“I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.” Abigail Adams to John, March 31, 1776
Women around the world have for centuries been oppressed and for centuries, protested in ways available to them. From the origins of this nation the women were expecting full participation in the society. In fact they were voting in several colonies before the Constitution was written. (New Jersey permitted the vote for some time after.)
The development into a political and social movement grew first from small groups of increasingly educated women coming together in teas and salons such as the Margaret Fuller “conversations”. The early movement with a strong focus on suffrage became a force of thousands of women with the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848. A thread from that moment connects the various waves and issues.
Wikipedia notes Elizabeth Cady Stanton, as the originator of the American Women’s movement with the 1848 Seneca Falls Conference. Elizabeth Stanton, a truly great intellect, gave us the language and organizing inspiration. The crisp and powerful 1774 commentary by Abigail Adams that opens this project is proof women in America from the beginning had aspirations to equality of opportunity to a life fulfilling promise and potential.
We have for the first 300 years and more been also a nation of frontiers and pioneers. Introducing a personal note, it happens my grandmothers were virtually all pioneer women who settled in 3 different regions before statehood. Because of distance they were forced to deal with various oppressive cultural traditions and laws individually or in small groups. I am proud of what successes each achieved and, in my case, the capacity to pass forward a confidence in worth and entitlement to equal rights.
There have been waves and pauses, each impacting and impacted by world events and various social movements. Early on it was associated with the abolitionist movement and later the anti-war movements. Activist women have always found common cause with other oppressed groups as well children, the poor, the minorities, in the drive for recognition and protection of the right to pursue joy unhindered; the right to the dignity of autonomy, full participation in the workings of society, and the wisdom acquired by the complete experience of living.
Women determined to bring change for themselves and their sisters and progeny who recognized it could not come without equal legal status and It had to begin with the vote. Subsequent recent waves have focused on violence at home and war and the right to privacy of reproductive practices, wage equality and more. There continues to be work to do to keep what we have achieved and gain more. The obstacles remain strong. We honor those women who through individual effort and as parts of the large movements who aspire to a better life for daughters and granddaughters. — W. Lorraine Watkins, M.D. 2016