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History of the United States by Charles A. Beard and Mary R. Beard

«·CHAPTER XXIII · The Rise of the Woman Movement·»


Women in Public Affairs.—The social legislation enacted in response to the spirit of reform vitally affected women in the home and in industry and was promoted by their organizations. Where they did not lead, they were affiliated with movements for social improvement. No cause escaped their attention; no year passed without widening the range of their interests. They served on committees that inquired into the problems of the day; they appeared before legislative assemblies to advocate remedies for the evils they discovered. By 1912 they were a force to be reckoned with in national politics. In nine states complete and equal suffrage had been established, and a widespread campaign for a national suffrage amendment was in full swing. On every hand lay evidences that their sphere had been broadened to include public affairs. This was the culmination of forces that had long been operating.

A New Emphasis in History.—A movement so deeply affecting important interests could not fail to find a place in time in the written record of human progress. History often began as a chronicle of kings and queens, knights and ladies, written partly to amuse and partly to instruct the classes that appeared in its pages. With the growth of commerce, parliaments, and international relations, politics and diplomacy were added to such chronicles of royal and princely doings. After the rise of democracy, industry, and organized labor, the transactions of everyday life were deemed worthy of a place in the pages of history. In each case history was rewritten and the past rediscovered in the light of the new age. So it will be with the rise and growth of women’s political power. The history of their labor, their education, their status in society, their influence on the course of events will be explored and given its place in the general record.

It will be a history of change. The superior position which women enjoy in America to-day is the result of a slow evolution from an almost rightless condition in colonial times. The founders of America brought with them the English common law. Under that law, a married woman’s personal property—jewels, money, furniture, and the like—became her husband’s property; the management of her lands passed into his control. Even the wages she earned, if she worked for some one else, belonged to him. Custom, if not law, prescribed that women should not take part in town meetings or enter into public discussions of religious questions. Indeed it is a far cry from the banishment of Anne Hutchinson from Massachusetts in 1637, for daring to dispute with the church fathers, to the political conventions of 1920 in which women sat as delegates, made nominating speeches, and served on committees. In the contrast between these two scenes may be measured the change in the privileges of women since the landing of the Pilgrims. The account of this progress is a narrative of individual effort on the part of women, of organizations among them, of generous aid from sympathetic men in the long agitation for the removal of civil and political disabilities. It is in part also a narrative of irresistible economic change which drew women into industry, created a leisure class, gave women wages and incomes, and therewith economic independence.

«·CHAPTER XXIII · The Rise of the Woman Movement·»