For many years women have been thought only as homemakers, mothers and care givers. Women have much more to offer society than simple domestic attributes. For as long as women can remember, in the beginning women had fewer legal rights and career opportunities than men. Being a wife and mother were regarded as a woman’s most noteworthy occupation. It was expected that women be subservient wives, never to hold an idea or opinion independent of their husbands. It was considered unacceptable for women to travel alone or to speak in public.
Throughout the early history of the United States, a man practically owned his wife and children just as he did his material property. A poor man could choose to send his children to the poorhouse and consequently the mother was lawfully powerless to object. There was a common belief that intense physical or intellectual activity would be damaging to the delicate female biology and reproductive system, women were taught to abstain from seeking any serious education. Women were considered merely objects of beauty, and were seen as academically and physically inferior to men. This idea of women’s inferiority to men was further reinforced by structured religion which spoke of strict and well-defined sex roles.
The women’s suffrage movement was formally put into action in 1848 with the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York. The catalyst for this gathering was the World Anti-Slavery Convention which was held in 1840 in London. It was attended by an American delegation which included a handful of women. Attending were Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Ironically, they were forced to sit in the galleries as spectators because they were women. This unfortunate treatment did not sit well with these women of progressive opinions. It was determined that women would hold their own convention to converse the social, civil and religious rights of women. Using the Declaration of Independence as a guideline, Elizabeth Cady Stanton presented her Declaration of Principles in her hometown chapel. This meeting brought to light women’s subordinate ranking and made recommendations for change. Resolution 9 requesting the right to vote was the most important recommendation because it articulated the demand for sexual equality. Following to the Seneca Falls Convention, the demand to vote became the main focus of the women’s rights movement.
The American Equal Rights Association was established by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her contemporaries in 1866. This was a direct effort to organize the fight for women’s rights. In 1868, the approval of the Fourteenth Amendment was an upset to the women’s movement. The amendment defined citizenship and voters as male only, and brought up the question whether women were considered citizens of the United States at all. The prohibiting of women was further reinforced with the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870, which gave privileges to black men. In a disagreement over these Amendments, the women’s movement split into two factions. In New York, Stanton and Anthony established the radical National Woman Suffrage Association. Lucy Stone, Julia Ward Howe, and Henry Blackwell organized the more conservative American Woman Suffrage Association in Boston. These two groups later fused in 1890 to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association under the leadership of Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
In the 1872 presidential election Susan B. Anthony was arrested for attempting to vote for Ulysses S. Grant. Six years later, in 1878, a Woman’s Suffrage Amendment was introduced to U.S. Congress. The women’s movement gained a full head of steam during the 1890’s and early 1900’s with the formation of numerous groups, such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the National Council of Jewish Women, the National Association of Colored Women and the Women’s Trade Union League. The U.S. participation in World War I in 1918 slowed down the suffrage campaign as women participated in the war effort. Nevertheless, in 1919, after years of petitioning, picketing, and protesting the Nineteenth Amendment was passed by both houses of Congress and in 1920 it became ratified under the presidency of Woodrow Wilson. There was a significant rise of the women’s liberation movement in the 1960’s and women demanded a political voice. There were two main voices associates with this movement and they were Shirley Chisholm and Bella Abzug. Chisholm was the first African-American woman elected to Congress. A tireless activist for civil and women’s rights, Chisholm co-founded the National Organization for women and even ran for the presidency in 1972.
American women have had the right to vote since 1920. However, their political roles have been nominal. Finally in 1984 a major party chose a woman Geraldine Ferraro of New York to run for vice president. Jeanette Rankin of Montana, who was in 1917, was the first woman member of the United States House of Representatives. In 1968 Shirley Chisholm of New York was the first black woman elected to the House of Representatives. Hattie Caraway of Arkansas in 1933 was the first woman elected to the United States Senate. Senator Margaret Chase Smith served Maine for 24 years from1949 to 1973. Many others were Maurine Neuberger of Oregon, Nancy Landon Kassebaum of Kansas, Paula Hawkins of Florida, and Barbara Mikulski of Maryland. In 1971 Patience Sewell Latting was elected mayor of Oklahoma City. By 1979 two major cities were headed by women: Chicago, by Jane Byrne, and San Francisco, by Dianne Feinstein. Sharon Pratt Dixon was elected mayor of Washington, D.C., in 1990.
