger, Christa. “The History of Misogyny.” In Picturing Women in Late Medieval and Renaissance Art, pp. 1-19. Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press, 1997.
In the following excerpt, Grössinger examines depictions of women in the visual arts from the fourth to early sixteenth centuries, noting that these portrayals suggest the strong presence of misogynistic thought in the Christian world.
From the beginning, the image of woman was created by man and in the Christian Middle Ages this was the image of Eve. Eve, born from Adam’s rib, was tempted by the devil...
(The entire section is 5864 words.)
SOURCE: Saunders, Corinne. “Introduction: The Contemporary and the Contemporaneous.” In Rape and Ravishment in the Literature of Medieval England, pp. 1-31. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2001.
In the following excerpt, Saunders details medieval perceptions of gender and the female body as they relate to the subject of rape.
Differences between medieval and contemporary perspectives on rape are . . . rooted in the differences between past and present notions of gender and sexuality. The ideas current in the medieval period were themselves fluid, varying between discourses and often reflecting doubts and uncertainties, but the interplay between...
(The entire section is 4468 words.)
SOURCE: Salter, David. “‘Born to Thraldom and Penance’: Wives and Mothers in Middle English Romance.” Essays and Studies (2002): 41-59.
In the following excerpt, Salter discusses misogyny, the depiction of gender, and the marginalization of women in medieval romance.
Wommen are born to thraldom and penance,
And to been under mannes governance.
Geoffrey Chaucer, The Man of Law’s Tale (286-7)
Romance: A Feminine Genre?
Near the beginning of Book II of Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, during the first encounter that we...
(The entire section is 2101 words.)
SOURCE: Carter, Susan. "Coupling the Beastly Bride and the Hunter Hunted: What Lies behind Chaucer's Wife of Bath's Tale?" Chaucer Review 37, no. 4 (2003): 329-45.
In the following excerpt, Carter elucidates the critical feminine subjectivity of Chaucer's "loathly lady," the Wife of Bath, as seen in her tale of King Arthur's court in The Canterbury Tales.
We do not know where Chaucer found the loathly lady motif. Whatever source he encountered, whatever transmutation to it had occurred, he evidently appreciated the more immediate destabilization of gender roles that springs from the loathly lady seen as a...
(The entire section is 2418 words.)
SOURCE: Swann, Nancy Lee. "The Moralist." In Pan Chao: Foremost Woman Scholar of China, pp. 133-39. New York: Russell & Russell, 1968.
In the following excerpt, originally published in 1932, Swann examines the moral precepts of Pan Chao's first-century A.D. treatise Lessons for Women, the oldest known work of its kind.
Pan Chao holds a unique place in the history of Chinese philosophy, as the first thinker to formulate a single complete statement of feminine ethics. Despite its brevity, her "Lessons for Women" not only contains an elucidation of the science of the perfecting of womanly character—a system of...
(The entire section is 2918 words.)
SOURCE: Radice, Betty. Introduction to The Letters of Abelard and Heloise, translated by Betty Radice, pp. 9-55. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1974.
In the following excerpt from her introduction to the collected letters of the twelfth-century lovers Heloise and Abelard, Radice outlines the principal events of their forbidden passion.
Nothing at all is known of Heloise's parentage, though much has been conjectured.1 She is thought to have been about seventeen at this time and born in 1100 or 1101. Fulbert's possessiveness has suggested to some that she was really his daughter, but taken with his brutal treatment of...
(The entire section is 1649 words.)
SOURCE: Snyder, Jane McIntosh. "Women Philosophers of the Hellenistic and Roman Worlds." In The Woman and the Lyre: Women Writers in Classical Greece and Rome, pp. 99-121. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1989.
In the following excerpt, Snyder recounts the life of the martyred Alexandrian mathematician and philosopher Hypatia.
Of all the women discussed [here] none—with the possible exception of Sappho—has enjoyed more enduring fame than Hypatia, the philosopher-mathematician who was murdered in Alexandria, Egypt, by a mob of antipagan Christians in 415 A.D. In the nineteenth century the figure of Hypatia...
(The entire section is 2702 words.)
SOURCE: Barratt, Alexandra. "The Fourteenth Century and Earlier." In Women's Writing in Middle English, edited by Alexandra Barratt, pp. 27-136. Essex: Long-man, 1992.
In the following excerpt from her collection of medieval women's writing, Barratt briefly summarizes the lives and careers of Marguerita Porete, Elizabeth of Hungary, Birgitta of Sweden, and Julian of Norwich. The critic also provides concise commentary on the major works of these writers that have appeared in Middle English.
Marguerite Porete was a late thirteenth-century béguine from Hainault in Flanders...
(The entire section is 3845 words.)
SOURCE: Mumford, Marilyn R. "A Feminist Prolegomenon for the Study of Hildegard of Bingen." In Gender, Culture, and the Arts: Women, the Arts, and Society, edited by Ronald Dotterer and Susan Bowers, pp. 44-53. Cranbury, N.J.: Associated University Presses, 1993.
In the following excerpt, Mumford focuses on the contemporary feminist rediscovery of Hildegard of Bingen as the embodiment of the "modern women's spiritual quest."
The past decade has seen a great surge of interest in the works of Hildegard of Bingen, abbess and visionary who lived from 1098 to 1179. One of the first persons to call attention to Hildegard in the...
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SOURCE: Henitiuk, Valerie. "Virgin Territory: Murasaki Shikibu's Ôigimi Resists the Male." Agora: An Online Graduate Journal 1, no. 3 (fall 2002) (accessed 21 October 2003).
In the following excerpt, Henitiuk offers a feminist reading of gendered space and female circumscription in Murasaki Shikibu's The Tale of Genji.
We must not look at goblin men,
We must not buy their fruits:
Who knows upon what soil they fed
Their hungry, thirsty roots.
The controversial Japanese critic, author, and translator Setouchi Jakuchō has characterized the early 11th-century Genji monogatari (The Tale of Genji) as a sex education manual designed at least in part to guide Empress Akiko, who was brought to Court as a young child, through the complex maze of male/female relations.1 In this context, the Ôigimi story is highly instructive regarding author Murasaki Shikibu's attitude toward love and sexuality, dealing as it does with the ultimately fatal anorexia of a woman who feels an overpowering need to escape being wedded and bedded. Many episodes found in Japanese literature of the Heian period (8th through 12th century) show how, despite varying degrees of initial reluctance, women are married off. Michitsuna no Haha, author of the biographical Kagerô nikki written in the mid-to late-10th century, accepts Kaneie's suit and, in the Genji monogatari, the young Murasaki, the Akashi Lady, Tamakazura, and countless others do in the end become brides, to name but a few examples. Thus, while Heian heroines are frequently portrayed as offering a posture of resistance to the sexual demands made by men, most do at one time or another yield more or less willingly to such demands. In the darker Uji chapters that form the final third of the Genji, however, a unique female character appears, one who clings to her decision to resist marriage and all that it entails, even unto death. When viewed microscopically, the actions of this ie no onna (literally, "house woman," i.e., one not serving at the imperial court) may well appear paranoid and irrational (or, in Freudian terms, frigid), but macroscopically, taking into account the women's stories that have come before, they are all too justifiable. Through a discussion of the tactics she uses to resist her suitor, and especially of the rationale behind such resistance, this article will argue that Ôigimi's behaviour actually demonstrates a powerfully subversive response to male invasion and attempted appropriation of the self.
In the interests of readability, references to Murasaki Shikibu's text will be drawn primarily from Edward Seidensticker's 1976 English version (1989 Knopf edition), with Japanese terms and phrases introduced only where specifically relevant. While use of a translation rather than the original is necessarily problematic, this strategy has the not inconsiderable benefit of rendering my argument accessible to an audience beyond that versed in the Classical Japanese language.2 Critical works written in both English and Japanese (in the latter case, translations are my own) will, of course, be employed throughout.
Similarly, while examples drawn from elsewhere in Japanese literature will be used to illustrate the various points, I have also chosen to engage with certain textual references more familiar to a Western reader. Given that both Comparative Literature and feminist research are largely interdisciplinary in scope, they expose the falsity of many purportedly common-sensical divisions, revealing that certain artificial barriers may have "obstructed a complete view of women's situations and the social structures that perpetuated gender inequalities" (Hesse-Biber 1) and suggesting that there is an inherent value to bringing disparate elements together, to moving beyond the bounds of national literatures. In a recent report on the status of the discipline, Charles Bernheimer argues convincingly that
comparative literature illuminates the artistic and cultural patterns of sameness and difference which exist both within and between societies, and it
thereby gives us a precious contrastive portrait of societies' values and beliefs, as well as their aesthetic and literary traditions.
New ways of seeing and theorizing the condition of women may well be revealed when the point of departure is located elsewhere than in Europe and North America. Ultimately, by focussing attention on a work of pre-modern Japanese literature, I am making an argument for a decentring move, questioning and destabilizing assumptions as to how our world can be understood and thus potentially leading to a re-thinking of certain feminist projects that have previously been rooted in the West.
