Monday, August 25, 2008

Women's Equality Day

Eight-eight years ago tomorrow, on August 26, the United States ratified the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, becoming the 17th nation on the planet to grant women the right to vote. (Betcha don't know which was the first.)

Long ago as that was, it was 72 long, hard-fought, heart-breaking years late for women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who organized the first Women's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848.

As Stanton wrote in her draft of the Convention's Declaration of Sentiments:

(More after the jump.)

  • Married women were legally dead in the eyes of the law
  • Women were not allowed to vote
  • Women had to submit to laws when they had no voice in their formation
  • Married women had no property rights
  • Husbands had legal power over and responsibility for their wives to the extent that they could imprison or beat them with impunity
  • Divorce and child custody laws favored men, giving no rights to women
  • Women had to pay property taxes although they had no representation in the levying of these taxes
  • Most occupations were closed to women and when women did work they were paid only a fraction of what men earned
  • Women were not allowed to enter professions such as medicine or law
  • Women had no means to gain an education since no college or university would accept women students
  • With only a few exceptions, women were not allowed to participate in the affairs of the church
  • Women were robbed of their self-confidence and self-respect, and were made totally dependent on men
Nor did the laws and customs that horrifically restricted women's lives always provide a paradise for men, whose wives were uneducated dependents more like servants or children than the self-sufficient partners today's wives can be.

Remember, too, that the final years before the 19th Amendment were marked by genuine suffering on the part of suffragists, who were imprisoned and tortured for daring to march and protest for women's right to vote.

While obtaining the vote did not, as some suffragists hoped and predicted, create a woman-friendly nation, much less a feminist paradise, it did establish the foundation for building true equality.

No, America is not there yet, but it's making progress in fits and starts (see Clinton, Senator Hillary). Meanwhile, let us all be grateful that the indefatigable Stanton is not here to hector us about it.

Cross-posted at Blue in the Bluegrass.