History 122: American History from 1877|
Professor Thomas Shepard |
Laura Davidson |
Thesis: The Constitution did not initially make reference to the rights of women. Obtaining equal rights for women was a long and intense battle. Women fought for many rights such as, birth control and the right to keep wages. However, the largest of the woman’s rights struggles was for suffrage. |
The limits of freedom for women can be seen throughout history. Evidence of woman’s challenges to achieve equal rights can be observed in many state and federal Constitutional Amendments, Court and Supreme Court rulings, and woman’s groups. The women that fought for the right to vote were known as suffragists and they were perceived as immoral by many people. In 1848, the first woman’s rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York. After much deliberation, the Declaration of Sentiments was signed, which defined complaints and set the itinerary for what would come to be known as the woman’s rights movement. “‘The contest with the South that destroyed slavery,’ wrote the Philadelphia lawyer Sidney George Fisher in his diary ‘has caused an immense increase in the popular passion for liberty and equality.’” Women suffragists viewed Reconstruction as their opportunity to obtain their own emancipation. “‘No less than blacks,’ proclaimed Elizabeth Cady Stanton, women had reached a ‘transition period, from slavery to freedom.’” “‘The rewriting of the Constitution,’ declared suffrage leader Olympia Brown, provided the chance to separate the permissions of freedom from sex as well as race and to ‘bury the black man and the woman in the citizen.’” However, supporters of woman’s rights still encountered the limitations of the Reconstruction assurance of equality. The term male was presented in the Constitution for the first time, in 1868, when the 14th Amendment clause specified that any state that refused the right to vote to any particular group of men would be penalized. Consequently, the 14th Amendment didn’t improve the prospect of voting rights for women as the suffragists had hoped it would. In fact, it actually made things worse by only providing voting rights to men specifically. In October of 1972, a woman by the name of Virginia Minor had her voter’s application denied in the state of Missouri. According to the registrar, Reese Happersett, Ms. Minor’s application was denied because the Missouri’s constitution stated: “Every male citizen of the United States shall be entitled to vote.” In the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision of, Minor v. Happersett, the court held that the Constitution doesn’t guarantee women suffrage in federal elections. Woman’s rights leaders Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton tried to have the language of the 14th Amendment contain women. But, many people thought that the issue was too controversial. Additionally, there were many that thought that the approval of the amendment would be in jeopardy if such a controversial issue were included. While the Second Clause of the 14th Amendment penalized the rejection of the right to vote to men, it did not actually deny women the right to vote. In 1868, ninety-five years after it was ratified, the 15th Amendment was also signed into law; the amendment banned discrimination in suffrage based on race, not gender. The 14th and 15th amendments created a hostile divide between feminists, Radical Republicans, and within feminist circles. Although the 15th amendment did not guarantee suffrage for women, Susan B. Anthony used it as justification to vote in a New York election. Ms. Anthony was detained and fined for voting, but the episode proved as motivation to continue the battle for suffrage for women. In May of 1869, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton formed an organization, the National Woman Suffrage Association, with the sole purpose of having an amendment included in...