Mobilization of a Movement

The remarkable advances in technology in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century afforded white middle to upper-class women the luxury of leisure time. Some women sought higher education, opened businesses, participated in reform movements such as abolition and women’s suffrage, and eschewed the idea that the only place for woman was the home.

Today, all it can take is a post or a blog to go viral, ignite a fire, and launch a movement. But 100 years ago it was not as easy. Change did not happen quickly. To mobilize an army required traveling thousands of miles, public demonstrations, and speeches. Position pieces and calls to action needed to be sent to the printing press for inclusion in weekly newspapers. Activism happened not only in churches, meeting halls, schools, conferences and conventions, but also in book clubs and sewing circles. Through the writing of petitions, marches, and protests, women found themselves outside the homes, actively participating in the public sphere. These actions were critical to garnering support for the movement.

Educators, lawyers, brokers, writers, economists, philosophers, wives and mothers banned together and formed organizations such as New England Suffrage Association, Nebraska Suffrage Association, Woman Suffrage Party of the City of New York, Washington Equal Suffrage Association, and South Dakota Universal Franchise League. National groups like the National Woman Suffrage and Educational Committee, Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage, and the National American Woman Suffrage Association provided additional avenues for participation and support. Together these women and these organizations arranged presentations at state constitutional conventions, hosted Women’s Rights conventions, and utilized various promotional tools to spread the words and ideals of equality. Many argued that women needed the vote in order to protect their families; for others the right to vote was more about defining citizenship. The 19th amendment eliminated sex as a barrier to voting in the United States but it left out women of lower classes, and of different race and ethnicities. Suffrage took an important step in 1920, but the journey for women’s rights did not stop.

The materials in this section highlight the mobilization of the suffrage movement. From Mary Wollstonecraft’s manifesto in 1792 to Doris Stevens’s campaign of militant suffragists in 1920, these women took to the podiums, to the newspapers, and to the streets to make their voices heard and to advocate for the equality of the sexes and the enfranchisement of women. From cookbooks to broadsides, postcards to pamphlets, these items represent some of the earliest voices and words arguing for women’s rights.

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: With Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: With Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects.

Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797)

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: With Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects.

London: [s.n.], 1792.

Mary Wollstonecraft [Godwin] was a British teacher and writer. Her path-breaking feminist manifesto argued for the spiritual and rational equality of women and was extremely influential in years to come, on both sides of the Atlantic. She argued that the rights of man and of woman were one and the same thing. Though her demand for "justice for one-half of the human race" was revolutionary for her time, she found a following among radicals and educated women as the nineteenth century progressed, and succeeded in initiating a new regard for women as a social force. Tragically, after Wollstonecraft met and married William Godwin (1756-1836) , she died giving birth to their daughter Mary, future author of the novel Frankenstein.

From the Helen LaKelly Hunt Collection of American Women Reformers and Writers

Letters on the equality of the sexes, and the condition of woman. Addressed to Mary S. Parker

Letters on the equality of the sexes, and the condition of woman. Addressed to Mary S. Parker.

Sarah Moore Grimké (1792-1873)

Letters on the equality of the sexes, and the condition of woman. Addressed to Mary S. Parker.

Boston:  I. Knapp, 1838.

Grimké, an active abolitionist and crusader for women's rights, sets down her thoughts on the natural equality of the sexes and foreshadows many of the arguments of later feminists.

DeGolyer Library, General Collection, HQ1423 .G8

New York Weekly Tribune

New York Weekly Tribune.

New York Weekly Tribune.

New York [N.Y.], June 7, 1851.

This issue of the Tribune features “The Rights of Woman,” a reporter’s account of the Ohio Woman’s Rights Convention from May 28th in Akron. At the 1851 Women’s Rights Convention held in Akron, Ohio, Sojourner Truth (c. 1797– 1883) delivered what is now recognized as one of the most famous abolitionist and women’s rights speeches in American history, “Ain’t I a Woman?”

From the collection of Jeanne Stevenson-Moessner

New York Tribune

New York Tribune.

New York Tribune.

New-York, N.Y., May 13, 1859.

At the ninth annual meeting of the National Woman’s Rights Convention, Mrs. Susan B, Anthony was elected President. After "noise and restlessness" made the speeches of Antoinette Brown Blackwell, Caroline Dall, Lucretia Mott, and Ernestine Rose impossible to hear, Wendell Phillips, experienced in handling disruptions of anti-slavery conventions, spoke. He “advocated the employment of women in whatever sphere she chose to enter and contended that the highest sphere of woman was that in which she succeeded.”

From the collection of Jeanne Stevenson-Moessner

Wisconsin State Journal

Wisconsin State Journal.

Wisconsin State Journal.

Madison, Wis.: Atwood & Rublee, January 1, 1867.

In “Female Suffrage in New Jersey”, the author recounts the work of Mrs. Lucy Stone and Mrs. H. B. Blackwell to examine the history of suffrage in the state of New Jersey. Until the state changed its constitution in 1844, “all inhabitants without distinction of either sex or race, possessing fifty pounds worth of property each, and twelve months’ residence in the state,” possessed the right to vote in all elections. In 1847-1848 the state legislature passed a law forbidding women and African Americans from voting.

From the collection of Jeanne Stevenson-Moessner

The New York Herald

The New York Herald.

The New York Herald.

New York, November 24, 1869.

Page five reads: “The Woman’s Movement. Humorous history of the social revolution-Present Strength of the Movement-Suffrage, Sorosis and the Parliament-Secession on the Carpet-A New Phase of the Woman Question.” The article refers to the four apostles (Mrs. Lucretia Mott, Mrs. Lucy Stone, Mrs. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Mrs. Susan B. Anthony) and their question for the emancipation of women.

From the collection of Jeanne Stevenson-Moessner

A history of the national woman's rights movement for twenty years: with the proceedings of the decade meeting held at Apollo hall, October 20, 1870, from 1850 to 1870, with an appendix containing the history of the movement during the winter of 1871, in the national capitol.

A history of the national woman's rights movement for twenty years: with the proceedings of the decade meeting held at Apollo hall, October 20, 1870, from 1850 to 1870, with an appendix containing the history of the movement during the winter of 1871, in the national capitol.

Paulina W. Davis (1813-1876) and Victoria Claflin Woodhull (1838-1927)

A history of the national woman's rights movement for twenty years: with the proceedings of the decade meeting held at Apollo hall, October 20, 1870, from 1850 to 1870, with an appendix containing the history of the movement during the winter of 1871, in the national capitol.

New York: Journeymen Printers' Co-operative Association, 1871

Woodhull was an American leader of the women's suffrage movement who ran for President of the United States in 1872. Davis was an abolitionist, suffragist, and educator who was one of the founders of the New England Woman Suffrage Association.

DeGolyer Library, General Collection, JK1896 .D3

Mobilization of a Movement