Throughout history, women have not been given the same rights, freedoms, or respect that men have. Society has always celebrated the great things men were capable of and women were rarely acknowledged for anything that they did until over a hundred years later when women started fighting back. Before and after the American Revolution, women were only very slowly allowed to have any kind of rights in society, mainly fighting for the rights of the Constitution that men were always handed. Women played the role of caretaker more than they participated in civic society. During the 1700s through the mid-1800s leading to the first women’s rights convention, women were not supposed to speak up or go against men in any way, especially when married and were treated as property. All of the influential women that are celebrated today worked very hard to pave the way for equal rights and laid the foundation for how women participate in society to this day. Women throughout these times required confidence, pride, and determination when it came to fighting for equal rights in society when everyone was against them. The roles and rights of women in society before the American Revolution through the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, 1848, was a time of women pioneers and leaders, sharing their struggles, there battles, and their victories to allow women of the modern era to have the same rights as men.
During the time before the American Revolution women were not held in high regard unless it came to taking care of the family. In 1769, the colonies in America at the time decided to adopt an English system that would not allow women to own their own+ property and any earnings would go to their husbands[footnoteRef:1]. It was the husbands who were to protect and have authority over women according to the laws in place. Women were to take care of all household responsibilities and tend to the children. They were also not allowed to participate in any form of government, including having the right to vote. As of the year 1777, all states passed laws prohibiting women from having the right to vote in all elections. Before as early as 1776, New Jersey was a state that allowed women to vote because they “forgot” to write it into their state laws until later. Once it became clear that it was a “forgotten” law, men worked hard to get it corrected as women were not supposed to participate in government at that time. [1: This is a system known as Coverture. ]
While the revolution was taking place and the men were fighting as soldiers’ women took on a more background role. They participated in boycotts of British products after the Sugar and Townshend Acts were past to show their support of the cause since most women were the ones that commonly bought the goods for their household. Formed in Boston Massachusetts 1767, these women called themselves the Daughters of Liberty because they were still fighting the British for unfair taxation even if it was a more subtle thing being done. The Daughters of Liberty were also known for working long hours to spin yarn and wool for fabric since they were no longer getting it from Britain anymore. One very important woman to this cause was Sarah Bradlee Fulton, the leader of the Daughters of Liberty. Known as the “Mother of the Boston Tea Party” she was largely celebrated by women for her elaborate plans when it came to showing women’s support during the revolution. What created her the title as the “Mother of the Boston Tea Party” was her elaborate plan to disguise women as men (Mohawk Indians) and participate in the Boston Tea Party on December 16, 1773[footnoteRef:2]. Fulton is also credited for bringing women together at the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775, to help nurse wounded soldiers and acted as a surgeon to the injured. These women not only helped colonist soldiers, but were also tending to British soldiers who were injured in the process. Being on the fighting ground was not an easy task, but given the women’s roles as caretakers they were the best fit for the job and massively helped in a hectic situation. Women’s roles in the revolution were just as important as the men’s even if they didn’t acknowledge it. [2: “Women’s History Month: Sarah Bradlee Fulton.” Freedom’s Way National Heritage Area, March 1, 2018. http://freedomsway.org/womens-history-month-sarah-bradlee-fulton/.]
Another influential woman during this time in history was Abigail Adams. She was one of the world’s first advocates for women’s rights. At the point where the Declaration of Independence was being written Abigail Adams is most famous for the letters, she wrote to her husband John Adams on March 31, 1776. Famous for her words, “I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands.[footnoteRef:3]” Throughout the letters, she also threatened rebellion if such “care and attention” is not paid toward women. She discusses that women will not be willing to follow laws when they do not have a voice in them. Actions like this took a lot of courage and were one of the pivotal moments for women. Making sure that they would be remembered in a man’s world. [3: Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams, 31 March – 5 April 1776 [electronic edition]. Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. Massachusetts Historical Society. http://www.masshist.org/digitaladams/]
Judith Sargent Murray was another women’s rights activist that during the 1790s focused on discrepancies of men and women. She argued that she could do anything that men could do. She wanted to know why as a female was, she inferior to males, not just her, but all women in this time when they could do anything men were capable of. Murray was well known for her articles in the Massachusetts Magazine. In an article written by Murray called On the Equality of the Sexes, she goes from poem to letter expressing her opinions on inequalities. “Yes, ye lordly, ye haughty sex, our souls are by nature equal to yours; the same breath of God animates, enlivens, and invigorates us; and that we are not fallen lower than yourselves.[footnoteRef:4]” During this time women were not allowed to express their opinions and were never truly taken seriously. In 1792, Murray decided to create a new column for the magazine by taking on a male persona to be able to observe how she was treated. [4: Murray, Judith Sargent. “On the Equality of the Sexes.” The Massachusetts Magazine. National Humanities Center, 1790. http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/pds/livingrev/equality/text5/sargent.pdf. Page.4.]