Reading a 1000-year-old Japanese text from an early 21st-century Canadian perspective does inevitably run the serious risk of appropriation of voice. As Toril Moi rightly cautions, "it is not an unproblematic project to try to speak for the other woman, since this is precisely what the ventriloquism of patriarchy has always done: men have constantly spoken for women, or in the name of women" (67-8). Any analysis of a culture other than one's own needs to remain aware of the danger of daring to speak for the Other, of appropriating and (mis) interpreting what those from utterly different centuries and circumstances have said. While one could assert that every attempt to interpret a cultural artefact means a de facto act of speaking for its creator, whether sympathetically or not, it is a fact that the cross-cultural researcher must always remain especially conscious of the need to respect another's separate identity and experience if s/he is to avoid the pitfalls of misrepresentation and ahistoricism. One has also to be wary of anachronistic terminology such as "medieval feminist" and unjustified exploitation of early texts for supporting an unrelated, foreign perspective. Terms and phrases such as "patriarchal oppression" and "violation of personal space" certainly were not part of the vocabulary (be it Japanese or English) until very recent times indeed. Regardless, the ideas and emotions behind this modern-day wording are hardly new or geographically specific. Despite obvious and significant differences of culture and language, therefore, an examination of similar literary strategies can fruitfully exemplify and shed light on many of the concepts and arguments that have fascinated readers in both past and present, east and west.
Turning now to our main topic, we note that the reader is given a multitude of reasons for the elder Uji princess' rejection of Kaoru's advances. Her most often stated rationale is the desire to honour her father's wishes and protect the family name from ridicule (hitowarae). As Haruo Shirane explains at some length in The Bridge of Dreams, while her high rank requires Ôigimi to marry within an elite group or suffer social opprobrium, the family's status has diminished to the point where she has little hope of marrying well, if at all.3 The aristocratic Kaoru's offer should, therefore, logically be received as a welcome one. As for the purported parental disapproval, Hachi no Miya (the Eighth Prince) clearly had never intended his stricture against marrying to apply in this case; on the contrary, he entertained the fond hope that one of the daughters would indeed wed his trustworthy and admirable pupil. The Prince makes several rather vague comments about the nature of the relationship either Ôigimi or Nakanokimi might eventually enter into with Kaoru, such as "his thoughts have turned to you because I once chanced to hint at a hope that he would watch over you after my death" (Seidensticker 1989: 792). Nonetheless, other statements become much more explicit: "I have done what I could to bring you together. You have years ahead of you and I must leave the rest to you" (805), and especially: "Kaoru was exactly what he hoped a son-in-law might be" (801). Should a proposal be made, therefore, it would scarcely fall into the category of "unsuitable marriages" (807) against which he warns the sisters, and one is hard pressed to misinterpret the father's actual wishes in this matter.
So why does Ôigimi adamantly refuse the suitor? A far more convincing factor behind her decision not to accept this husband is a fear of what intimacy with men will entail. While allowing males to have access to her person would provide the support (ushiromi) Ôigimi needs to make her way in society, accepting such support would place her completely at the mercy of a patriarchy that is more than a little misogynous. Consequently, the resistance she manifests can be viewed as a conscious attempt to retain her autonomy and sense of self. Ironically, in this case, self-preservation is possible only through self-annihilation, and the reader bears witness to Ôigimi's inexorable progress toward death.
While the isolated domestic space of Uji initially offers a stable place of refuge for the princesses, loss of the father-protector exposes them to Kaoru's and Niou's claims to right of access. Despite her initial protestations that she prefers to spend the rest of her life alone with her sister, Nakanokimi soon succumbs to what is considered a normal woman's fate and marries Niou. The elder sister, however, is unable to conceive of wedlock as a desirable or even imaginable option, and repeatedly rejects Kaoru's overtures. Unwilling or unable to accept this quite unparalleled resistance as genuine, the hero nonetheless continues to badger her. Given that external flight is not a viable option, Ôigimi's fear of the Phallus (and the threat it represents) necessitates ever further retreat within the inner sphere. Eventually, her desperate efforts to maintain spatial integrity lead her to reject any trespass of bodily boundaries, including via the act of eating. By starving herself to death, she gradually succeeds in eliminating her own physicality, which has served to attract the unwanted and insistent suitor. To Ôigimi's mind, intimacy with the male can be achieved only by sacrificing autonomy and identity, and is thus a destiny to be avoided at all costs.
Although born in Heian-kyô, Ôigimi and Nakanokimi have spent many years of their lives in the Uji villa, isolated from the capital and the glories of civilization it has to offer. Poetic allusions in The Tale of Genji and elsewhere play repeatedly on the association of the place name Uji with ushi, an adjective meaning gloomy, wearisome, distasteful, or miserable. Indeed, the Eighth Prince moved his family to this location only as a last resort, when their principal residence in the city burned down. He is aware of the hardship such a rusticated life may pose for his young daughters, but has no viable alternative. This environment is described in quite forbidding terms:
Mountain upon mountain separated his [the Prince's] dwelling from the larger world. Rough people of the lower classes, woodcutters and the like, sometimes came by to do chores for him. There were no other callers. The gloom continued day after day, as stubborn and clinging as 'the morning mist on the peaks'.
Not only is the villa remote from the city and human companionship, it is constantly en-shrouded in oppressive mist and surrounded by dense undergrowth:
As he [Kaoru] came into the mountains the mist was so heavy and the underbrush so thick that he could hardly make out the path; and as he pushed his way through thickets the rough wind would throw showers of dew upon him from a turmoil of falling leaves.
The modern reader cannot help but be reminded of Sleeping Beauty, where the hero must fight his way through an almost impenetrable forest to rescue a virginal and insensible heroine. Nevertheless, as we will see below, in this case the acutely sensible beauty considers the wilderness an asylum and, to the consternation of her would-be champion, declines to be delivered from her unwed status in the traditional manner.
As Rachel Brownstein points out, this cult of the chaste maiden is an important and recurring motif in Western literature: "A beautiful virgin walled off from an imperfect world is the central figure in romance" (35). During Japan's Heian period as well, high-born women were very much "walled off," in that they remained jealously guarded behind several layers of both moveable and immoveable barriers. Clearly defined separate spheres for the sexes were fundamental to the elaborate etiquette of the time: "Good manners maintained proper distance, which amounted to upholding the accepted social order. […] Domestic space, divided by screens, curtains, blinds, and so on […] upheld distance and inviolate dignity" (Tyler xix). It is important to note that women in this society normally lived apart from their husbands in property owned by themselves, and thus could, at least in theory, limit intrusions to a significant degree. Direct access by even closely related adult males was not socially acceptable, with the result that the interior is portrayed as an almost exclusively female-gendered space. As a recent Japanese critical study on the architectural setting of the Genji (Yasuhara Morihiko, Genji monogatari: Kûkan dokkai, 2000) points out, female ownership of real estate meant that the woman's ability to decide what went on in her home was widely recognized, including even where a male visitor was allowed to sit.4
Ironically, however, most Heian architecture is revealed to be insubstantial, in that physical, visual, and aural penetration is within the reach of any moderately resourceful voyeur. Indeed, the entire tragedy of Ôigimi begins to unfold with Kaoru catching a hint of music wafting from the sisters' quarters. In this initially accidental, although not unqualifiedly innocent5, aural violation of their privacy, the young man becomes tantalized by the faint strains of the lovely and melancholy duet that Ôigimi and Nakanokimi are playing on koto and biwa. Once he learns that the Prince, whom he has intended to visit, is away on a spiritual retreat (and that the two young women are thus alone and unprotected), the titillating possibility of a chance at kaimami (literally, "peering through a gap in the fence," but more generally this literature's omnipresent peeping tom motif) proves irresistible. With the connivance of a guardsman employed by the princesses, he hides behind a fence and, by the light of the moon shining out from behind a cloud, is able to peer at the two unsuspecting women under their raised blinds. The reader participates in this surreptitious violation of their privacy and Kaoru's resulting arousal, which fact is made clear in countless illustrations (such as the emaki, or picture scrolls) of this and similar scenes. As Joshua Mostow comments:
The female narrator and her illustrator have internalized the masculine gaze and have been colonized by it: the narrator and viewer both merge with Kaoru and become complicit in his voyeurism. Essential to the voyeur's pleasure is the obliviousness of his object: the one he views must be totally absorbed in her own actions and unaware of the presence of a viewer.
Ôigimi and her sister certainly have no reason to suspect the presence of a peeping tom, although they do subsequently blame themselves for being oblivious to Kaoru's distinctive aroma, which had been carried to them on the breeze. After all, they are described here as uchi naru hito (Abe 16: 131)—literally, "the people inside"—thus hardly sitting out in the open, or even on the verandah as two of their ladies-in-waiting do. It is only reasonable for the princesses to assume that they were sheltered from prying eyes there in their private quarters, behind gates and fences, surrounded by serving women and protected by guardsmen outside, as had been the case until this fateful day.
