The recognition of the rights of women in not only American history but world history is relatively new. For thousands of years, women were seen as submissive and as second class citizens to their male counterparts, and sadly, this is still the prevailing ideology in many countries in the Middle East and Asia even today. When the 18th century Philosopher Voltaire said: “All the sentiments of men are not worth one sentiment of women,” He was not representative of the ideology of his countrymen or basically any culture in the world at that time.
In America, the Progressive movement of the early 20th century, actually had its roots in the reform movements, brought on mostly by women, in the first half of the 19th century. The Christian Temperance Movement, which eventually led to Prohibition, had its roots in the 19th century and its efforts were mostly fueled by women. As it is the case with most social movements, its origins are steeped in the past. The American Women’s movement is no different and the women of today who enjoy a wider range of freedom than ever before owe a special gratitude to the pioneers of the past.
Even with the passage of the 14th Amendment in July 1868, which gave African Americans the right to vote, yet did not do the same for women, the completion of the women’s suffrage movement seemed like an impossible dream. The focus of the country, in the years immediately following the Civil War, was on Reconstruction and not on women’s rights. However, in 1870, Wyoming became the first state to allow women to vote and by the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920, giving women the right to vote, a handful of states had allowed for their female citizens to vote.
The National American Women’s Suffrage Movement, founded by Elizabeth Caty and Stanton and Henry Ward Beecher, helped to push for the right of women to vote. The 19th amendment was formed on the basis of these earlier efforts. Another important figure in women’s history was Carrier Chapman Catt. Carrie was the President of the national American Suffrage Association from 1900 to 1904 and then from 1915 to 1920. Ever since the meeting at Seneca Falls in 1848, women have made a formal declaration towards their right to vote and attached this right to their right as citizens of the United States.
When the vote was realized for women in 1920, it was the efforts of Carrie Chapman Catt, along with others, who helped to give this right to contemporary women. Catt was able to accomplish this through her close association with the NAWSA as well as her close friendship with Susan B. Anthony, another Suffragette leader. Catt organized dozens of campaigns which mobilized numerous volunteers and made hundreds of speeches; all for the pursuit of equal treatment under the law. One of her most important and lasting accomplishments was her formation of the League of Women’s Voters in 1920.
When the 19th amendment was passed, ensuring the rights of women to vote, Catt realized the same as Frederick Douglas had when slavery was abolished in 1865; that even though their main objective had been become a reality, there was still a long road ahead of them. The 19th amendment would only serve as a legal foundation for the continued road of progress. The League of Women Voters, from the date of it inception in 1920 until present day, have mobilized women in some of the same ways that Catt had.
Only this time, women are not lobbying for the right to vote but for the right of equal pay for equal work, greater access of birth control, greater opportunities for employment and equal treatment and equal recognition under the law. Ida B. Wells is also a towering figure in the history of women’s rights. She is also a very colorful and inspiring figure in the women’s movement as well as the African American Civil Rights movement. Society regarded Wells as having two impediments to the realization of her dreams and success: she was a woman and she was an African America.
However, these were roles that Wells embraced. Wells grew up in the South and helped to lead a campaign against segregation practices on the railroads in Memphis. This was in 1884, seventy one years before Rosa Parks received all of her recognition for doing much of the same. However, Wells would not go quietly. When the conductor of the train tried to remove her from the white-only seats, Wells fought back “The conductor tried to drag me out of the seat, but the moment he caught hold of my arm, I fastened my teeth in the back of his hand.