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Essay: Revolutionary Women of the Early 19th Century: Their Unheralded Contributions to Abolish Slavery and Secure Equal Rights

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  • Published: 1 April 2019*
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  • Tags: Slavery essays

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In the early nineteenth century, American women did not have any position in society. Women were supposed to stay at home and play the traditional roles of a wife and a mother. In the 1900’s the man was the head of the household and the wife was his property. In the years leading up to the American Revolution, women were perceived as inferior to males and were subject to laws and regulations. In the book “Republican Mother”, the roles of women in the republic were not of a voter but instead their job was to raise their husbands and sons to be virtuous American citizens . As the years progressed toward the Civil War, the social and political roles of women began to change. Women started to establish their position in society by abolishing slavery, publicizing the “Declaration of Sentiments” that helped woman’s suffrage and the quality of their education. These are some of the most significant shifts during the early nineteenth century comprised of political changes brought by the numerous reform movements pertaining to women’s rights.

Women in the United States during the nineteenth century organized a variety of reform movements to free slaves and to secure equal rights for women. The abolitionist sisters, Sarah and Angelina Grimke of South Carolina did not approve of slavery; they joined many abolition groups and fought persistently to secure the rights of slaves. They were the first two women to speak publicly in the United States. They argued that white woman had a bond with black women; specifying on slaves. A few of the Grimke sisters methods were that they criticized slavery and racial prejudice, which was risky even for vital protestors of the nineteenth century. This is because women were supposed to be seen as “busy bodies” and they believed that Christ himself forbade speaking in public especially about a topic that was not permitted.  Then, they gave a lecture on anti-slavery throughout New England as the first female representatives of the American Anti-Slavery Society and enlisted women in the abolitionist cause.  They also became pioneers in the women’s rights movements. Some male abolitionists supported the right of women to speak and participated equally with men in antislavery activities. The Grimke sisters argued that woman had an ethical duty to end slavery. As women, they were compassionate and they could relate with the difficulty of enslaved women throughout the South. They published many books supporting their ideas; one of the books is Angelina Grimke published “Appeal to the Women of the Nominally Free Sates” in 1837. This document is where Angelina called a second meeting for women to battle against the injustices of slavery (pg 100) . Elizabeth Cady Stanton would compare women’s rights to slavery; both groups had been oppressed and deserved their equal rights.

The fight for women’s rights began in 1848 with the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, after being prohibited to enter a previous convention in London due to their sex . There was a discussion about whether or not female delegates should partake in the convention. After that debate, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton decided to create their own convention to discuss the rights that women should have. This started because at the convention, the women were segregated from the male speakers and were lucky enough that the men would speak on the behalf . They used the Declaration of Independence as their guide and then presented the “Declaration of Sentiments” to the convention, which asked for changes in the way that women should be treated. Resolution 9 demanded the right to vote and sexual equality between both sexes . Cady Stanton drafted a “Declaration of Sentiments” that was similar to the Declaration of Independence.  The Declaration of Sentiments was a list of resolutions and objections that included demands for a woman’s right to education, property, a profession, and the right to vote . The women activists also addressed social and institutional barriers that restricted women’s rights. This includes family duties, the lack of education opportunities, and the right to speak publicly in political debates. After the convention, the right to vote became one of the major points of the Women’s Rights Movement. The “Declaration” blamed men for the reason why women are in the position they are in.  The reason for this was to call an end to all discrimination based on sex.  

One of the first campaigners for Women’s education was Mary Wollstonecraft. She considered women to be in a hateful loop, which seemed to center on women not being educated, not being taught to use their minds at their full potential, and appearing less intelligent. The result of that were men viewed women as un-intelligent and that they were not worth educating. During the nineteenth century, education advances was made but was universal. Women during the nineteenth century found themselves separated from the ideology that provided the vital spark of society. The roles of women in the eighteenth century were limited; women did not have a voice, “A Vindication of the Rights of Women” was the reason for the change in social roles . This was a transnational reform movement that impacted the strategies women employed to increase their rights.  Women’s rights and abolition of slavery was merged by education reform as a huge role in social and political changes. In education, women were seen as the moral virtue and their role was to be educators to their children and husband . This meant that they had to behave in a certain manner. Catherine Beecher’s essay on “Slavery and Abolitionism, with Reference to the Duty of American Females”, relates to education because she felt that the Anti-slavery movement generated violence and that women should not become involved.  Home and school should be important social forces that women should limit themselves to. Beecher viewed women’s home and teaching roles as a source of women’s power and influence towards men. Her beliefs were about central roles as mothers and education, raising the next generation of citizens and creating a sanctuary for their families within the home.

Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park was written at the time where men and women had a different presence in society. It was known that both male and females were supposed to achieve the expectations of their specific sex. In the movie, there were different kinds of education for women; two resulted in marriage, while the third was close to a male education as a woman could get.

Most people in the early nineteenth century thought to stick to the natural order of things, which left women “in the dust” and men became superior. Women’s struggle for equality was a hard and long fight. The ideal woman in the early nineteenth century was to be submissive, to be obedient, and to be a loving wife to her husband. Catherine Beecher wanted to improve the quality of women’s education so that they could be good citizens and “mothers of future statesmen” . She wanted young men and women to be educated separately. This became a small step toward the equality for women. The United States was enduring social changes in the nineteenth century where woman began to take on new social identities.

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