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The Women's Rights Movement or feminist movement has a widespread history that even dates back as far as the Enlightenment and the French Revolution when ideas about freedom led women like Mary Wollstonecraft (1792) in England to write A Vindication of the Rights of Women. However, an official organized moment began to form in both the United States and England in the 19th century. We date the start of the organized movement to the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 in the US. Barbara Leigh Smith together with Bessie Rayner Parkes began organizing political groups in England between 1858 and 1859. The primary goal of the early women's movements was to earn women's suffrage; however, there were other goals as well.
The Seneca Falls Convention was organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, some years after they had attended a meeting of the World Anti-Slavery Society and had been denied the freedom to speak out at the meeting or even to sit with the men. At that point, they realized women were being treated almost as unequally as the African Americans they were trying to liberate and decided something needed to be done to liberate women as well. At the convention, Stanton presented The Declaration of Sentiments, modeled after the Declaration of Independence in which the U.S. colonies declared that "all men are created equal" and attacked King George III with 18 different charges and presented 12 different resolutions. Similarly, in The Declaration of Sentiments, Stanton proclaimed that "all men and women are created equal" and levied 18 charges against men, including denial of the right to vote, the creation of unfair laws concerning divorce or separation, and the denial of equal rights to education and employment (West's Encyclopedia of American Law, "Seneca Falls Convention").
In England, among the many contributions of Barbara Leigh Smith and Bessie Rayner Parkes was the publication of The English Woman's Journal (EWJ), run by the Langham Place Group, a women's rights activist group the two women also established. The magazine championed women's suffrage, more employment opportunities, employment training, and fair working conditions. The magazine also "questioned the absolute authority of husbands and fathers over women's lives and property" (BRANCH: Britain, Representation, and Nineteenth-Century History, Janice Schroeder, "On the English Woman's Journal, 1858 - 64").
England achieved some successes earlier than the US, prior to the 1920s. England's first small success granted land-holding and wealthy women the right to vote through the Conciliation Bill of 1910, put before the House of Commons. Reforms to the bill were proposed subsequently in 1911 and 1912 but both bills were shot down. With the start of World War I, no further progress could be made on women's suffrage until after the war; however, since only the women remained behind during the war to fill men's positions, women did gain advances in their rights to employment. In contrast, women in the US did not gain voting rights until the 19th Amendment was added to the Constitution in 1920.
Women in the west, especially in the United States, wanted equality. Women wanted to be able to inherit property and vote as equals.
In July 1848, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton organized the Seneca Falls Convention. There were about 200 women in attendance. An announcement was published in the local paper reading that there was to be a convention to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of women at Wesleyan Chapel at Seneca Falls, NY. At first the convention was strictly for women; however, the women knew that men made the laws at this time in American history, so they knew that they would have to appeal to the men. At the convention, Stanton read the "Declaration of Sentiments and Grievances." This document closely resembled the Declaration of Independence; it had a preamble and listed their grievances with the law. Their preamble was much like the famous line in the Declaration of Independence that Jefferson wrote, "We hold these truths to be self-evident..." and then came the women's list of grievances. Women were told to organize petition signings and to work to get the laws changed. On the second day, men were invited and many showed up to the convention, including Frederick Douglass.
Eventually women would gather petitions, hold marches and rallies, and even picket the White House during Woodrow Wilson's presidency. Wilson and other lawmakers would "give in" to the pressure and pass the 19th Amendment, which was ratified in 1920.
Betty Friedan's book "The Feminine Mystique" expressed the frustration of college-educated housewives who felt trapped in the home. The goals of the 1960s and 1970s movements were to focus on the existing inequality in the workplace, mainly the lack of access to better jobs and higher salaries. In August 1970, women organized various marches and sit-ins across the nation. In 1972, Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment; however, it was never ratified by the states and therefore never became law. It was ratified by 30 states, but to become law the amendment needed 2/3 of the states to ratify the amendment.
Today, women are still fighting for equal rights. Women are fighting for equal pay in the workplace. In the business sector, men are still paid more for the same work that women do. That even holds true in Hollywood. Most male actors are paid more than their female counterparts.
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