Frances Perkins was the first woman Cabinet member as secretary of labor under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Oveta Culp Hobby was secretary of health, education, and welfare in the Dwight D. Eisenhower Cabinet. Carla A. Hills was secretary of housing and urban development in Gerald R. Ford’s Cabinet. Jimmy Carter chose two women for his original Cabinet Juanita M. Kreps as secretary of commerce and Patricia Roberts Harris as secretary of housing and urban development. Harris was the first African American woman in a presidential Cabinet. When the separate Department of Education was created, Carter named Shirley Mount Hufstedler to head it. Ronald Reagan’s Cabinet included Margaret Heckler, secretary of health and human services, and Elizabeth Dole, secretary of transportation. Under George Bush, Dole became secretary of labor; she was succeeded by Representative Lynn Martin. Bush chose Antonia Novello, a Hispanic, for surgeon general in 1990. Reagan set an example with his appointment in 1981 of Sandra Day O’Connor as the first woman on the United States Supreme Court. Eleanor Roosevelt was appointed to the United Nations in 1945 and served as chairman of its Commission on Human Rights. Eugenie Anderson was sent to Denmark in 1949 as the first woman ambassador from the United States. Jeane Kirkpatrick was named ambassador to the United Nations in 1981.
The last three decades women have made a steady progression to political power. However, the most momentous year for women in politics was in 1992, when as many as 60 million women voted, and their impact was felt. After the ballots were counted, 24 new women had been elected to the House of Representatives along with five new female senators. This was the largest increase of women political leaders in American history.
Women now began to find their political standing. Christine Todd Whitman served as New Jersey’s first and only woman governor from 1994 to 2001, and Republican Senator Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina made a serious bid for the 2000 presidential election. Former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton won a seat in the Senate representing New York State. Today, 68 women including Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Nydia Velazquez of New York, Marilyn Musgrave of Colorado, and Mary Bono of California serve in the House of Representatives. Fourteen women are in the Senate, including Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein from California, Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas.
The most important time in history is now the present. We have had a woman running in the presidential race, Hillary Rodham Clinton. This is an exciting time for women all over. This is what our founding mothers have dedicated their lives to. The women of our past have struggled and fought to get where we are today. It is a clear reality that women are proven leaders. Women have so many qualities that make them excellent leaders. They are wise, logical, humanity driven; they have strong character, insight and are calm. Women are also worldly; possess humility, educated, observant and physically and emotionally strong.
Nonetheless for 200 plus years, American women have lacked equality. The presidential race has also provided a role model for young girls all over the country. As I was growing up I lived in a household where women were viewed as homemakers and that was it. My father had an attitude that women should do what they are told and men knew all. I knew that this mindset was wrong. I told myself that if I ever had kids, especially girls I would teach them from day one that women are equally important in every aspect of everyday life. Women are needed in the business world despite of what some men think. This time in history is so important to me. My girls need to see that a woman can do anything they put their mind to and no one is going to keep them from pursuing whatever their dreams may be.
Throughout history women have been made to be submissive and made to feel less than competent in political world. If it had not been for the important women of the past, we would not be where we are today. These days’ women are everything and anything. We are teachers, doctors, business women, college professors and most importantly political figures. The past years in the political field have been tough for women. They have had to struggle and fight every step of the way but thanks to women becoming involved in politics we have a voice. That is all we really need to make a difference in this world and to bring equality to all.
No Author (1995) Women’s History in America Presented by Women’s International Center. Retrieved from web site http://www.wic.org/bio/idex_bio.htm l
No Author (2010) Women’s Leadership in American History. Retrieved from web site http://www1.cuny.edu/portal_ur/content/womens_leadership/index.html
No Author (2007) The History of Women’s Suffrage. Retrieved from web site http://www.history.com/