In these chapters, nature and geography appear to offer additional barriers to violation and protect Ôigimi and Nakanokimi from unwanted intrusions. The Uji palace is presented as both a religious and secular sanctuary, the tortuous route from the capital serving to discourage most gallants and thus keeping its occupants safe from harm. Seidensticker rightly comments on the significance of the "gothic mists and waters of Uji" (1983: 203), and one is tempted to see the Uji River as a moat-like additional defense against invaders. Of course, being on the far side of the Eighth Prince's property, it does not pose a physical barrier to access. Nevertheless, the river is repeatedly described in terms that make of it an omnipresent symbol of nature's power, serving as a warning to those from outside but somehow a source of comfort to the female inmates. I have already pointed out that prospective suitors must struggle through almost impassible thickets and underbrush, their passage made more difficult by the ever-present fog. Until Kaoru thoughtlessly discloses their existence to the licentious Niou, the sisters enjoy an almost uterine security in what is in effect a secure, woman-centred world. Let us not forget that this is a society where homes are principally inherited on a matrilineal basis, and thus female characters are intimately associated with their residences.
Given that Ôigimi lost her mother at a tender age, this locale can even, to a certain extent, be taken as a mother figure—an abstraction of the feminine principle. It is worth noting in this connection that, as a would-be priest who, despite pressure from members of his household, declines to remarry following his wife's death, the Eighth Prince is presented as a de-sexed or not-male character. Norma Field underscores the effeminate nature of the princesses' father by positing a homoerotic attraction between Kaoru and his spiritual tutor. Along these lines, Ôigimi's anorexia can be interpreted as a rejection of her own sexuality or femaleness in imitation of her sole parental role model: a final desire to regress to childhood, to undifferentiation, even if this regression means death. Such a reading would then significantly parallel the failed attempt by the Third Princess (another motherless child in the Genji) to cling to the prepubescent space that she views as her one refuge from the menacing Phallus.6 Kaoru's violation would accordingly take on even more ominous overtones as an attack on not only Ôigimi herself, but also Child or Woman in general.
Bearing all these connotations associated with Uji in mind helps make more readily comprehensible Ôigimi's inward-looking obsession and consistent reluctance to leave. The security of her home is not something an intelligent woman throws away lightly, and the princesses have no hope of effective support elsewhere. As Brown-stein points out, heroines of romance, symbolized by a rooted flower fated passively to await the male, must stand guard over their spatial and corporeal boundaries:
Everything that can happen to the Rose while the lover struggles to reach her happens inside. She cannot but be self-preoccupied (which is not to say self-aware); unlike the Lover, she has no Rose outside of herself to draw her out or up. Her life must be passed in staring at the bare insides of garden walls. Eternal vigilance is her lot; if she lets herself be distracted it may be dangerous.
The interior is clearly identified as her predestined space, and allowing any male to have access is a step fraught with danger. This lesson seems to have been instinctively learned by women in the Heian period: "So the last veil had been stripped away, thought Ôigimi. One thing was clear: theirs was a world in which not a single unguarded moment was possible" (835). The fatal conclusion of her story proves just how dangerous distraction can be.
Space is unambiguously presented as a locus of power relationships. While Ôigimi has long been marginal to society at large and the class into which she was born, she conversely enjoys a pivotal position in the domestic haven at Uji. Her role as mistress of the house, companion to her father, and mother-substitute to Nakanokimi has been relatively autonomous. She thus resists Kaoru's intention to displace her from her house to his, where she would clearly become more subject to another's whims. This situation is strikingly analogous to that of the Akashi Lady from earlier in The Tale of Genji, who has benefited from a childhood and youth where the world revolved around herself, and who sees no personal advantage—indeed considerable disadvantage—in being transported to Genji's household. As Charlotte Perkins Gilman once wrote:
The life of the female savage is freedom itself … compared with the increasing constriction of custom closing in upon the woman, as civilization advances, like the iron torture chamber of romance.
To these intellectually astute women who have come of age in the hinterlands of Uji or Akashi, which offer (relatively speaking) a certain amount of personal freedom, Heian-kyô and the patriarchal society there enshrined do symbolize such an iron chamber waiting to close in on them. In their view, far from the pinnacle of joy and security that it represents to the waiting women and others in their entourage, the capital is a site of dependence and potential humiliation. Ôigimi's preference for the independence she has known, in spite of its obscure and peripheral nature, is thus understandable and leads her to resist being brought to a central position (i.e., to an estate within the city limits) that will inevitably be a weaker one. What makes the situation of this Uji princess even more untenable than most is the fact that, in his concern for the well-being of his daughters, the Eighth Prince has to a certain degree dispossessed her by making both sisters de facto wards of another man. (This other man is, of course, Kaoru, the stubbornly persistent suitor.) Although she does inherit the property that has been her home for many years and thus gains increased nominal autonomy, Ôigimi finds herself even more reliant on Kaoru's good will than ever before as, in his role as protector sanctioned by her late father, he presses her with unwelcome attentions that she now finds extremely awkward and risky to rebuff.
Ôigimi's dilemma is a metaphor for woman's ambiguous position within and without the dominant male culture of Heian Japan and elsewhere, where the appropriation of space signifies appropriation of the body. A paralyzing fear of, or at least pronounced distaste for, intimacy with men offers little mystery in a society where women can achieve sexual union only at the cost of totally sacrificing independence and self. It has been said that, "conceiving of herself as the creature of her relationships with others, and bound by her woman's fate to a life of relationships, the conscious heroine longs for solitude and separateness" (Brownstein 288-9).…
- "Akiko wa jûni-sai de kôkyû ni hairaretan dakedo, nenne de, ren'ai mo sekusu mo wakaranai. O-ningyô mitaina hito deshô. Tsumari, 'Genji' wa isshu no seikyôiku hon datta no yo." ("Akiko was twelve years old when she entered the Court, and knew nothing of either love or sex. She was like a little doll. In short, 'Genji' was a sort of sex education manual.") Tawara Machi. "Ima mo mukashi mo ai koso jinsei no gendôryoku." Interview with Setouchi Jakuchô. (Tokyo: Shûkan Asahi, August 21-8, 1998) 45.
- Readers wishing to delve into the question of translation accuracy with regard to women's writing in Heian Japan may find my article entitled "Translating Woman: Reading the Female through the Male" to be of interest.
- Haruo Shirane, The Bridge of Dreams: A Poetics of 'The Tale of Genji' (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1987). See especially pp. 140-41. As a frequently cited footnote in Abe et al. (15:23 n. 25) makes clear, the vast majority (85%) of princesses of the blood remained single during the first two centuries of the Heian period, primarily owing to the scarcity of appropriately ranked marriage partners.
- Further, the exact location within the home to which she accords him access is of great import, implying minute differentiations of degrees of intimacy. As Yasuhara (201) puts it, Kono onna no kûkan ni oite wa onna ga otoko no suwaru ichi o kimeta. Misu de au ka, hisashi de au ka no sa wa ôkii. ("In this woman's space, it was the woman who decided the place where a man would sit. There was a vast difference in whether she met him at the bamboo blind or closer to the eaves.")
- In having Kaoru travel to Uji through darkness and rain, dressed inconspicuously and accompanied by a reduced number of retainers, the narrator accords him all the trappings of a lover on his way to a secret tryst. Indeed, our hero, unfamiliar with such intrigues, seems to derive a certain level of sexual exhilaration from the escapade, even before the women appear on the scene: "This was not the sort of journey he was accustomed to. It was sobering and at the same time exciting" (783).
- For an in-depth discussion of this heroine's use of temporal suspension, see my forthcoming article entitled "Seeking Refuge in Prepubescent Space: The Strategy of Resistance Employed by The Tale of Genji's Third Princess."
Abe Akio, Akiyama Ken, and Imai Gen'e, eds. Genji monogatari. Nihon Koten Bungaku Zenshû vols. 12-17, 1970-1976.
Bernheimer, Charles, ed. Comparative Literature in the Age of Multiculturalism. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995.
Bronfen, Elisabeth. Over Her Dead Body: Death, Femininity and the Aesthetic. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1992.
Brownstein, Rachel. Becoming a Heroine: Reading about Women in Novels. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.
Field, Norma. The Splendor of Longing in the Tale of Genji. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. Women and Economics. Ed. Carl N. Degler. New York: Harper and Row, 1966.
Henitiuk, Valerie. "Seeking Refuge in Prepubescent Space: The Strategy of Resistance Employed by The Tale of Genji's Third Princess." Canadian Review of Comparative Literature/Revue Canadienne de Littérature Comparée. Forthcoming.
——. "Translating Woman: Reading the Female through the Male," Meta 44.3 (September 1999): 469-84.
Hesse-Biber, Sharlene, et al., ed. Feminist Approaches to Theory and Methodology: An Interdisciplinary Reader. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Imai Hisayo. "Migushi no koborekakaritaru o kakiyaritsutsu mitamaeba: Otoko to onna no hazama ni wa. Ôigimi to Kaoru no koimonogatari." Genji monogatari tekusuto tsua-, v. Kokubungaku 45:9 (July 2000) 172-77.
Keene, Donald, trans. Essays in Idleness: The Tsurezuregusa of Kenkô. New York: Columbia University Press, 1967.
