Tag Archives: Women’s Rights Movement

Teaching the Women's Rights Movement

Women’s Rights Movement series, part 5

This past week we’ve delved into the various aspects of the early Women’s Rights Movement. Today, Debra Schneider, social studies teacher at Merrill F. West High School, provides us with her expertise and hands on experience for teaching this subject in the classroom.  Click here for more from Debra Schneider.


For years, I have taught a unit on social movements of the 20th century in my 11th grade US History course, primarily focusing on the African American civil rights movement. Our focus is to explore issues at stake and strategies for gaining civil rights. This makes it easy to shift focus to any other social movement of interest to my students, such as the disability rights movement, the Chicano Youth movement, the marriage equality movement and others, continuing to explore issues and strategies. One problem: so many movements, so little time!

Then, a few years ago, after attending a fantastic Gilder-Lehrman Teacher Seminar on women’s history designed by Nancy Cott at The Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, I made the commitment to always include the women’s movements of the 20th century in the social movements we study. In addition to making sure women are part of our study of the Progressive era, the Great Depression, America at war, and other time periods, I have collected and created a series of lessons to study “two waves” of feminism.

I start by accessing students’ prior knowledge of the role of women with the concept of separate spheres:  the “private sphere” of women and the “public sphere” of men. I admit I am quite dramatic and exaggerate these to set up a sharp dichotomy between the two, but later use images of women at work to show the myths in this ideology. I also introduce the idea of two waves of feminism that have tried to change this ideology, with the expectation that we’ll evaluate how far we have come at the end of the unit.

We use the Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments as our baseline to see what women’s role in society was in the mid-1800s and to start our study of suffrage. We explore a set of images I have collected that show arguments for and against suffrage, including political cartoons, broadsides, and some anti-suffrage documents from the Stanford History Education Group. Students usually understand the pro-suffrage arguments easily, so we spend more time on the anti-suffrage movement. Students are shocked to learn that many anti-suffragists were women!  Students learn about the 19th Amendment, but see that there were still more rights to be gained.

Ad: Pictorial Review, “The CHANGE that has come to WOMAN” 1931.

Next we move on to the changing role of women through the 20th century. For this, I use a great set of resources created by Carolynn Ranch for the UC Davis History Project showing women through from the 1940s to the 1990s with advertisements, song lyrics, primary source expository texts, biographical sketches, and depictions of television show characters. Groups of students study and discuss each decades’ sources and use them to decide: How are women depicted in this decade? Before the lesson, they usually hypothesize that women will have more and more freedom and rights over time. After the lesson, they are surprised to find that women’s rights and freedoms seemed higher in the 1940s than in the 1950s, for example.  Here’s where they come to see that gender roles are often constructed by the nation to fill its changing needs.

Next we study the women’s liberation movement of the mid-century, starting with excerpts from Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. Many students are aware of this wave of feminism and hope to enjoy its benefits, but there is often a lot of nostalgia for “the good old days,” so I also introduce the ideas of Stephanie Coontz’s The Way We Never Were.

Most of my students think that the goal of the mid-century women’s movement was to encourage all women to move into the world of paid work, and perhaps with some parity with men (because this is the observed experience of many of them). My purpose in this lesson is to have them discover the complexity of the feminist movements, their intersectionality, and to see that women had conflicting and multiple ideas about what women’s problems were and how best to address them. I use documents expressing differences among racial/ethnic groups to illustrate the conflicts.

The last activity is a scored class discussion that asks, “How fair and equal is life for women in America today?” We discuss three topics: employment and wages, education, and political participation. Students use the Seneca Falls Declaration, everything we’ve learned so far, and a fact sheet on women in the US today as their sources. This has never failed to create a lively discussion with well-supported arguments that usually lasts two class periods.


The complete Women’s Rights Movement series includes posts on: the early movement, bloomers, anti-suffrage cartoons, and the 19th Amendment.  Join us next week for another Women’s History series!

