Women's Rights Movement

Women’s Rights Movement Series, part 1

The first week of our Women’s History Series focuses on the Women’s Rights Movement from 1848-1920.

Cartoon: “The Discord,” 1865, a marriage dispute over who wears the pants.
Husband: “Rather die! than let my wife have my pants. A man ought to always be the ruler.”
Wife: “Sam’y help me! Woman is born to rule and not to obey those contemptible creatures called men!”


Beginning with the Seneca Falls convention of 1848 and culminating in the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in 1920, women fought publicly for increased rights in the public and private sphere. Abigail Adams foreshadowed the beginning of the movement in 1776 in a  letter to her husband John Adams serving in the Continental Congress,

Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If perticuliar care and attention is not paid to the Laidies we are determined to foment a Rebelion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.

72 years later at Seneca Falls, NY, a coalition of women gathered to craft the “Declaration of Sentiments.” This document proclaimed that “all men and women are equal.”  The 18 “repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman” listed by the authors of the Declaration began by highlighting the lack of civic participation and ended with accusations that “He has endeavored, in every way that he could to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life.”  This document clearly defines the demands of women’s rights advocates and highlights the areas they would come to fight for well into the twentieth century: voting rights, marriage equality, employment opportunities, access to education, and ability to lead an independent life.

Stay turned the rest of this week for more documents, cartoons, and images to help students understand the early Women’s Rights Movement.

An excellent source for women’s history in the US is Ellen DuBois and Lynn Dumenil’s Through Women’s Eyes: An American History with Documents.

Through Women’s Eyes by Ellen DuBois and Lynn Dumnel

Check out the remainder of the posts in this series:

Bloomers” part 2

Anti-Suffrage Cartoons” part 3

The 19th Amendment” part 4

Teaching the Women’s Rights Movement” part 5