Freedom; having the power to think, speak, and act in any way without control or constriction. Throughout history, women fought to be seen as individuals and to be able to advocate for the things they believed in. The women of this time were unfairly treated and overlooked. They were denied the right to act by not being included in the fifthteenth amendment to vote. They couldn’t speak in any high office position. They couldn’t think and share their thoughts because they weren’t seen as smart. Women didn’t feel valued in American society. The concept of freedom switched for women from fighting for basic human rights as an American citizen and to be seen as equals to men to wanting feminist rights to grow as individuals. Women had thoughts, feelings, skills, talents, hopes and dreams and they wanted to share them with the world.
During the nineteenth century, women were seen as an accessory to men. They were only allowed to have a domestic role in society. Their only purpose was to have children, raise them, and care for the house. Men were the only ones in the family who could make any decisions. Women wanted to have the opportunity to do all the things men were doing. They wanted the right to vote, have a job, own property, hold government positions, be given an education and most of all be treated and seen as equals to men. After the Civil War in 1865, former slaves were now free and gaining rights. Women saw Reconstruction as a time to also declare their own emancipation (461). Watching the newly freedmen gaining rights sparked a fire in many women to want the same thing. Because of this, women were starting to band together with others who were fighting prior to the Civil War to form the women’s rights movement. Unfortunately, men didn’t believe women were capable and continued to overlooked them.
In 1869, the Women’s Suffrage Association (WSA) was formed. Their purpose was to promote women’s voting rights. At the time, only white and black American men had the right to vote. In that same year, the state of Wyoming granted women full voting rights ( ). That was a glimmer of hope for American women of this time. But what they didn’t know was it would take the whole nation much longer to join the movement. One well known women’s activist is Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a leading figure of the early women’s rights movement. In a speech made by Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1869 titled “History of Women’s Suffrage,” Stanton urges there to be a sixteenth amendment made to ensure men and women have equal rights. She believed the word “men” to be taken out of the constitution. She believes the constitution should apply to both men and women. She states that women have been giving backed up arguments about the topic of women’s rights for twenty years, and men still haven’t given a reason for their side yet. She also points out that the leaders of this country are the same from many years ago. Stanton believes it’s time to update the thoughts and beliefs of who they elect to fit the time they were in better. In Stanton’s speech she states, “Because man and woman are the complement of one another, we need women’s thoughts in national affairs to make a safe and stable government” ( ). She wanted balance in government with both men and women who would make a strong team together. One of the arguments Stanton uses to defend her belief in creating sixteenth amendment was that men had a history of violence, cruelty and selfishness while governing. She used history to back her theory up, using slavery and imprisonments as two key points. She described men in history as, “… a destructive force, stern, selfish, aggrandizing, loving war, violence, conquest, acquisition, breeding in the material and moral world alike discord, disorder, disease, and death” ( ). Elizabeth Cady Stanton pushed for a sixteenth amendment to be made in order to change the way women were treated and overlooked ( ).
What is known as “the women’s era” started in the 1890s. During this time, women were given bigger opportunities for economic independence than ever before. By the end of this decade, about five million women were actively working and were being paid. Most worked in more traditional positions, such as domestic service and the garment industry. At the time women were enrolled in colleges, and eventually they would take on better paying professional positions. Also for the first time, women were an influence on public affairs. The women’s era was responsible for the founding of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in 1874. They demanded that alcohol should be banned due to it making men waste their wages and act abusively to their wives as well as equality in the workplace, education and politics (532). Another group formed during this period was the Women’s Suffrage Association (WSA). Their purpose was to reunite the rival suffrage organizations. The group also argued rather than letting foreign people vote, it would be better to let a native born white women vote. Greater economic and political opportunity, the right to own property, control wages and contracts were some of women’s successes during the women’s era, but many of their wants were still unachieved (533).
With women now contributing to American society much more than ever before, they shift from wanting political rights to more social rights. The word feminism was introduced during the Progressive era. Women now began to see the word freedom in a different way. Margaret Sanger, a leader of the birth control movement states, “No women can call herself free who does not own or control her own body and can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother” (561). In the book titled “Women and the New Race” written by Sanger, she claims by women not using a form of birth control that they would be causing a debt to society. The debt to society Sanger believes that women are causing is overpopulation, crime, cheap labor supplies, and social evils. The only way to pay that debt would be for women to be educated about birth control and limiting reproduction. She believes women should be able to make their own decisions about their bodies ( ).
After the turn of the century, for the first time the National American Woman Suffrage Association became a mass movement. By 1917 they had more than two million supporters. One approach in order to gain women’s voting rights at the time was Carrie Chapman Catt’s address to the United States Congress trying to get them to believe women’s suffrage was inevitable so they would vote to pass the amendment. She mentions that women were becoming frustrated. Catt used historical precedence, sympathy, and patriotism to get her point across to Congress ( ).
A more aggressive approach women took was they went on hunger strikes resulting in them having to be force fed and they chained themselves to the fence in front of the White House, which led to many of them being arrested. In 1920, the nineteenth amendment was passed making it illegal to deny an American citizen to vote based on gender. What persuaded the administration toward supporting women’s suffrage was women’s patriotic service and widespread outrage (591). In Bruce Bliven’s article “Flapper Jane,” he describes the typical young female during the 1920s. He writes about their revealing clothing and short haircut. He mentions their style is far different from their mother’s. Bliven relates this new style to women’s new independence and freedom.
Post Civil War, women’s idea of freedom was to possess basic human rights as American citizens to match men, after being granted with those rights women sought after feminist rights to progress themselves as individuals. Women today have freedom because of the strong women who never stopped fighting. We are able to speak, think, and act as we desire. The stereotype of the domestic women that was insisted upon in the nineteenth century is now no longer women’s only purpose. Today women are doctors, lawyers, politicians, scientists, and much more.