What was the nature of the twentieth-century Women's Rights Movement in the United States?

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The first thing to remember about the twentieth-century Women's Rights Movement is that it encompassed a variety of social concerns.  The sheer breadth of the movement contributed to the delay in its progress.

In the early twentieth century, the enfranchisement of women (suffrage) occupied much of the effort of those in the Women's Rights Movement.  From the right to vote would come progress in other social concerns.  Though the first convention in the Women's Rights Movement occurred in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York, it would not be until 1920 that the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment would officially grant women the right to vote.

While obtaining the right to vote certainly advanced the Women's Rights Movement, it also hindered it to a degree.  Suffragettes had devoted all of their time and energy to winning the right to vote, but once obtained, it was not clear where their efforts should then be focused.

In the years between the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment and the rise of Civil Rights in the 1950s and 1960s, the Women's Rights Movement pushed along steadily, making great strides in asserting the rights of women to their bodies.  Two of the most important advances made in the years after 1920 was the Food and Drug Adminstration's approval of the birth control pill in 1960 and the foundation of Planned Parenthood in 1942, though a number of other important contributions to the Women's Rights Movement were made in the 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s.

In the 1960s, the Women's Rights Movement saw a resurgence in its determination for social change.  In the 1960s, members of the movement, as well as writers such as Betty Friedan (in The Feminine Mystique) expressed greater and greater discontent with the status quo.  The Women's Rights Movement pushed for equal pay and equal access in the job market (in opposition to the glass ceiling idea) culminated in Roe v. Wade (1973), which decided that women have the ultimate say over what happens in their bodies.

In the overall scheme, the legislation that has been passed due to the actions of the Women's Rights Movement in the twentieth century indicates the gradual achievement of equality in a number of social aspects - at least on paper.  Beyond the legislation, the Women's Rights Movement also demonstrates a growth in the assertiveness of women in the social realm.  In many ways, it has realized a great deal of what nineteenth-century members of the movement had sought to achieve.


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