Komashaku Kimi. Murasaki Shikibu no messêji. Tokyo: Asahi, 1991.
Miller, Nancy K. The Heroine's Text: Readings in the French and English Novel, 1722-1782. New York: Columbia University Press, 1980.
Moi, Toril. Sexual/Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory. London and New York: Routledge, 1985.
Mostow, Joshua S. "'Just Like a Picture': Metaphors of Beauty, Romance, and the Feminine Regard." ICLA '91: Tokyo: The Force of Vision I: Dramas of Desire, Visions of Beauty. 1995. 463-69.
Nakamoto Takako. "The Female Bell-Cricket." Trans. Yukiko Tanaka. To Live and To Write. Yukiko Tanaka, ed. Seattle: The Seal Press, 1987. 135-44.
Ôba, Minako. "Special Address: Without Beginning, Without End". Trans. Paul Gordon Schalow. The Woman's Hand. Ed. Paul Gordon Schalow and Janet A. Walker. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996. 19-40.
Orbaugh, Sharalyn. "The Body in Contemporary Japanese Women's Fiction." The Woman's Hand. Ed. Paul Gordon Schalow and Janet A. Walker. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996. 119-164.
Rossetti, Christina. "Goblin Market." The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. M. H. Abrams. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1979. 1523-35.
Seidensticker, Edward. Genji Days. New York: Kodansha International, 1983.
——. trans. The Tale of Genji. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1989.
Shirane, Haruo. The Bridge of Dreams: A Poetics of 'The Tale of Genji'. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1987.
Tawara Machi. "Ima mo mukashi mo ai koso jinsei no gendôryoku." Interview with Setouchi Jakuchô. Shûkan Asahi August 21-8, 1998. 41-45.
Tyler, Royall. "Introduction." The Tale of Genji. By Murasaki Shikibu. Trans. Royall Tyler. New York: Viking, 2001. xi-xxix.
Yasuhara Morihiko. Genji monogatari: Kûkan dokkai. Tokyo: Kashima Shuppankai, 2000.
Antonopoulos, Anna. "The Double Meaning of Hestia: Gender, Spirituality, and Signification in Antiquity." Women and Language 16, no. 1 (spring 1993): 1-6.
Semiotic study of the Greek goddess of the hearth, Hestia, which suggests she may represent an "omphalos" (navel) symbol that stands in opposition to the phallus.
Arens, Katherine. "Between Hypatia and Beauvoir: Philosophy as Discourse." Hypatia 10, no. 4 (fall 1995): 46-75.
Compares literary interpretations of two female philosophers, one modern, Simone de Beauvoir, and the other classical,...
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Women in the 16th, 17th, and 18th Centuries
Women in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries were challenged with expressing themselves in a patriarchal system that generally refused to grant merit to women's views. Cultural and political events during these centuries increased attention to women's issues such as education reform, and by the end of the eighteenth century, women were increasingly able to speak out against injustices. Though modern feminism was nonexistent, many women expressed themselves and exposed the conditions that they faced, albeit often indirectly, using a variety of subversive and creative methods.
The social structure of sixteenth century Europe allowed women limited opportunities for involvement; they served largely as managers of their households. Women were expected to focus on practical domestic pursuits and activities that encouraged the betterment of their families, and more particularly, their husbands. In most cases education for women was not advocated—it was thought to be detrimental to the traditional female virtues of innocence and morality. Women who spoke out against the patriarchal system of gender roles, or any injustice, ran the risk of being exiled from their communities, or worse; vocal unmarried women in particular were the targets of witch-hunts. Anne Hutchinson, who challenged the authority of Puritan clergy, was excommunicated for her outspoken views and controversial actions. Anne Askew, a well-educated, out-spoken English Protestant, was tried for heresy in 1545; her denial of transubstantiation was grounds for her imprisonment. She was eventually burned at the stake for her refusal to incriminate other Protestant court ladies. Elizabeth I ascended to the throne in 1558, a woman who contradicted many of the gender roles of the age. She was well educated, having studied a variety of subjects including mathematics, foreign language, politics, and history. Elizabeth was an outspoken but widely respected leader, known for her oratory skills as well as her patronage of the arts. Despite the advent of the age of print, the literacy rate during this period remained low, though the Bible became more readily available to the lower classes. Religious study, though restricted to "personal introspection," was considered an acceptable pursuit for women, and provided them with another context within which they could communicate their individual ideas and sentiments. In addition to religious material, women of this period often expressed themselves through the ostensibly private forms of letters and autobiographies.
The seventeenth century was not an era of drastic changes in the status or conditions of women. Women continued to play a significant, though not acknowledged, role in economic and political structures through their primarily domestic activities. They often acted as counselors in the home, "tempering" their husbands' words and actions. Though not directly involved in politics, women's roles within the family and local community allowed them to influence the political system. Women were discouraged from directly expressing political views counter to their husbands' or to broadly condemn established systems; nevertheless, many women were able to make public their private views through the veil of personal, religious writings. Again, women who challenged societal norms and prejudices risked their lives—Mary Dyer was hanged for repeatedly challenging the Massachusetts law that banished Quakers from the colony. Though their influence was often denigrated, women participated in various community activities. For example, women were full members of English guilds; guild records include references to "brethern and sistern" and "freemen and freewomen." During the seventeenth century, women's writings continued to focus on largely religious concerns, but increasingly, women found a creative and intellectual outlet in private journal- and letter-writing. Mary Rowlandson's captivity narrative, published in 1682, is a famous narrative written ostensibly for personal use that was made public and became a popular success.
The eighteenth century brought the beginning of the British cultural revolution. With the increasing power of the middle class and an expansion in consumerism, women's roles began to evolve. The economic changes brought by the new middle class provided women with the opportunity to be more directly involved in commerce. Lower-to middle-class women often assisted their husbands in work outside the home. It was still thought unseemly for a lady to be knowledgeable of business so, though some class distinctions were blurring, the upper class was able to distinguish themselves from the rest of society. The rise in consumerism allowed the gentry to place a greater emphasis on changing fashion and "display," further distancing them from the middleclass. With the advent of changes in rules of fashion and acceptable mores within society, some women established a literary niche writing etiquette guides. Also due to the cultural revolution, mounting literacy rates among the lower classes caused an increase in publishing, including the rise of the periodical. Men and women of all classes found new means to express ideas in the wider publishing community. Though women's writing during this period continued largely to be an extension of domesticity, and focused mainly on pragmatic, practical issues, women found a wider market for publication. The act of professional writing, however, was still considered "vulgar" among the aristocracy. Significant colonial expansion during this period provided would-be writers with unique subject matter—letters written by women abroad discussed foreign issues and culture, and offered a detailed view of far-off lands. These letters were often circulated among members of an extended family, as well as in the larger community. In defiance of social strictures, women such as Mary Wollstonecraft began to speak out publicly on women's rights, including education and marriage laws. Though women had better access to education, the goal of women's education was to attain an ideal "womanhood"—a "proper education" was viewed as one that supported domestic and social activities but disregarded more academic pursuits. Women such as Wollstonecraft advocated access to education for women that was equal to that of their male counterparts. Marriage laws, which overwhelmingly favored men, also spurred public debate, though little was accomplished to reform laws during this period.
Throughout the world, women took action to advance their political and social rights. Catherine the Great of Russia devised a coup d'etat to take the throne in 1762, an aggressive act to prevent her son's disinheritance. Catherine continued to rule in an unconventional, independent manner, withdrawing from the men who made her ascension possible and remaining unmarried to ensure her power. Catherine was a shrewd politician, and used wide public support to enact laws that significantly altered the Russian political system. In France, Olympe de Gouges demanded equal rights for women in the new French Republic, and was eventually executed by guillotine in 1793. Madame Roland, who also met an untimely death in 1793, influenced revolutionary politicians and thinkers during the French Revolution through her famous salon. She, too, was an activist for women's social and political rights and was executed for treason, largely due to her outspoken feminist ideas. Phillis Wheatley, an African-American slave, examined slavery and British imperialism in her poetry, and became a notable figure among abolitionists in America and abroad. Increasingly, women rebuked traditional roles and spoke out against the social and political inequalities they faced. The century closed with the deaths of visionaries such as Mary Wollstonecraft and Catherine the Great, and the births of a new breed of female writers and scholars. The political and social changes that took place in the eighteenth century paved the way for these future writers and activists to advance the cause of women's rights.
Women in the 19th Century
European and American women in the nineteenth century lived in an age characterized by gender inequality. At the beginning of the century, women enjoyed few of the legal, social, or political rights that are now taken for granted in western countries: they could not vote, could not sue or be sued, could not testify in court, had extremely limited control over personal property after marriage, were rarely granted legal custody of their children in cases of divorce, and were barred from institutions of higher education. Women were expected to remain subservient to their fathers and husbands. Their occupational choices were also extremely limited. Middle- and upper-class women generally remained home, caring for their children and running the household. Lower-class women often did work outside the home, but usually as poorly-paid domestic servants or laborers in factories and mills.