Just two years before the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, 1848, six different women showed up from Jefferson County to sign a petition asking for the rights that have been withheld from them. They stated that as citizens of New York they deserved the same rights and were there to claim them for women. The six women included Eleanor Vincent, Lydia A. Williams, Lydia Osborn, Susan Ormsby, and Anna Bishop[footnoteRef:5]. Women’s rights have not been something that women take lightly because they fell like they are not being included in society. It was important to most of the women living in these times to try and have a voice even though many were scared to speak up. [5: “History of Suffrage.” History of Suffrage, Jefferson County, New York. Accessed November 18, 2019. http://stlawrence.aauw-nys.org/jeffcnty.htm.]
Up until the mid-1800s women were still being treated unfairly and used as property when married. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott started the movement of women’s rights in New York City in 1848 to change all of this. As of July 19th, and 20th, 1848 more than 300 women and men signed the Declaration of Sentiments. This document was a plea for the end of discrimination against women in the United States. It was also the first time in history that men and women showed up to fight for the same cause publicly. The Declaration of Sentiments listed 18 specific grievances that explained the inequalities of men and women. The main argument behind this document was that the Declaration of Independence applied to all men and women alike, so women should have all the rights men do. This particular document was also followed by a list of resolutions stating that women should be allowed to speak in public, have equal treatment under the law, and be granted the right to vote[footnoteRef:6]. It also listed that they wanted equal education, equality in marriage, be able to own their own property, hold the same jobs as men, and be able to testify in a court[footnoteRef:7]. [6: Frost-Knappman, Elizabeth and Kathryn Cullen-DuPont. Women’s Suffrage in America. New York, NY: Facts On File, 2005. Pages.72-74] [7: Stanton, Elizabeth Cady. “Declaration of Sentiments”, (1848). Accessed October 6, 2019. https://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/stantonsent.html.]
Emotions were high on July 19th, 1848. Women had never been able to share their opinions or make any kind of civil protest for equal rights before. It became a big deal to show strength and support for the cause. During the convention, Lucretia Mott introduced the convention and Elizabeth Stanton gave the first speech. Both of these women are well known in history for standing up for what they believed was right and helped pave the way for women in a male-dominated society. These women first met at a convention for slavery issues and both were turned away for being women. Later let into the convention only to be told to sit in the back and keep their mouths shut. Conspiring together after this was a great strength and bonded them together to make this huge movement possible for all women. As votes were cast, many feared the repercussions of this movement. But little by little the Declaration of Sentiments passed, sixty-eight women and thirty-two men. With this small victory, women still had a long way to go facing ridicule, but all in all, women were successful and this started many new conversations among states regarding the roles and rights of women in society.
Women’s roles in civil society changed drastically in the span of the 1700s and 1800s. In these hard times, women had to have very high amounts of confidence, pride, and determination to be able to fight the system. Being treated as less in a society full of men made it hard for their voices to be heard anywhere. These women allowed for the evolution of ideas when it came to what women were capable of accomplishing. Through their struggles, victory’s and story’s history was paved for all women. It makes it clearer about what a changing society looked like before and throughout the American Revolution when it came to the participation of women. Although women’s rights have not always been smooth sailing, many women have worked incredibly hard to pave the way for women’s rights and important roles in society.
Stanton, Elizabeth Cady. “Declaration of Sentiments”, (1848). Accessed October 6, 2019. https://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/stantonsent.html.
The Declaration of Sentiments was written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1848. This was a document written as a plea for women to have equal rights. This is a primary source because it was written by Stanton herself. I chose this source because it explained what the first women’s movement was all about and showed what women were fighting for in the mid 1800’s. I used this resource as the ending to my paper. It helped provide a good ending when I was explaining women’s roles and rights in society. This source is credible given that it is a typed replica of the exact document written by Stanton.
