Women’s rights

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Leaving women out quest for equal voting rights with men during the proclamation of 15th Amendment was tantamount to triggering a militant response. 3

Most of America’s established institutions were anti-feminist. 5

Militancy was a measure of last resort. 7

Conclusion. 8

References. 10

The 19th amendment would not have been born if women had not taken a more radical, almost militant approach after the 15th amendment was proposed. Immediately upon the proposal of this amendment, various supporters of women’s rights took divergent views, leading to conflicting oppositions when it came to aspects of the strategies to be adopted in the realization of the 19th amendment. It is against this backdrop that women took a militant approach that succeeded in the form of the birth of the 19th amendment

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The 15th amendment was made in 1870. Both sections of article XV of the US constitutions were to be changed in order to allow for more freedoms relating to voting rights. The first section of this article made it illegal to deny any U.S citizen the right to vote on account of previous condition of servitude, race or color. Section 2 of the amended article gave congress the power to spearhead the enforcement of article XV through appropriate legislation.

The 19th Century history of Women Rights Movements is important in any analysis of the radicalism that resulted in the birth of the 19th amendment. The movement had all the attributes that gave it the potential to address all the challenges that women were facing during this century.

The relevance of the women’s right movement in political terms could not be ignored although it lay buried for many years in the run up to the entrenchment of the 19th amendment in the U.S constitution. The main reason why the movement was ignored by the political class was because it started in the grassroots where media attention was not highly likely and therefore many observers paid little attention to an in-depth analysis of the sentiments raised.

Leaving women out quest for equal voting rights with men during the proclamation of 15th Amendment was tantamount to triggering a militant response

Firestone, (1968) succinctly describes the torturous journey that characterized the radical quest for the recognition of women’s rights. The leaders of the movement wanted special attention to be given to women just as it was given to matters of race, color and servitude history. The radical leaders worked tirelessly to collect signatures as well as convince fellow women and likeminded people to work towards the noble course. This entailed moving from door to door, and from one town to the next, while at the same time bearing the blunt of meager funds and logistical challenges.

Among those spearheaded the movement includes Elizabeth Candy and Susan Antony, who were delegates to National Labor Union Convention in 1868. At this time, efforts to mobilize female labor into associations that could fight for their rights had not yet recorded any signs of success. The association of the Women’s Rights Movement (WRM) with Abolitionist Movement is what made it attain its militant attributes. The leaders of the movement were women who had lost their civil rights by virtue of getting married. In fact, the legal structure of the country had declared them dead upon marriage. Those who maintained their civil rights are those who chose not to marry. Even for these one, the ride was not smooth since they had no right to even sign their own wills. After divorce, women could not have custody of the children that they had sired during the marriage.

The radical nature of the WRM can best be understood in the context of prevailing circumstances that women were exposed to economically, socially and politically. Women were not allowed to attend school or college. One had to depend on a little knowledge of this skill or the other, often acquired in informal settings, for sustenance.

The militarization of the feminist movements was closely linked to the anti-slavery sentiments that had been expressed for many years. Through the work of Abolitionist Movement enabled women to become aware of their rights, to understand the slavery that they had been living in.

The political power that the WRM acquired through militant-like agenda was threatening to tear the country into pieces. For this reason, the political class had to pause and listen to the inequality sentiments that angered women throughout the country. The prevailing system seemed incapable of pretending to be democratic any more. It is amazing that feminine sentiments were aired for the first time during the civil war although women were easily persuaded to pursue other cause. If they had not been persuaded, the WRM history would have acquired a completely different history.

            The American reactionary forces had a strong influence such that without some element of militancy that reminded these forces of the civil war, women’s rights concerns would not have gotten any attention in either the congress or House of Representatives. According to Catt, 1923, it took women 52 years of endless campaigns in order to have instances of the word ‘male’ deleted from the American constitution. During this time, 56 referenda were carried out, 480 campaigns were conducted in order to have legislatures submit suffrage amendments right to where voters were. 47 more campaigns were conducted in order to facilitate the process through which woman suffrage was written in state constitutions. In order for women suffrage planks to be obtained, 277 campaigns in support of party conventions were held (Catt, 1923)

            Contrary to popular beliefs, male chauvinism was not the main motivation for the cause of Women’s Rights Movement, although it was a contributing factor. However, the influence of male chauvinism became more critical when the underlying forces, all of them constituted by men, worked towards suppressing the Women’s Rights Movement. During the 19th century and before, the right for men to rule was so entrenched, absolute and unquestionable that even men took it for granted. It was as the Divine Right of Kings had been at one point in history of western civilization. After all, the laws of the land sanctioned it. Anyone calling for the mildest form of reform could not win through any other means short of militancy.

The politics of the Women’s Rights Movement took radical approach right from the beginning, in the mid-19th century, thanks to memberships of its leaders in temperance and abolitionist movements. Anti-suffrage forces were ready battle the abolitionists by all means necessary aware of this fact, the feminists had to take on a militant approach in order to assert their determination to fight for their right place in the American society.

Most of America’s established institutions were anti-feminist

Notable among institutions that facilitated the existence of oppression among women include capitalism;government; church and family; racism and the law (Flexner, 1996). Each of these institutions played contributory roles in furthering anti-suffrage sentiments. This is mainly because they have been constituted in a pro-establishment setting.