The onset of industrialization, urbanization, as well as the growth of the market economy, the middle class, and life expectancies transformed European and American societies and family life. For most of the eighteenth century through the first few decades of the nineteenth century, families worked together, dividing farming duties or work in small-scale family-owned businesses to support themselves. With the rapid mercantile growth, big business, and migration to larger cities after 1830, however, the family home as the center of economic production was gradually replaced with workers who earned their living outside the home. In most instances, men were the primary "breadwinners" and women were expected to stay at home to raise children, to clean, to cook, and to provide a haven for returning husbands. Most scholars agree that the Victorian Age was a time of escalating gender polarization as women were expected to adhere to a rigidly defined sphere of domestic and moral duties, restrictions that women increasingly resisted in the last two-thirds of the century.
Scholarly analysis of nineteenth-century women has included examination of gender roles and resistance on either side of the Atlantic, most often focusing on differences and similarities between the lives of women in the United States, England, and France. While the majority of these studies have concentrated on how white, middle-class women reacted to their assigned domestic or private sphere in the nineteenth century, there has also been interest in the dynamics of gender roles and societal expectations in minority and lower-class communities. Although these studies can be complementary, they also highlight the difficulty of making generalizations about the lives of women from different cultural, racial, economic, and religious backgrounds in a century of steady change.
Where generalizations can be made, however, "the woman question," as it was called in debates of the time, has been seen as a tendency to define the role of women in terms of private domesticity. Most often, depictions of the lives of nineteenth-century women, whether European or American, rich or poor, are portrayed in negative terms, concentrating on their limited sphere of influence compared to that of men from similar backgrounds. In some cases, however, the private sphere of nineteenth-century women had arguably more positive images, defining woman as the more morally refined of the two sexes and therefore the guardian of morality and social cohesion. Women were able to use this more positive image as a means for demanding access to public arenas long denied them, by publicly emphasizing and asserting the need for and benefits of a more "civilized" and "genteel" influence in politics, art, and education.
The same societal transformations that were largely responsible for women's status being defined in terms of domesticity and morality also worked to provoke gender consciousness and reform as the roles assigned women became increasingly at odds with social reality. Women on both sides of the Atlantic, including Angelina and Sarah Grimké, Sarah Josepha Hale, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Frances Power Cobbe, both expressed and influenced the age's expectations for women. Through their novels, letters, essays, articles, pamphlets, and speeches these and other nineteenth-century women portrayed the often conflicting expectations imposed on them by society. These women, along with others, expressed sentiments of countless women who were unable to speak, and brought attention and support to their concerns. Modern critical analyses often focus on the methods used by women to advance their cause while still maintaining their delicate balance of propriety and feminine appeal by not "threatening" men, or the family unit.
Women in the Early to Mid-20th Century (1900-1960)
The dawn of the twentieth century witnessed changes in almost every aspect of the day-today lives of women, from the domestic sphere to the public. The women's movement, with its emphasis on advocacy of equal rights, newly formed women's organizations, and the rise of a new generation of female artists, photographers, and professionals, transformed the traditional patriarchal social structure across the globe. Followed closely by the advent of World War I, these social shifts, which had been set in motion at the beginning of the century, developed further as women were propelled into the workforce, exposing them to previously male-dominated professional and political situations. By the midpoint of the twentieth century, women's activities and concerns had been recognized as a significant element of the literary, scientific, and cultural landscape of several countries, marking a revolutionary change in the social and domestic roles of women.
The end of the nineteenth century saw tremendous growth in the suffrage movement in England and the United States, with women struggling to attain political equality. The suffragists—who were often militant in their expressions of protest—presented a sometimes stark contrast to the feminine ideal of the era, which portrayed women as delicate, demure, and silent, confined to a domestic world that cocooned them from the harsh realities of the world. Despite many challenges English and American women eventually won the right to vote, in part due to the changed perception of women's abilities following World War I. As men were called to war, companies that had previously limited employment in better-paying jobs to white males found themselves opening their doors to white women and women and men of color. Racial and gender tensions escalated during this time, and many jobs were in fact permanently redefined as "women's work," including teaching, nursing, secretarial work, and telephone operations. As well as functioning in the workforce, women actively participated in the political and cultural life of England and the United States. The early decades of the twentieth century, often referred to as the Progressive Era, saw the emergence of a new image of women in society which had undergone a marked transformation from the demure, frail, female stereotype of the late Victorian Era. The women of the Progressive Era, according to Sarah Jane Deutsch, were portrayed as "women with short hair and short skirts … kicking up their legs and kicking off a century of social restrictions." Progressive women smoked, danced in public, held jobs, and generally did most things that nineteenth-century women were barred from doing. However, Deutsch asserts that this image of the 1920s "flapper" was restricted to certain portions of the population, namely white, young, and middle-class communities. Women elsewhere, particularly women from other ethnic backgrounds, such as African-Americans, Asian-Americans, and Hispanics, lived much differently, struggling in their new roles as mothers and professionals. The number of women who worked outside the home in the 1920s rose almost 50 percent throughout the decade. While women still constituted a small number of the professional population, they were slowly increasing their participation in more significant occupations, including law, social work, engineering, and medicine.
The presence of a large class of young working women after World War I was reflected in what had become a major cultural force—the film industry. Nevertheless, films of the era continued to reinforce outdated stereotypes about women's place in society. While early cinematic storylines often featured poor women finding success and contentment through marriage to rich men, the films of the 1920s depicted young, feisty working women who, like their predecessors, could attain true happiness only by marrying their bosses. Such plotlines helped many to cope with the growing fear that the domestic and family structure of society was being eroded by the emergence of the new, independent woman. Rarely did depictions of women in mass media, including film, radio, and theater, convey the true circumstances of working women. Instead, audiences were presented with images of flappers or visions of glorified motherhood and marriage.
Women in the early twentieth century were perhaps most active and influential as writers and artists. The advent of the new century did witness a change in the style and content of women's writing, as well as an increase in the depiction of feminine images and themes in literature. Male authors such as D. H. Lawrence and W. D. Howells explored issues pertaining to sexuality and the newly redefined sexual politics between men and women. Women authors such as Dorothy Richardson, May Sinclair, and Katherine Mansfield focused on topics pertinent to women, bringing attention to the myriad difficulties they faced redefining their identities in a changing world. Other major women writers of the period included Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Edith Wharton. In the arena of art, the early twentieth century provided growing opportunities for women to exhibit their work. In 1914, for example, the National Academy of Design first allowed women to attend anatomy lectures, thus providing them with a chance to study draftsmanship and develop drawing skills in a formal setting. Such artists as Emerson Baum and photographers like Alfred Steiglitz helped promote exhibitions of women's art, including the works of Imogen Cunningham and Georgia O'Keefe. Many female artists—among them Dorothea Lange and Claire Leighton—used their talents to highlight the social realities of their times, and some of the most powerful images of this period, including stirring portrayals of coal miners and farmers, were produced by these women.
By the mid-twentieth century, women throughout the Western world had completely redefined their roles in almost every social, political, and cultural sphere. While the fight for equal rights and recognition for women would continue into the 1950s and beyond, the first major steps towards such changes began at the advent of the twentieth century, with women writers, photographers, artists, activists, and workers blazing a new trail for generations of women to follow.
Women's Literature from 1900 to 1960
The early decades of the twentieth century were filled with dramatic turmoil and change within United States and abroad, all of which impacted the nascent feminist movement. Two world wars, rapid industrialization, urbanization, and a depression placed enormous stress on traditional social structures and domestic relationships, from the workplace to the family. In fact, more women entered the professional workforce during the first two decades of the century than at any other time in history. Though American women were granted suffrage in 1920, these were difficult times for the feminist movement. The issue of suffrage had united many women around a common cause, but once women gained the right to vote, the movement suffered from conflict and lack of formal organization. The militant nature of many suffragists also caused the movement to lose momentum in mainstream society, and for many years feminists were viewed as an extremist minority.
Despite the success of the suffrage movement and the great influx of women into the workplace before and during World War II, a resurgence of traditional attitudes concerning the home and family would come to define the postwar period. As many feminists argue, the wars served to both empower and suppress women, whose newfound freedom and independence during the world wars was almost immediately ceded to a newly reestablished sense of patriarchy. Women who had supported the war effort through their labor returned home and were once again relegated to domestic duties and secondary status. Such restricted gender roles, exemplified by the conformity and traditionalism of the 1950s, continued to limit the opportunities and experiences of women until the rebirth of the feminist movement during the late 1960s and 1970s.
Amid such conflicts and evolving gender roles, the first half of the twentieth century witnessed a flourishing in the literary arts and the development of new media such as radio, film, and, by the late 1940s, television. American drama in particular reached a high point in the 1920s, with dramatists Eugene O'Neill, Elmer Rice, and Maxwell Anderson writing many of their best works during this decade. Meanwhile, poets such as Amy Lowell, H. D., and Sara Teasdale elaborated upon the prewar modernism pioneered by T. S. Eliot, W. B. Yeats, Wallace Stevens, and Ezra Pound. By the late 1950s, however, celebrated poets such as Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton would lead a turn away from formal detachment toward a more emotion-laden subjectivity in confessionalism. During the first half of the twentieth century many male and female authors also turned to the novel to sketch and satirize the materialism and anomie of the modern condition. Important novelists of the period include Theodore Dreiser, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway, along with well-known female novelists Edith Wharton, Katherine Anne Porter, and Gertrude Stein, whose experimentalism defied classification.
