|Several activists in antislavery joined the women's rights movement. Lucy Stone, Susan B. Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage, Abby Kelley | |Foster, and Sojourner Truth are among the most well known. Angelina Grimke and her sister, Sarah Grimke worked for women's rights after a | |career as antislavery lecturers. | |Wendell Phillips, William Lloyd Garrison, and human rights advocate Ernestine Rose participated at national women's rights conventions. | |In 1849 Amelia Bloomer became the editor of the first woman's newspaper, The Lily. Bloomer lived in Seneca Falls, New York and became an | |outspoken advocate of women's rights, dress reform, and temperance. She was inspired by Elizabeth Smith Miller. |
The importance of women of the 19th century represents the entitlements and freedoms claimed for women and girls of all ages in many societies. The idea is that women should have equalrights with men.
In some places these rights are institutionalized or supported by law, local custom, and behaviour, whereas in others they may be ignored or suppressed. They differ from broader notions of human rights through claims of an inherent historical and traditional bias against the exercise of rights by women and girls in favour of men and boys.
Issues commonly associated with notions of women's rights include, though are not limited to, the right: to bodily integrity and autonomy; to vote(suffrage); to hold public office; to work; to fair wages or equal pay; to own property; to education; to serve in the military or be conscripted; to enter into legal contracts; and to have marital, parental and religious rights.
It takes a considerable leap of the imagination for a woman of the 21st century to realise what her life would have been like had she been born 150 years ago. We take for granted nowadays that almost any woman can have a career if she applies herself. We take for granted that women can choose whether or not to marry, and whether or not to have children, and how many.
Women of the mid-19th century had no such choices. Most lived in a state little better than slavery. They had to obey men, because in most cases men held all the resources and women had no independent means of subsistence. A wealthy widow or spinster was a lucky exception. A woman who remained single would attract social disapproval and pity. She could not have children or cohabit with a man: the social penalites were simply too high. Nor could she follow a profession, since they were all closed to women.
Girls received less education than boys, were barred from universities, and could obtain only low-paid jobs. Women's sole purpose was to marry and reproduce. At mid-century women outnumbered men by 360,000 (9.14m and 8.78m) and thirty percent of women over 20 were unmarried. In the colonies men were in the majority, and spinsters were encouraged to emigrate.
Most women had little choice but to marry and upon doing so everything they owned, inherited and earned automatically belonged to their husband. This meant that if an offence or felony was committed against her, only her husband could prosecute. Furthermore, rights to the woman personally - that is, access to her body - were his. Not only was this assured by law, but the woman herself agreed to it verbally: written into the marriage ceremony was a vow to obey her husband, which every woman had to swear before God as well as earthly witnesses. Not until the late 20th century did women obtain the right to omit that promise from their wedding vows.
In 1890, Florence Fenwick Miller (1854-1935), a midwife turned journalist, described woman's position succinctly:
Under exclusively man-made laws women have been reduced to the most abject condition of legal slavery in which it is possible for human beings to be held...under...