Wednesday, March 24, 2010


It took a very long time before women decided to organize a concentrated effort to receive equal rights for a variety of reasons. One of those reasons was abolition. The abolitionist movement was one supported by large numbers of women. Slavery was one of the great evils of 19th Century American society. It had many political and social implications. Slavery enforced the concept of the domination of white men over all elements of American society. White men in the era were essentially all powerful in politics. Women had no voice. They were not allowed in office, so they did not get a voice in politics. They did not even get to decide who did. Therefore, they were largely confined to the home. One of the things that changed their confinement was the abolitionist movement. Women in the abolitionist movement were active in the public sphere in ways that women in previous generations had not been. This activism lead to an increased awareness of the rights of all men…and women. Investigating the rights of the slave gave women cause to investigate their own rights. They found them severely lacking.
Another thing that lead women to organize was the 2nd Great Awakening. Before that, women had predominantly found their place in the home. They had not had as much occasion of venturing outside of the home to organize themselves or function in any way. The 2nd Great Awakening changed that. In the North, religious revivals were rampant. Preachers would deliver sermons and have meetings with large groups of people. These meetings were called camp meetings, and were largely popular during the 2nd Great Awakening. Camp meetings often lasted several days to a week or so, and they gave women opportunities they had never before had – those of functioning outside the home for extended periods of time. Women during the Awakening would go to Camp meetings in order to exercise one of the few freedoms they had – their religious freedom. These camp meetings, however, gave them more of a taste for social freedom by showing them that they could exist outside of the home, sometimes independently of their husbands or fathers. The 2nd Great Awakening gave women another previously unknown opportunity as well…that of having their voices heard and seeing themselves make a difference.
Protestant churches of the era were largely democratic. They were essentially governed by the common consent of the people. If, for instance, the congregation did not like a pastor, they could vote him out. In the political sphere, electing influential people to any particular office was the privilege of a minority - white men. However, in churches, women suddenly found themselves having a voice. They could cast a vote on something and see it affect their lives. This gave them more of a taste for having a voice in politics. They liked being able to dictate more of how their lives were run.
Women in this era were subject to certain ideals. They were essentially always minors, in the custody of their fathers or husbands. Being in such custody made it more difficult for them to have a voice in the way their lives were run. It was harder for them to convene and talk about their rights and what not when they had to do what their parents or husbands said all of their lives. Women’s social condition played a huge role in their not organizing to fight for their rights.
Another factor in women not organizing a concentrated effort to receive equal rights with men was their education. Women did not have the same educational opportunities as men. Being uneducated, they were thought to be less intelligent and less capable…basically, the weaker sex. Women were oppressed in other ways as well. They were not allowed to work in most industries for a long time. Eventually they were allowed to get more jobs in factories and then later as schoolteachers, but the lack of employment opportunities overall for women lead to their increased dependency on men.
Yet another reason women did not organize to fight for rights sooner was the way the law was focused against them. If a woman got a divorce from her husband, he had all custody rights over her children. He also had control of her wages, so she could not have been saving up to take care of herself after the divorce. In other words, however a husband treated a wife in these times, the law was in his favor. If a woman’s husband stringently opposed her seeking equal rights, she had many disadvantages in going against him.
These and probably many other reasons were why women did not organize sooner to fight for their rights.

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