A growing number of women writers from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds also emerged during this time. Drawing upon their varied experiences as Asians, Africans, and Native Americans, many of these female writers addressed issues of gender and ethnic identity from new and compelling perspectives. Together, such women provided insight into the lives of women in general and the often denigrated minority populations of which they were a part. In particular, African-American writers came to prominence as part of the literary and artistic movement known as the Harlem Renaissance, which reached its peak during the 1920s and 1930s. This movement provided opportunities for many African-American women writers, including Zora Neale Hurston, Nella Larsen, and Jessie Redmon Fauset, to address issues of race and gender in their works. Such writers also gained appreciation for their declaration of cultural independence and their contribution to the development of an indigenous American language and literature.
While women writers and artists participated in the thriving arts and literary movements during these years, many of them struggled deeply as creators. The world wars had a profound effect on the generation of writers that witnessed them, particularly women who bore the brunt of the social and cultural changes that resulted from these conflicts. Caught between their own aspirations as writers and artists, but confronted with a reality that provided little in terms of equal opportunity or rights, many female authors felt frustrated during these years. In addition, female literary achievement was largely downplayed in academic institutions due to the negative backlash against the suffragists and, more broadly, because of a patronizing and dismissive view of female intellectuals among male cultural elites.
Contemporary critic Elaine Showalter has drawn attention to the conflict, repression, and even decline suffered by many women writers during the early twentieth century. According to Showalter and other scholars, the years following the end of World War I were difficult for female novelists and poets in particular, who were regarded as writers of little substance. Yearning to write about serious issues facing their times but pushed to the periphery, poets such as Teasdale, H. D., Lowell, and Edna St. Vincent Millay were unable to find suitable literary models in past female poets. Additionally, the notion of poetry as an art form that transcends personal and emotional experience, a view expounded by male poets such as Eliot and Pound, led many female poets to feel that their work was being marginalized. Faced with stiff reaction against the type of personal and lyrical poetry many of them wanted to write, Millay and others found it increasingly difficult to continue writing. Some female writers curtailed their creative work and turned their energies to political causes instead, using alternate means such as journalism and reporting to express their opinions. Some writers found ways to incorporate political activism in their fiction and established a model for women writers of the 1960s and beyond.
Twenty Years at Hull House (essays) 1910
Simone de Beauvoir
L'invitée [She Came to Stay] (novel) 1943
Le deuxième sexe. 2 vols. [The Second Sex] (nonfiction) 1949
Tous les hommes sont mortels [All Men Are Mortal] (novel) 1946
"To a Dark Girl" (poem) 1923
"Fantasy" (poem) 1927
"Roosters" (poem) 1946
The Blue Estuaries (poetry) 1923
Body of this Death (poetry) 1923
Sleeping Fury (poetry) 1937
The House in Paris (novel) 1935
"The Demon Lover" (short story) 1945
American Citizen Naturalized in Leadville, Colorado (poetry) 1944
"Winter Night" (poem) 1946
A Street in Bronzeville (poetry) 1945
Annie Allen (poetry) 1949
Pearl S. Buck
The Good Earth (novel) 1931
My Ántonia (novel) 1918...
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SOURCE: Lowell, Amy. "The Captured Goddess." In Sword Blades and Poppy Seed. New York: Macmillan, 1914.
In the following poem, the narrator evokes a figure of divinity and mystical experience through descriptions of flowers, colors, and stones, but then withdraws in shock as the goddess figure is bound by men and offered for sale in the marketplace.
"THE CAPTURED GODDESS"
Over the housetops
Above the rotating chimney-pots,
I have seen a shiver of amethyst,
And blue and cinnamon have flickered
At the far end of a dusty...
(The entire section is 283 words.)
SOURCE: Teasdale, Sara. "If Death Is Kind." In Flame and Shadow. New York: Macmillan, 1920.
In the following poem, originally written in 1919, the speaker ruminates on the subject of death and the afterlife.
Perhaps if Death is kind, and there can be returning,
We will come back to earth some fragrant night,
And take these lanes to find the sea, and bending
Breathe the same honeysuckle, low and white.
We will come down at night to these resounding beaches
And the long...
(The entire section is 104 words.)
SOURCE: Bogan, Louise. “women.” The Blue Estuaries: Poems 1923-1968, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1968.
The following is a well-known poem by author Louise Bogan originally published in 1922.
Women have no wilderness in them,
They are provident instead,
Content in the tight hot cell of their hearts
To eat dusty bread.
They do not see cattle cropping red winter grass,
They do not hear
Snow water going down under culverts
Shallow and clear.
They wait, when they...
(The entire section is 160 words.)
SOURCE: Chona, Maria. "The Autobiography of a Papago Woman," edited by Ruth Underhill. Memoirs of the American Anthropological Association 46 (1936): 36-7.
Chona was born in Mesquite Root, a Papago village in the Spanish province of Upper Pimeria, now Arizona. Daughter to Con Quien, a village governor, Chona was a noted basketweaver and medicine woman, and possessed extensive knowledge of tribal affairs, customs, and traditions. The following excerpt is from chapter six in her autobiographical account of her life.
My father said to me: "Look, my girl. We are going to marry you, over at that...
(The entire section is 1377 words.)
SOURCE: Showalter, Elaine. "The Other Lost Generation." In Sister's Choice: Tradition and Change in American Women's Writing, pp. 104-26. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991.
In the following essay, Showalter discusses the difficulties faced by women writers in the 1920s and 1930s, notably postwar hostility toward the women's movement, negative reactions against women in academia, and the secondary domestic and social roles relegated to women that marginalized female artists.
'I never was a member of a "lost generation,"' the poet Louise Bogan wrote to her friend Morton Zabel in the 1930s, trying to account for the problems she was...
(The entire section is 9073 words.)
Larsen, Jeanne. "Lowell, Teasdale, Wylie, Millay, and Bogan." In The Columbia History of American Poetry, edited by Jay Parini, pp. 203-32. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.
In the following excerpt, Larsen examines the careers of such early-twentieth century poets as Amy Lowell and Sara Teasdale, examining how their writings relate to those of other writers including Louise Bogan, Hilda Doolittle, Adelaide Crapsey, Genevieve Taggard, and others.
Passionate expression of emotion, revelation of personal sensibility, apparent delicacy overlaying sensuality and self-assertion, musicality created by diction and cadence, a...
(The entire section is 7142 words.)
SOURCE: Lassner, Phyllis. "The Quiet Revolution: World War II and the English Domestic Novel." Mosaic 23, no. 3 (summer 1990): 86-100.
In the following essay, Lassner studies the impact of World War II on female British authors, contending that these writers used the conventions of the domestic novel as a filter for their experiences during the war through which they questioned both the domestic and political ideology of war and society.
In her 1982 poem entitled "Picture From the Blitz," Lois Clark commemorated the British women who suffered the loss of their homes while holding down the home front during World War II:...
(The entire section is 7566 words.)
SOURCE: Gilbert, Sandra M., and Susan Gubar. “Charred Skirts and Deathmask: World War II and the Blitz on Women.” In No Man’s Land: The Place of the Woman Writer in the Twentieth Century, pp. 211-65. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1994.
In the following essay, Gilbert and Gubar contend that while World War I provided a huge impetus to women writers, World War II, in contrast, was perceived by many as a revival of patriarchal values. Gilbert and Gubar examine the impact of both wars on women’s writing and social positions, arguing that women’s literary responses to World War II are poignant records of hopelessness in the face of confusion about...
(The entire section is 27306 words.)
Sutherland, Cynthia. "American Women Playwrights as Mediators of the 'Woman Problem.'" Modern Drama 21 (September 1978): 319-36.
In the following essay, Sutherland examines a withdrawal from more strident portrayals of feminist concerns in plays of the 1920s, including Zona Gale's Miss Lulu Bett.
Ibsen's Nora shut the door of her "doll's house" in 1879. Among the generation of American women born in the 1870's and 1880's, Zona Gale, Zoe Akins, and Susan Glaspell all won Pulitzer Prizes. Rachel Crothers, the successful dramatist who wrote more than three dozen plays, characterized her own work as "a sort of Comédie Humaine de...
(The entire section is 5699 words.)
SOURCE: Burke, Sally. "The Woman Question On-stage." In American Feminist Playwrights: A Critical History, pp. 29-64. New York: Twayne, 1996.
In the following essay, Burke provides an overview of drama written by women during the suffrage era and the early years of feminism, focusing on the works of such authors as Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Rachel Crothers, and Susan Glaspell.
The Woman Question was an umbrella phrase coined during the nineteenth century to cover a multitude of questions. For some, it signaled a desire for honest debate; for others, it functioned as a code phrase whose purpose was to answer the "Question" by...
