Form and Content
Eleanor Flexner’s Century of Struggle: The Woman’s Rights Movement in the United States covers the period from the early nineteenth century to the adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1920, which gave women the right to vote. Published in 1959, it was one of the first histories of the women’s rights campaign and explored the question facing women, and the nation, in the nineteenth century and since: whether the Jeffersonian ideal that “all men are created equal” applied to whites males only or encompassed all people, regardless of race or sex.
Century of Struggle is organized chronologically. Although Flexner briefly discusses the Colonial and Revolutionary periods, the story proper begins in the early nineteenth century with the movement to provide an advanced education for women. Emma Hart Willard’s Troy Female Seminary opened in 1821 in New York City. The first college that offered education to women and men equally was Oberlin College in Ohio, and Mount Holyoke, the oldest women’s college in the United States, opened its doors in 1837. After the Civil War, the new land-grant colleges were more supportive of women, and at the same time new women’s colleges were founded, such as Smith, Wellesley, Vassar, and Bryn Mawr colleges.
The antislavery movement drew many women, both black and white, into the campaign to free African Americans from bondage. Some women saw their status as similar to slaves. The abolitionist Sarah Grimké argued for women’s equality, stating that “I ask no favors for my sex. . . . All I ask of our brethren is that they will take their feet from off our necks.” Lucy Stone also found it impossible to separate abolition from women’s rights, and when she married Henry Blackwell in 1855, they publicly objected to a legal system which perpetuated women’s inferior status.
The major watershed of the women’s rights movement before the Civil War took place at...
(The entire section is 807 words.)