The 19th Amendment

Women’s Rights Movement Series, part 4

In part 4 of the early Women’s Rights Movement series, we look at the victory of the suffrage movement. August 18, 1920 Congress ratified the 19th Amendment giving women the vote in national elections.   This was the culmination of more than 70 years of work by women’s rights advocates. Formed in 1890 by combining the two major suffrage parties of the time (NWSA and AWSA), the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) used a two pronged approach to achieve their goal:

  1. Campaigns for individual state suffrage
  2. A federal amendment to the Constitution

State by State

Early victories for the Suffrage Movement came in the efforts for state enfranchisement. The West played a particularly important role in this approach.  The states west of the Mississippi were the first to grant women the right to vote.  This can be attributed to the rapidly growing population filled with often more progressive businessmen, farmers, ranchers, politicians, and independently minded women.

“The Awakening” 1915

Graphic by Bertha Margaret Boye, 1911.

State by State grants of Suffrage:

  • Wyoming (1890)
  • Colorado (1893)
  • Idaho (1896)
  • Utah (1896)
  • Washington (1910)
  • California (1911)
  • Arizona (1912)
  • Oregon (1912)
  • Kansas (1912)
  • Oklahoma (1912)
  • South Dakota (1912)
  • Montana (1914)


California suffragists in particular launched a spectacular campaign of displays, graphic artwork, famous supporters, and immense hands on efforts to get the men of California to vote “Yes” in 1911. Ultimately, it was a tight win at an average of one vote in each precinct tipping the scales in favor of suffrage.

National Amendment

In addition to the state by state approach, movement leaders realized that a national amendment was necessary for the entire nation to achieve voting rights. Not only was the state approach costly and lengthy, but some states (such as those in the South) would most likely never grant women the right to vote.  Therefore, Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, influenced by European Suffragists and the women of the Western states, staged a suffrage parade in Washington D.C. for the day before Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration. This parade led directly to the reintroduction of the suffrage amendment and the establishment of the the National Woman’s Party (NWP), the more radical arm of the movement.

For a more in-depth look at the various groups and parties of the Suffrage Movement, check out our lesson plan “Ideas and Strategies of the Woman Suffrage Movement” adapted for Middle School, High School, and University students.

Poster: “The Woman’s Hour has Struck…Woman Suffrage is Coming” 1917.

Poster: Woman Suffrage, “WE GIVE OUR WORK, OUR MEN, OUR LIVES IF NEED BE” 1917.


Additional Resources:

The Library of Congress “‘Votes for Women Suffrage’ Pictures 1850-1920

Essay from the Nation Women’s History Project on California’s campaign for suffrage.

For an international component check out “Suffragettes to She Devils: Women’s Liberation and Beyond” by Liz McQuiston. This book features some truly amazing images from the Suffrage Movement worldwide.

Anti-Suffrage Cartoons

Women’s Rights Movement Series, part 3

Part 2 of the Women’s History Series on the early Women’s Rights Movement highlights some of the cartoons that opposed suffrage.

The call for women’s suffrage met with strong anti-suffrage rhetoric.  Not shy of using strong language, ads and cartoons from the late nineteenth to early twentieth century typically portrayed the fears and expectations of a voting female population.


Cartoon: “The Age of Brass/or the Triumphs of Women’s Rights” 1869.


Cartoon: “An Inauguration of the Future” 1897.

Ad: “Which do you Prefer? The Home or Street Corner for Woman: Vote No on Woman Suffrage” 1915.


Women’s Rights Movement Series, part 2

Continuing our discussion on the Women’s Rights Movement of the nineteenth century, today we highlight the efforts by advocates to change the everyday lives of women.  In particular, the clothes they wore.

One of the controversial aspects of the early movement was the introduction of “bloomers.”  Named after Amelia Bloomer editor of The Lilybut first worn by the Oneida community, these loose pants under shorter skirts drew intense negative attention from society. Often cartoons linked these garments to unsavory behaviors for women such as smoking and chastised those who chose to don them.

Cartoon: “Bloomer Costumes or Woman’s Emancipation” 1850s


Cartoon: ‘Woman’s Emancipation’ 1851

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