When it comes to capitalism, industrial states to the north were the last ones to give in. railroad, oil and manufacturing lobbies were secretly working against suffrage campaigns. First because of the threat posed by Women’s Christian Temperance Union which had a suffrage cause, and secondly, by WRM, which had established itself as a voice of labor reform since its inception. The WRM was also associate with a ‘new form of socialism’ that the lobbies considered incompatible with capitalism.

Southern states, owing to the history of racism, were opposed to the women’s fight against suffrage. The states always associated, and rightly so, feminist struggle with black struggle. Giving women voting rights would mean enfranchising an entire half of the black population. The political machines of the federal government were not certain that they would be able to handle an additional electorate population, which was already suffering from susceptibility to rampant corruption. Being militant, the forces of electoral corruption had no other obvious stance to take apart from oppose any clean-up of politics. Feminist movements were triggering awareness on the need to clean up American politics and therefore had to be opposed. Faced with such difficulties, it seems obvious that nothing short of militancy would have enabled women succeed in their course.

The family and the church represent two powerful institutions whose views on the right of women to vote were not on the affirmative. For the church, attention was often drawn to the temptress nature of women, her role in multiplication and her submission to man. This made church leaders unable to join in the fight without fueling controversy. The same case applies to the family when it comes to concepts of male supremacy, child rearing responsibility, sexual double standards, all of which were at risk of being eroded if the advocates of Women’s Rights Movement carried the way. It is not likely that men would let go of these traditional family advantages without a fight. Therefore the issue of militancy had to feature prominently in order for the 19th amendment to be born.

Militancy was a measure of last resort

As long as the law reinforced the status quo, feminists fighting against suffrage had to take a radical approach in order to get legal recourse. They had to present a real threat to the established system. The issue of the institution of law as it related to politics presented very subtle complications.For one, the Suffrage Association had later, on during the course, turned conservative, with the main promise advanced being that even if women were given power at the ballot box, they would not use it. This did not convince the lawmakers and the male-dominated institution of law. Too much stalling led to despair among women’s rights activists to the extent that they started invoking militant threats in order to give impetus to campaigns in a frantic bid to catalyze the progress reform.

Half a century was a very long time for a marginalized social group to wait for law reforms. This is something that the new leadership of the Women’s Rights Movement understood very well and therefore became the main source of motivation for militant measures to be adopted.  The impetus with which the suffragist agenda had been introduced during the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 was reignited with the takeover by young, energetic and more enlightened young leaders.

            Additionally, a sharp contrast can be derived between those suffragists who were wrangling over the implications of enfranchising the black population, championing for institutional changes and fighting for state legislation in order to get the power of the ballot. Such wrangles, apart from leading splitting of existing organizations formation of new ones, drew attention to the weaknesses of the course that women were fighting for. Although the opposing sides reunited later, it is the militant force that had characterized the movement since its inception that kept the mission of liberating women, thereby taking most of the credit for the birth of 19th amendment. It is through association to militancy that new, young leaders felt obliged to carry on with the fight for suffrage rights to the very end.

When Alice Paul, a prominent suffragist, called for hunger strikes and militant actions, a clear message had been sent to every sympathizer of the Women’s Rights movement that perseverance was needed, mass marches were going to characterize all campaigns and that no compromise would come in the way of the noble course that the women were fighting for. this explains the critical role that such hard-line positions played in spreading a firm message of discontent and awareness with the established system that failed to recognize women as citizens, thereby denying such basic civil rights as voting.

The 15th amendment came with new promises by allowing African Americans the right to vote. Yet it ignited a fire of fury among suffragists who argued this way: if slavery was abolished on both male and female black Americans, why can the same thing not happen to the issue of the right to vote? The fact that such a question triggered ridicule among pro-establishment forces meant that something beyond mere campaigns was required if these rights were to be achieved. History has proven that the decision by Women’s Rights Movement to use the militancy strategy is that one the one that contributed most to the proclamation of the 19th amendment, which gave voting rights to women.


Historians like to toy with the proposition that although the 19th amendment was proclaimed, that is as far as women went with regard to their rights. That aside, the suffrage struggle clearly outlined the dangers of compromising the most basic principles of civil rights in order to achieve political expediency. It is no wonder, then, that politicians had to encounter a militant movement that was very determined to have their share of their revolutionary pie. The militant approach was needed in order to fill in the advocacy vacuum that would have been created by divergent views of conservatives and radicals within the Women’s Rights Movement. Of these two groups, it is the militants’ force that was more convincing to federal authorities, so forceful it was that the 19th amendment was finally proclaimed on August 26, 1920.


Catt, C. and Shuler, N. 1923.Woman Suffrage And Politics.  New York: Chas. Scribners Sons.

DuBois,E.1987. Outgrowing the Compact of the Fathers: Equal Rights, Woman Suffrage, and the United States Constitution, 1820-1878.The Journal of American History.74(3) p. 836-862.

Duncan, L. 1999. Motivation for Collective Action: Group Consciousness as Mediator of Personality, Life Experiences and Women’s Rights Activism. Political Psychology 20(3) p. 611-620.

Firestone, S.1968. The Women’s Rights Movement in the U.S.A.: New View. The New York Radical Women, 23(1) p 1-2

Flexner, E. 1996.Century of Struggle:The Woman’s Rights Movement in the United States. Boston: Harvard University Press.

Friedman, E. 1994. Women’s Human Rights: The Emergence of a Movement. New York:Routledge

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