“Primary Source: Abigail and John Adams Converse on Women’s Rights, 1776.” Lumen. Massachusetts Historical Society. Accessed November 16, 2019. https://courses.lumenlearning.com/ushistory1os/chapter/primary-source-abigail-and-john- adams-converse-on-womens-rights-1776/
This source is a digital copy of the letters that were shared between Abigail and John Adams in 1776. While John Adams was away helping the continental congress in 1776, Abigail wrote him a series of letters telling him to remember women while they were writing up the constitution. She is known as one of the first female activists for women’s rights. This source was a great example for my paper because it showed the exact conversations where Abigail Adams was stating that women needed to be included into society just as much as men did. It was used to show how women knew they were being treated unfairly and explain why women were more determined to have a voice in a male- dominated society. This source is credible because they were letters written between Abigail and John having conversations while they were apart.
Frost-Knappman, Elizabeth and Kathryn Cullen-DuPont. Women’s Suffrage in America. New York, NY: Facts On File, 2005.
The Women’s Suffrage in America is a book written about women’s rights in the 1800’s and later. It lines out what women were looking for leading up to the first women’s rights convention in 1848. This book also outlines what was happening in England at this particular time as well. I used this source as background information to help me write my paper. It led me to several stories in my paper and helped create a baseline. It was an in- depth source that explained women’s rights. I believe that this source was credible because it did not have any opinions and focused solely on events and when they happened. It also listed how women felt at this time and where they were headed in society.
McMillen, Sally G. Seneca Falls and the Origins of the Women’s Rights Movement. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.
This source is a book written about the first women’s rights convention. It outlines all of the dates, times, and locations of how the convention came to be. It was used in my paper for specific details regarding the event to show how and what women were fighting for in 1848. Throughout her book there are no opinions and she focuses on certain women’s lives through the process, I believe this site is credible. All facts line up when I fact checked with other sources.
Murray, Judith Sargent. “On the Equality of the Sexes.” The Massachusetts Magazine. National Humanities Center, 1790. http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/pds/livingrev/equality/text5/sargent.pdf.
This poem/article written by Judith Murray was written to show the inequalities between men and women from her point of view. The first half is a poem directed at men and the rest is an article she wrote to express why she did not believe that women should be inferior to men in all aspects of life. This source was important for my paper because it explained a women’s perspective of what it was like to live in the 1790s. This source is credible because it was written by Murray and just copied to an online publication. Murray lived from 1751-1820 in an environment where she was treated inferior to her brother, this led her to write this article later in her life. She was a big women’s rights activists and that fits into my paper because she is a true example of how women fought for their rights in the late 1700s.
“Women’s History Month: Sarah Bradlee Fulton.” Freedom’s Way National Heritage Area, March 1, 2018. http://freedomsway.org/womens-history-month-sarah-bradlee-fulton/.
Sarah Bradlee Fulton was one of the most influential women during the revolution. This source worked very well into my paper because it explained all about Fulton and her mission when it came to women’s rights. I used this paper as an example of a great woman that worked hard to do her part for women in the 1700 and 1800s. I believe this site is credible because it has no opinions, is clear and concise and is celebrating her for women’s history month. The source is clear and gives great examples of what Fulton achieved in her life time.
“Colonists Respond to the Stamp Act,1765-1766.” America In Class. National Humanities Center, n.d. http://americainclass.org/sources/makingrevolution/crisis/text3/stampactresponse1765.pd f.
This source is an explanation of how the colonist responded to the stamp act in 1765- 1767. It explains how specific people reacted to the acts and specific churches as well. The focus of this documents was page 11 it explained how the sons and daughters of liberty responded to the acts. It helped me know specifically what women’s responses were and helped me to write the part of my paper before the revolution section. It added a lot of depth to my paper and helped to explain clearly why the women stopped buying goods. I think this is credible given that they are digital copies of original articles published in 1765.
- Michals, Debra. ‘Judith Sargent Murray.’ National Women’s History Museum. 2015.
- Cogan, Jacob Katz, and Lori D. Ginzberg. ‘1846 Petition for Woman’s Suffrage, New York State Constitutional Convention.’ Signs 22, no. 2 (1997): 427-39. www.jstor.org/stable/3175283.
- “History of Suffrage.” History of Suffrage, Jefferson County, New York. Accessed November 18, 2019. http://stlawrence.aauw-nys.org/jeffcnty.htm.