(The entire section is 16043 words.)
SOURCE: Schroeder, Patricia R. “Remembering the Disremembered: Feminist Realists of the Harlem Renaissance.” In Realism and the American Dramatic Tradition, edited by William W. Demastes, pp. 91-106. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1996.
In the following essay, Schroeder discusses the work of African-American women playwrights during the Harlem Renaissance, pointing out that this was one of the first opportunities for such writers to present a realistic view of female African-American experience, focusing on such issues as gender roles in the African-American community, the impact of poverty, and reproductive freedom.
(The entire section is 6441 words.)
SOURCE: Yu, Ning. "Fanny Fern and Sui Sin Far: The Beginning of an Asian American Voice." Women and Language 19, no. 2 (fall 1996): 44-47.
In the following essay, Yu compares the work of Sui Sin Far with Fanny Fern, noting that Fern provided a model upon which Sui Sin Far developed her literary voice and critique of racism, establishing a female literary tradition followed by subsequent Asian American artists such as Maxine Hong Kingston and Judy Syfer.
The lack of a role model, as Alice Walker points out, "is an occupational hazard for the artist, simply because models in art, in behavior, in growth of spirit and...
(The entire section is 3296 words.)
Abramson, Doris. "Rachel Crothers: Broadway Feminist." Modern American Drama: The Female Canon (1990): 55-65.
Discussion of Crothers as a feminist playwright.
Bair, Deirdre. "Simone de Beauvoir: Politics, Language, and Feminist Identity." Yale French Studies, no. 72: 149-62.
Examines Beauvoir's views on political action in the context of her philosophy and views on feminist theory.
Barbeito, Patricia Felisa. "'Making Generations' in Jacobs, Larsen, and Hurston: A Genealogy of Black Women's Writing."...
(The entire section is 1402 words.)
Women's Literature from 1960 to the Present
In several lectures she gave during the 1930s and later, writer Virginia Woolf reflected upon the challenge she and her fellow female artists faced at the beginning of the century—Woolf noted that although women had been writing for centuries, the subjects they had written about and even the style in which they wrote was often dictated not by their own creative vision, but by standards imposed upon women by society in general. Advances in women's issues, such as the right to vote, the fight for reproductive rights, and the opportunities women gained during the first half of the century in the arena of work outside the home were major developments. Despite these changes, women artists during these years continued to feel restricted by imposed standards of creativity. It would take, notes Elaine Showalter in numerous essays detailing the growth and development of women's writing in the twentieth century, several decades before women would completely break the mold of respectability under which they felt compelled to write. Fuelled by the feminist movement of the early twentieth century, many women authors began to explore new modes of expression, focusing increasingly on issues that were central to their existence as women and as artists. By the end of the 1950s and the beginning of the 1960s, with the rise of the second wave feminist movement, women artists began expanding their repertoire of creative expression to openly include, and even celebrate their power and experiences as women. Works such as Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique (1963), Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar (1971), and others by authors like Germaine Greer, Gloria Steinem, and Marilyn French all helped to awaken the feminine consciousness, paving the way for later writers to explore the reality of women's experience in their writings openly and freely. Works of literature by women authors during the 1960s and later thus began to focus increasingly on women's viewpoints, with issues such as race and gender, sexuality, and personal freedom taking center stage. Additionally, these years also witnessed the emergence of feminist literary theorists, many of whom set about redefining the canon, arguing for inclusion of women writers who had been marginalized by mainstream academia in the past. The latter half of the twentieth century also provided fertile ground for growing recognition of women writers of color. Lesbian literature has also flourished, and women have openly explored concerns about sexuality, sexual orientation, politics, and other gender issues in their works.
Prior to the mid-1960s, women writers who ventured beyond the established feminine stereotypes were regularly characterized as "outcasts," denounced as vulgar or, in the case of Simone de Beauvoir, even "frigid." Nonetheless, many of them persisted in exploring new ways of expression, and poets such as Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, and others continued to write works articulating the struggle they faced as authors who could choose to "write badly and be patronized or to write well and be attacked," according to Show-alter. Another aspect of this struggle to gain respect as independent artists was the fight between women who felt compelled to "transcend" their femininity, opting to write as androgynous artists—Woolf chief among them—and others, including Erica Jong, who felt strongly that unless women could find the means to express themselves openly and clearly, they might as well not write at all. Eventually, many women writers in the 1960s and later broke through the stereotypical and restrictive paradigm of female authorship, creating and publishing works that abounded in an open celebration and exploration of issues that were central to women's existence, including sexuality. By the 1990s, critical and academic opinion had shifted, and works such as Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues, which deals directly with women's physical and emotional experiences, were hailed as both innovative and literary.
A similar, yet different path to progress marks the writing of women authors of color, who eventually gained critical recognition for their efforts as chroniclers of their cultures, races, and gender. Although there were numerous black female authors writing during the early part of the century, especially during the heyday of the Harlem Renaissance, black feminist authors's exploration of both race and gender issues in their writing kept them outside the American feminist discourse that was dominated by either black male activists or white feminists. Scholars have also pointed to the fact that while works such as Friedan's The Feminine Mystique did much to draw attention to the emerging feminine consciousness, they did not address the needs and issues significant to women of color. Further, the narrative strategies used by such pioneering black authors such as Zora Neale Hurston, whose works focused primarily on the private and domestic domain, were, until the 1970s and 1980s, dismissed by both white feminists and black male intellectuals because of the perception that their focus was too limited and narrow. Later critical opinion, however, has reevaluated the writing style and strategies used by many female authors of color to recognize that the personal narrative is a powerful and uniquely expressive mode of extrapolating and commenting upon the state of the world inhabited by these writers. Asian writers have used these strategies particularly well to counter stereotyped images of their own culture and gender. In several anthologies published in the late-twentieth century, including Aiiieeeee!! Asian writers, both male and female have attempted to create new images of Asian American literature. Asian women writers have been faulted for creating what are perceived as unrealistic portrayals of Asian American culture, especially images of the Asian woman as powerful and dominant, often seen in the works of such writers as Maxine Hong Kingston and Amy Tan. Mitsuye Yamada has addressed this conflict in her writing, arguing for a cohesive creative vision and the space to express it.
Modern women's writing continues to explore new genres and means of expression, and women writers today participate fully in both the creative and scholarly process. Women's studies, feminist literary theory, and women's mode of writing and expressing are now established areas of academic environments, and women are exacting continued and growing control over their own literary and social spheres.
Women's Literature in the 16th, 17th, and 18th Centuries
With the advent of print in Europe in the mid 1400s, literature began to garner a much larger audience. The most famous early book was the Gutenberg Bible of 1456, and twenty years later, William Caxton effectively originated print in England when he set up his press at Westminster. The trend toward literacy and the wider distribution of texts throughout the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries significantly altered not only the intellectual landscape of Europe, but the role of women writers—as print made literature more widely available to the middle class and to middle-class women, the focus of literature changed significantly. Despite often being denied the educational opportunities afforded to men, far more women were able to express themselves in writing than before this period.
Much early writing, including that of female authors, was devotional in nature. Many women wrote prayers, translations of religious works originally in Latin, and other texts primarily centered on spirituality. Notable, and often autobiographical, religious works by authors such as Margery Kempe, were especially popular. The increasing availability of print gradually allowed literature to focus on more secular themes, and many women contributed to the body of literature by writing journals, essays, and letters. Initially a private genre, letters evolved from a basic form of communication into a significant public literary style. Epistolary writing by such authors as Margaret Cavendish and Mary Wortley Montagu elevated the style, contributing to the creation of the epistolary novel genre and to the development of fiction itself. These and other letters by women are currently studied not only for their social and historical commentary, but for their literary merits as well.
Nancy Cotton has traced the contributions of women playwrights to the fourteenth century, noting that the first known woman playwright in England, Katherine of Sutton, rewrote traditional liturgical plays between 1363 and 1376. Cotton credits the Countess of Pembroke, with her Antonie printed in 1592, as the first woman in England to publish a play. Angela J. Smallwood examines eighteenth-century British theater, and notes that the second half of the century was a "heyday of genteel comedy for female as well as male writers." A playwright as well as a novelist, Aphra Behn is known as the first woman to earn her living entirely from writing. Her novels, especially Oroonoko (1688) are widely studied to this day, as are the romantic works of Madeleine de Scudéry, and both authors were highly influential in the further development of literature. Women also participated heavily in the poetry of the era. As poetry writing changed from an act practiced by the aristocracy to one available to women of all classes, working-class women such as Ann Yearsley and Hannah More joined noble-women such as Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea, as published poets. Women made significant contributions to a wide variety of literature and literary periods, from the rise of the periodical in the sixteenth century to the rise of literary criticism.
