How did the women’s suffrage movement evolve during the nineteenth century?

The nineteenth-century women's suffrage movement emerged out of ideas expounded by the proto-feminist writer and activist Mary Wollstonecraft. After an 1832 expansion of voting rights to new classes of British men excluded any similar concession to women, the "Chartist Movement" spread throughout the industrializing UK in the 1840s, becoming organized and vocal. At the same time in America, female factory workers gave momentum to the women's rights movement emerging out of 1848's Seneca Falls Conference.

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In the industrialized Northern US, the factories producing textiles from Southern cotton depended on the labor of women-mostly unmarried young women, widows, and even young girls. This booming new manufacturing economy, in America as in Britain, provided unprecedented opportunity for women to make money independently outside the home or farm. As the labor of women became increasingly valuable to the capitalist enterprise, women began to recognize their organizational strength in standing up to their male bosses, even as those bosses mightily resisted conceding to the women's demands for better pay, working conditions, and respect for their dignity.

In the United States, the mid-eighteenth century organizing accomplishments of the icons of the women's suffrage movement movement like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and Sojourner Truth built on advances made by the so-called "mill girls" in towns like Lowell, Massachusetts. Throughout the 1830s and 1840s, these factory workers tried, with repeated frustration at the hands of their strike-breaking bosses, to form a labor union at their textile mill. After Stanton and Mott were barred from attending the world antislavery congress in London in 1840, they vowed to create a a group to advocate for the rights of women. Then, in 1848, a Women's Rights Convention was held at Seneca Falls, NY, attended by Frederick Douglass.

By 1850, the cause of women's suffrage had become interconnected with Douglass's abolitionist movement that sought to gain citizenship for African Americans. Although the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the US constitution established citizenship and extended voting rights to free men of color, women were excluded from the post–Civil War gains for Black men.

Early progress on the women's suffrage front was made not in the East but in the rugged and sparsely-populated West. Wyoming became the first US territory to pass an inclusionary law in 1869 that led to women getting the right to vote there in 1890, thirty years before the nineteen amendment gave American women the vote, and two years after British women did as well.

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