How have women's rights changed over time?

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Women have gained many rights over the past few hundred years. However, it has often been a difficult struggle with many setbacks as well as accomplishments.

During Europe's Age of Enlightenment in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, women began gaining more freedoms than before. While they were still not considered equal to men at this time, they did begin to get more recognition as ideas concerning liberty and progress spread. A number of wealthy women engaged in the progressive efforts of this time by hosting salons in which great thinkers of the day would gather to share their ideas of modernity and societal improvement. However, women were still disenfranchised and usually considered subordinate to their male relations.

The seeds of the women's rights movement were planted during the Enlightenment. They began to sprout during the Industrial Revolution in the mid-nineteenth century. In the United States, women, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony fought hard to increase the rights of women. Although they failed to gain the right to vote, the rights of women to own property and manage businesses increased during this time.

The Progressive Era of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw a further expansion of women's rights. Suffragettes, as they were called, lobbied and protested for the right to vote. In the United States, they won this right on the federal level with the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. Furthermore, women gained more rights to control their property and earnings during this period.

In the 1960s and 1970s, women around the western world continued the struggle for equal rights under what is commonly called "second-wave feminism." They pushed for more rights over their sexuality as well as their role in the family and in the workplace. The increasing availability of birth control gave women more reproductive rights than ever before. The Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade (1973), though controversial, is considered one of the most important cases in the United States granting women bodily autonomy concerning reproduction.

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