As August 2020 and the centennial of women’s right vote in the United States grows closer, we’re starting to see some really creative projects highlighting the brave, groundbreaking women of American history. Unfortunately, none of them include Victoria Woodhull yet (trust me, I’m contacting each one as I learn of them), but they do include many of her contemporaries. Here are three projects I’m keeping an eye on:
Rebel Women – A project to get more statues of amazing women of American history built in New York City and throughout the country. The author of the article I linked to is asking for nominations for women from your home town. I’ve already nominated Victoria for New York City and Virginia Minor for St. Louis. Please, feel free to nominate your own or second one of mine by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Embrazen Wines – This is by far the most clever of the three projects. A winemaker has created three special vintages with labels that highlight the accomplishments of three women in American history: Josephine Baker, Nellie Bly and Celia Cruz. A special app called Living Wine Labels allows you to scan the bottle and hear Beginning August 26 (National Women’s Equality Day, which many groups are lobbying to make a Federal holiday), you can nominate women of history or today to be added to the next group of wines. If you nominate a contemporary woman, she could win a $25,000 grant. You bet I will be making them aware of Victoria when the Trailblazer campaign opens on August 26.
Where Are the Women? – This Kickstarter campaign aims to create sculptures of 20 notable women of U.S. history. Even though Victoria is not among them, her friends Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott and Lucy Stone are. I have backed it and I have also recommended Victoria to them. Please help them reach their goal. It’s so important that we spread the word about women’s history and all those whose accomplishments have not received the attention they deserve.
Why am I telling you about these? Well, besides oversight of not including Victoria, I’m still working on a proposal for a book on the history of feminism in the U.S., which I’d love to have published near the centennial. Cross your fingers!
Some of you may be aware that I’m working on a proposal for a non-fiction book on the history of U.S. feminism that I hope to have published on or near the 100th anniversary of American women getting the right to vote, which is August 19, 2020. This week, Diana at Creating Herstory is featuring a four-part article I wrote on this very same subject and I thought I’d repost the article each day as it runs on her site. It will give you a rough idea of what the book will include, although the book also will have a section on colonial feminist thought that this article doesn’t cover.
Image purchased from Adobe Stock
For me, every day is Women’s History month because I’m currently researching the history of the feminism movement in the United States for a book.
Honestly, although I’ve considered myself a feminist for more than 20 years, I never really thought much about the movement in general or how it came to be. But then I researched my historical fiction novel Madame Presidentess, which is about Victoria Woodhull, a suffragist and the first woman to run for president in the U.S. in 1872 – 48 years before women won the right to vote. Because she was friends with the likes of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, I came to learn a lot about how feminism and women’s rights came to be in our country.
Historians generally agree that there have been at least three “waves” or intense periods of activity around women’s rights. But that is where the consensus ends. Exactly when these waves took place and what they encompassed is a serious matter of debate, especially where later waves are concerned. Some people (like me), believe we’re currently living in a fourth wave of feminism, while others say we’re still in the third or even in a fifth. There is even some debate on whether or not feminism in American dates back to colonial times, far before the generally accepted seminal event of the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention.
While one article could never do justice to the many facets of the feminist movement (that’s what the book is for, and even then it is impossible to hit all points), here’s a brief summary of the three accepted waves, as well as my theory of a current fourth wave. All dates are approximate.
Wave One: 1840-1920 – Women Fight for Citizenship and Suffrage Key figures: Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Lucy Stone, Alice Paul, Carrie Chapman Catt, and others.
Susan B. Anthony (standing) and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Beginning in the 1830s, women started to quietly talk amongst themselves about their rights and to question why, under United States law, they were not considered full citizens. This eventually led to the first public debate on women’s rights at Oberlin College in 1846 and the first public address about women’s rights the next year. The first women’s rights convention in the United States took place the following July in Seneca Falls, New York. From this meeting came the Declaration of Sentiments, which was modeled on the Declaration of Independence, was all about woman and her rights, or lack thereof, in the country at that time. It became the basis for the women’s rights movement until the Civil War disrupted the whole country and placed the public’s attention squarely on abolition.
After the Civil War, the women’s movement split into two groups divided over the idea of enfranchisement of blacks as well as whether universal suffrage should be granted at the Federal or state levels. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were the leaders of the radical National Woman Suffrage Association, whose members believed that the enfranchisement of black and immigrant men would make it more difficult for women to be given the vote and called for a federal agreement for women suffrage. On the other side of the fence were Lucy Stone and the American Woman Suffrage Association, whose members supported the 15th Amendment and worked for women’s suffrage on a state-by-state basis.
This division hampered the efforts of both groups, by weakening resources, causing in-fighting within the movement and fracturing public attention. As time went on, some states granted suffrage on a case-by-case basis, usually beginning with school suffrage. The first state to grant women full voting rights was Wyoming in 1869. In 1872, Victoria Woodhull ran for president, even though she wasn’t technically old enough and the vast majority of women didn’t have the right to vote for her. Despite the odds, Susan B. Anthony succeeded in voting in that election (not for Victoria, as the two were bitter enemies by this point) but was arrested and found guilty of illegal voting. But she made history and headlines with her act, and her widely publicized trial spurred on flagging suffragists across the country. In 1875, Virginia Minor, a suffragist from Missouri, argued before the Supreme Court that women already had the right to vote under the 14th amendment of the Constitution, which that states suffrage is a right of all citizens of the United States. But the Supreme Court ruled against her, stating that all “men” had the right to vote, and the suffragists realized that the Federal government wasn’t going to help them. Thus began the decades-long campaign
Women’s Rights National Historical Park. Image purchased from Adobe Stock.
for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would enfranchise women.