Modern analyses of women's literature from 1500 to 1800 investigate the effects of social, economic, and political conditions under which women lived, in addition to studying the literary merits of their works. For instance, Marion Wynne-Davies demonstrates how women's very lack of status and financial independence served as an important impetus to publish, since they recognized their literary skills as a means to earn money. Elaine Hobby contends that women were more suited than men to write religious meditations, due to the "specifically female advantages of abandoning the world," and its "concerns of state." Margaret J. M. Ezell explains that women's literature was historically neglected by scholars, except in the area of nineteenth-century novels, but that literary historians, particularly since the 1970s, have recovered many previously unknown texts and manuscripts. Isobel Grundy analyzes the many elements involved in recovering a particular text and explores why a text might have been suppressed in the past. The recovery of such texts enables the study of early female writers, and the critical study and popular appeal of these authors continues to grow.
Letters of Mrs. Adams, The Wife of John Adams (letters) 1840
Some Account of the Fore-Part of the Life of Elizabeth Ashbridge (autobiography) 1774
The first examinacyon of the worthy servant of God, Mistresse Anne Askewe … lately martyred in Smith-fielde, by the Romish Antichristian Broode … with the elucydation of Johan Bale (personal narrative) 1546
The lattre examinacyon of the worthye servaunt of God mastres Anne Askewe (personal narrative) 1547
St. Teresa de Avila
El libro de su vida [The Life of the Mother Teresa of Jesus] 1562
El libra de las fundaciones de Santa Teresa de Jesús [The Book of the Foundations] 1576
El castillo interior, o las moradas [The Interior Castle; or, The Mansions] 1577
A Serious Proposal to the Ladies for the Advancement of Their True and Greatest Interest. By a Lover of Her Sex (essay) 1694
A Serious Proposal to the Ladies, Part II. Wherin a Method is Offer'd for the Improvement of Their Minds (essay) 1697
Oroonoko; Or, The Royal Slave. A True History (novel) 1688
The Lady's Looking-Glass, to dress herself by; or, The Whole Art of Charming (novel) 1697
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SOURCE: Rowlandson, Mary. "Captivity, Sufferings, and Removes (1682)." In Public Women, Public Words: A Documentary History of American Feminism, edited by Dawn Keetley and John Pettegrew, pp. 21-26. Madison, Wis.: Madison House, 1997.
In the following excerpt from her 1682 book, Rowlandson relates her time spent as a captive of American Indians.
On the 10th of February, 1675, the Indians, in great numbers, came upon Lancaster. Their first coming was about sun-rising; hearing the noise of some guns, we looked out; several houses were burning, and the smoke ascending to heaven. There were five persons taken in one house, the...
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SOURCE: de Gouges, Olympe. "The Rights of Women." In Women in Revolutionary Paris 1789-1795: Selected Documents, edited and translated by Daline Gay Levy, Harriet Branson Applewhite, and Mary Durham Johnson, pp. 87-96. Urbana: University of Illinois, 1979.
In the following excerpt from her 1791 pamphlet addressed to the Queen, Marie Antoinette, de Gouges offers a declaration of women's rights.
Man, are you capable of being just? It is a woman who poses the question; you will not deprive her of that right at least. Tell me, what gives you sovereign empire to oppress my sex? Your strength? Your talents? Observe the Creator in...
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SOURCE: Cotton, Nancy. "Women Playwrights in England: Renaissance Noblewomen." In Readings in Renaissance Women's Drama: Criticism, History, and Performance 1594-1998, edited by S. P. Cerasano and Marion Wynne-Davies, pp. 32-46. London: Routledge, 1998.
In the following essay, Cotton provides a history of England's early women playwrights.
The first recorded woman playwright in England was Katherine of Sutton, abbess of Barking nunnery in the fourteenth century. Between 1363 and 1376 the abbess rewrote the Easter dramatic offices because the people attending the paschal services were becoming increasingly cool in their...
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SOURCE: Wynne-Davies, Marion. Introduction to Women Poets of the Renaissance, edited by Marion Wynne-Davies, pp. xix-xxix. New York: Routledge, 1999.
In the following essay, originally published in 1998, Wynne-Davies provides an overview of female Renaissance poets, discusses their social positions, and examines their literary concerns.
And in oblivion bury me
And never more me name.
These words are taken from Isabella Whitney’s The Manner of Her Will . . . to London (lines 267-8), where she asks the city to bury her without show or ostentation. They could apply as succinctly to the body of her work as to her...
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SOURCE: Grundy, Isobel. “(Re)discovering Women’s Texts.” In Women and Literature in Britain 1700-1800, edited by Vivien Jones, pp. 179-96. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
In the following essay, Grundy discusses the process of recovering women’s texts and by what standards the works should be judged.
Discovery has a bad name in the late twentieth century. The old idea that Columbus ‘discovered’ America is now recognised to be Eurocentric. America was there already, full of human societies whose rich experience had not included the knowledge of Europe. Electricity, too, was pulsing through the air and through...
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SOURCE: Ezell, Margaret J. M. "Women and Writing." In A Companion to Early Modern Women's Writing, edited by Anita Pacheco, pp. 77-94. Oxford, England: Blackwell Publishing, 2002.
In the following essay, Ezell discusses the circumstances and motivations of numerous women writers.
But, why not women write, I pray?
Sarah Jinner, 'To the Reader', An Almanack or
Prognostication of Women (1658)
If this essay were being composed in the 1920s or 1930s the task would have been at once harder and simpler. It would have been harder in that the topic of early modern...
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Altaba-Artal, Dolors. "Theology to Humanism: Aphra Behn's 'The Young King; or, The Mistake'." In Aphra Behn's English Feminism: Wit and Satire, pp. 26-45. Selinsgrove, Pa.: Susquehanna University Press, 1999.
Examines The Young King; or, The Mistake 's debt to the work of Calderón de la Barca (1600-1681).
Anthony, Katharine. First Lady of the Revolution: The Life of Mercy Otis Warren. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1972, 258 p.
Biography of Mercy Otis Warren, a prominent patriot, pamphleteer, historian, and woman of letters during the American revolutionary period....
(The entire section is 853 words.)
Women's Literature in the 19th Century
Modern critical analysis of nineteenth-century women's literature seeks, in part, to understand the underlying reasons that women authors, especially in America, Britain, and France, were able to gain such widespread exposure and prominence in an age known for its patriarchal and often dismissive attitude toward the intellectual abilities of women. In addition, scholars have examined the broad thematic concerns that characterize much of the literary output of nineteenth-century women writers, many arguing that it was in the nineteenth century that gender-consciousness and feminist attitudes first came to the forefront of the literary imagination, changing forever how the works of female authors would be written and regarded.
The number of published women authors was greater in the nineteenth century than in any preceding century. Women's access to higher education increased exponentially during the century, providing them with skills that they could use to develop their art. The growth of market economies, cities, and life expectancies changed how women in Europe and the United States were expected to conform to new societal pressures, and made many women more conscious of their imposed social, legal, and political inequality. Finally, the many social reform movements led by nineteenth-century women, such as religious revivalism, abolitionism, temperance, and suffrage, gave women writers a context, an audience, and a forum in which they could express their views. While most scholars agree that many women writers expressly or tacitly accepted the separate sphere of domesticity that the age assumed of them, they also argue that as the century progressed, an increasing number of women began to express, in their writing, their dissatisfaction with gender relations and the plight of women in general. Throughout the Victorian era, the "woman question" regarding woman's true place in art and society was a subject that was hotly debated, spurred in large part by the rapid rise in literature by and for women.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, women writers were largely confined to the genres of children's literature and poetry. The emotionalism of poetry, particularly poetry in which depth of feeling and sentiment, morality, and intuition were expressed and celebrated, was considered a "feminine genre," suitable for women writers. As nineteenth-century women increasingly began to write fiction, however, critical reviews of the age often derided the inferior talents of women novelists, faulting what they perceived as women's lack of worldly experience, critical judgment, and rationality—traits thought to characterize men—and dismissing their works as little better than pulp designed to appeal to the unrefined tastes of an ever-expanding female readership. Many of the century's greatest novelists, including Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, Mary Shelley, and George Sand, never completely escaped the condescension of critics whose negative assessments of their works were often based on the author's gender. Scholars argue that the legacy of this sexism has been a historic dismissal of the work of many of the age's most popular, gifted, and influential women writers, consistently judged as unworthy of academic study.
Some modern critics have continued to disregard the contributions of nineteenth-century women authors, while others have noted that by the end of the century, women novelists were more prevalent, and often more popular, than male novelists. Others have focused on representations of women in literature written both by men and women to illuminate the full spectrum of expectations of and perspectives on women and their perceived roles in society. Commentators have also compared the thematic concerns of women writers in England, France, and the United States, recognizing in these three cultures intersecting movements toward creative and feminist literary expression. In recent decades, critics have examined the contributions of African American and Native American women authors, as well as the influence of the nineteenth-century periodical press, analyzing the increasing radicalism of journals and essays edited and written by feminist pioneers such as Frances Power Cobbe and Sarah Josepha Hale.
Toward the end of the century, nineteenth-century women writers expanded their subject matter, moving beyond highlighting the lives and hardships suffered by women locked in domestic prisons. Instead, they increasingly expressed their individualism and demanded more equal partner-ships—in marriage, public life, law, and politics—with men.