Writing was a popular form of expression for women and was used as tools of social change--in the form of letters, essays, magazine and newspaper articles, short stories and books. These works became the beginning of intellectual expression through which women not only battled for their own rights, but paralleled their situation to that of the enslaved black man as well, and fought for the abolition of slavery.
In actuality, the Romantics and a transcendental way of thought greatly influenced the writing of women and their sentimental literature. Romanticism reached American during a time of expansion, growth and constant change in a generation of people struggling to define themselves, and produced a newfound need for self-awareness and self-expression. Transcendentalism dominated the thinking of America and its way of thought echoed throughout the shifting society during the entire 19th century. In one way or another America's most creative minds were drawn into its influence, attracted to its sensible and down-to-earth message of confident self-identity, spiritual progress, and social justice.
Women then took one step further when in 1843 Margaret Fuller backed up a declaration and expanded it in her article The Great Lawsuit which concluded that all people should be equal, women as well as men, black as well as white. Although influenced by the effects of Romanticism, sentimental literature differed vastly from that of Romantic literature. In contrast to this heavily metaphoric male literature, which was situated mostly in outdoor settings, and reflecting nature, adventure, wilderness and action, women's literature centered almost completely in and around the home, and reflected the belief that roles within the family unit modeled roles within society as a whole. In an effort to bring honor and moral standards to a basically untamed land, women addressed their readers with stories about food, gossip, clothes, home-life, manners, virtue, and inner feelings.
The Two Offers, written by Francis Harper, is an ideal example of 19th century sentimental literature. It was published in 1859. It is thought of as the first short story published by a black person in the United States. The story does not deal with racial issues; it focuses on the domestic problems of drunkenness, wife abuse, child neglect, and the pressure on women to marry. Harper incorporated African-American oral techniques and abolitionist sentimentalism into her work to bring experiences among people into the mainstream. And, having worked in and being familiar with high-culture, she utilized a writing style purposely to stimulate a vivid and emotional response in her readers.
During the 1850's the fledgling women's movement began to organize itself. The movement's leaders focused their agenda on full rights and participation in civic life for women. Leaders such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton grew to be skilled speakers and organizers of petitions. Women's rights had achieved a high level of visibility after the convention at Seneca Falls. Soon, many other women were drawn to the movement, but none would be more important than Susan B. Anthony.
Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton began to work together on women's rights and one of the first issues they worked on were property rights for married women. The Married Woman's Property Act had been passed in New York Stat in 1848. However, there were still gross inequities for married women under the law. A married woman could not sell her property or own the wages she had earned. The lack of...