Some friends have asked me to provide a brief history of women’s rights in the United States. I am tempted to reminisce about my own involvement with the women’s movement, but that is not the assignment. This kind of exercise is always a good opportunity to review, remember and assess how far we have come while remaining mindful that we do not have full equity yet. As one trained as a historian, I really should not call this a ‘history’ or even a ‘brief history’ when it is more accurately a timeline. This is certainly not an exhaustive timeline, so I have included links to websites that provide more in-depth information. I am not going to editorialize or share my opinion or feelings about anything listed here – this blog post is strictly an informative entry. Should you learn something new, that would be great. If you have any questions about anything here, please let me know. OK, I think that I have covered all of the disclaimers and explanations, so let’s go!
1776 Abigail Adams writes to her husband, John Adams who represented the Colony of Massachusetts at the Continental Congress on March 31:
Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that ‘twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what’s all this here talking about?
That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?
Then they talk about this thing in the head; what’s this they call it? [member of audience whispers, “intellect”] That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or negroes’ rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?
Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.
If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.
Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain’t got nothing more to say.
1896 The National Association of Colored Women is formed out of more than 100 black women’s clubs. http://www.nacwc.org/
1916 Margaret Sanger opens the first American birth control clinic in Brooklyn, NY. Within ten days, the clinic is shut down and Sanger is arrested. She eventually wins legal support and opens another clinic in 1923. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Sanger
Committing treason, more akin to blasphemy, as they were citizens of a nation still influenced by decades of a belief in ‘divine right’ did not come easily to the Founding Fathers. This belief that kings were appointed by God was waning by 1763 when the British, as a result of really poor management, raised taxes in the colonies resulting in the American Revolution which helped to put an end to divine right altogether.
The Founding Fathers are often referred to as a mono-cultural group, but they were hardly that. The regional, religious, political, and historical diversity of the group that represented 13 distinct governments reviewed and debated 90 declarations before establishing the “Committee of 5” to write what became the Declaration of Independence. The Committee in turn, gave the job to Thomas Jefferson who submitted the first draft on June 28, 1776. After a few days of debate and modification the final document was signed on the Fourth of July, 1776. (This date has been contested by historians, but an almost-final draft of the document was printed and posted on July Fourth.)
The authors and signers of the Declaration of Independence had to agree to disagree if they were to gain their freedom from tyranny. They had to debate deep philosophical and political differences and stay in that room during a sweltering Philadelphia summer until they truly represented unitedstates. The Continental Congress had found enough strongly shared common interests and beliefs to sever their ties to their homeland forever.
The Declaration of Independence Has Six Sections
The Introduction: Which begins “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another,”
The Preamble: Another incredible beginning: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The Indictment: An outline of the offenses the authors claim were committed by the King of England, including “For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:”
The Denunciation: The justification for the declaration, “Nor have we been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us.:”
The Conclusion: Establishes “That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved;.”
The Signatures: This evidence makes it impossible for the 56 signers to deny their commitment to the content of the document.
An Evolving Inclusion Strategic Plan!
Now that the newly formed United States of America declared their independence from
Great Britain they had to make themselves independent in fact. It took another 13 years before George Washington was inaugurated. The fact that the document signed in 1776 excluded the majority of the people under its jurisdiction does not diminish its impact. As we evolved as a nation the words of The Declaration of Independence were used to argue for the enfranchisement of all U.S. Citizens. 87 years dragged on before slavery was abolished. Another 3 years elapsed before former male slaves gained the right to vote. 54 more years passed before women who were U.S. Citizens acquired the right to vote. The powerful words contained in this document are used to assert the rights of people all over the world and act as a catalyst for defending freedom, representation and democracy everywhere.
As you celebrate this holiday, please remember to read The Declaration of Independence and think about where we might be without our diversity and inclusion, in other words, without our independence. The Declaration Of Independence