The two warring factions of women’s suffrage finally reunited in 1890 as the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), under the united cause of getting suffrage state-by-state. Twenty-six years later, tired of this slow, tame approach, Alice Paul formed the National Woman’s Party, a militant group focused on the passage of a national suffrage amendment. The following year, more than 200 members of this group – known as the Silent Sentinels – were arrested while picketing the White House. Many of them went on hunger strikes in prison and were subjected to torture and barbaric practices like forced feeding. (These women were the Iron-Jawed Angels of the 2004 film of the same name.)
Despite these setbacks, the women’s movement continued under the leadership of Carrie Chapman Catt, who focused whole-heartedly on the national amendment from 1916 on. Women finally gained the right to vote on a Federal level on August 20, 1920. But it took a long time for the states to catch up (Mississippi was the last state in the union to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment in 1984) and it wasn’t for several decades that African-American women were truly able to vote without fear of discrimination and harm.
Tomorrow’s Part 2 will talk about the Second Wave of feminism, which lasted approximately from 1960-the late 1980s.
I’ll fully admit to picking Elisabeth out of personal bias. My family is from Austria on my mom’s side and my grandmother was named after Empress Elisabeth. (My middle name is Elizabeth, although I’m named after the saint that was the mother of John the Evangelist. But I still claim Elisabeth, too.) I’ve been to both Hapsburg palaces in Austria and my grandmother and I are convinced we either knew her in a previous life or are related to her somehow. But I digress.
Known as Sisi to friends and family, she helped bring about the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary in 1867, which was a political powerhouse in Europe. Her husband, Franz Joseph, was deeply in love with her, although it doesn’t appear she felt the same. Most biographers report her life being an unhappy one, despite her legacy and noble ranking. Elisabeth was the longest serving Empress-consort of Austria, at 44 years. She was stabbed to death in 1898.
Interestingly, there seems to be a surge in historical fiction about Sisi lately. Recent fictional portrayals include The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin, The Accidental Empress by Alison Pataki and the just published Sisi: Empress on Her Own, also by Alison Pataki.
Source: Wikimedia Commons. Photo by Phil Konstantin
Wilma Mankiller (please, no jokes about her name; according to Wikipedia, it “refers to a traditional Cherokee military rank; it is Asgaya-dihi in the Cherokee language. Alternative spellings are Outacity or Outacite.”) was principal chief of the Cherokee Nation (beginning in 1985), and was the first woman to hold such a position in a major tribal government. She was also an activist for Native Americans, an interest that work began in 1969 with the Native American occupation of Alcatraz Island. She founded the Cherokee Nation Community Development Department is credited with improving health care, education and tribal governance for the Cherokee Nation.
She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993 and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Bill Clinton in 1998.
Patricia Roberts Harris began her career as a lawyer and political adviser, even working as a director at IBM for a time. She also served as United States Ambassador to Luxembourg under President Lyndon B. Johnson, and was the first African-American woman to represent the United States as an ambassador. In 1977, she became the first African American woman named to a presidential cabinet (under President Jimmy Carter) and was the first woman to be part of the line of succession to the Presidency. She was 13th in line.
Dorothea Dix was an American activist on behalf of the poor and insane who, through a program of lobbying state legislatures and Congress, created the first generation of American mental asylums.
She was made aware of the need for reform during a visit to Britain where she met reformers who were making great inroads on behalf of those suffering from mental illness. After returning to America, Dorthea conducted a statewide investigation of care for the insane poor in Massachusetts. In most cases, towns contracted with local individuals to care for mentally ill people who could not care for themselves and lacked family/friends to do so. Unregulated and underfunded, this system resulted in widespread abuse.
In 1845, she successfully she convinced the New Jersey legislature to authorize an asylum for the mentally ill, and many more states followed suit after a personal visit from Dorthea. She continued investigations in various northern states until the Civil War broke out and she was appointed Superintendent of Army Nurses by the Union Army, a position in which she served (often ) until August 1865. After the war ended, she focused her attention on crusading for the imprisoned, poor and mentally ill in the south.
Born in England, Elizabeth Blackwell’s family moved to the United States in 1832 when she was 11. Six years later, the family had a run of bad luck and Elizabeth, her mother and sister were forced to open a school to provide income. In 1847, she was accepted to Genevea Medical College in New York, voted in unanimously by the all-male student body. She graduated in 1849, becoming the first woman to achieve a medical degree in the United States. She’s also the first woman on the UK Medical Register.
In the 1860s, she created the Women’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary, the first medical school for women in the United States. She returned to England at the end of her life, where she continued to teach at the London School of Medicine for Women.
Belva Ann Lockwood was a suffragist and one of the first female lawyers in the United States.
Belva believed she should have the same right to practice law as her male counterparts, so she drafted an anti-discrimination bill that would give her the same access to the bar as male colleagues. She spent five years lobbying Congress in favor of this bill. It was passed in 1879 and signed into law by President Hayes. Because it allowed all qualified women attorneys to practice in any federal court, Belva was sworn in as the first woman member of the U.S. Supreme Court bar.
Following in Victoria Woodhull’s footsteps, Belva ran for president in 1884 and 1888 on the ticket of the National Equal Rights Party (founded by Victoria) and was the first woman to appear on official ballots (Victoria’s votes were write-ins and cannot be traced). she is thought to have received around 4,100 votes.
Ann Petry wanted to be a novelist from the moment a teacher praised her writing in high school, but as happens to so many of us, her parents wanted her to do something more practical. So she studied pharmacy (her father’s profession) and worked in the family business for many years. But she wrote and published short stories on the side.
While working in an after-school program in Harlem, Ann saw for the first time how sheltered her life had been and what most African Americans in the early 20th century had to go through. This inspired her to write The Street, her first novel, which was so wildly popular she became the first black woman writer with book sales topping a million copies. She went on to write several additional novels.