Show Summary Details

Page of

Printed from Oxford Research Encyclopedias, American History. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 17 April 2024

Women’s Rights, Abolitionism, and Reform in Antebellum and Gilded Age Americafree

Women’s Rights, Abolitionism, and Reform in Antebellum and Gilded Age Americafree

  • Faye E. DuddenFaye E. DuddenDepartment of History, Colgate University


The U.S. women’s rights movement first emerged in the 1830s, when the ideological impact of the Revolution and the Second Great Awakening combined with a rising middle class and increasing education to enable small numbers of women, encouraged by a few sympathetic men, to formulate a critique of women’s oppression in early 19th-century America. Most were white, and their access to an expanding print culture and middle class status enabled them to hire domestic servants; they had the time and resources to assess and begin to reject the roles prescribed by cultural domesticity and legal coverture, or the traditional authority of husbands. A critical mass of these rebellious women first emerged among those who had already enlisted in the radical struggle to end slavery. When abolitionists Sarah and Angelina Grimke faced efforts to silence them because they were women, they saw parallels between their own situation and that of the slaves. The Grimkes began to argue that all women and men were created by God as “equal moral beings” and entitled to the same rights. The ideology of the women’s movement soon broadened to encompass secular arguments, claiming women’s part in a political order ostensibly based on individual rights and consent of the governed. At Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848, and at subsequent women’s rights conventions, the participants articulated a wide range of grievances that extended beyond politics into social and family life. Almost all the leading activists in the early women’s movement, including Lucretia Mott, Lucy Stone, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, were trained in “the school of antislavery,” where they learned to withstand public or familial disapproval and acquired practical skills like petitioning and public speaking. The women’s rights activists’ efforts were complicated by questions about which goals to pursue first and by overlap with other reform efforts, including temperance and moral reform as well as abolition and black rights. Women and men related to the movement in a range of ways—activists were surrounded by a penumbra of non-activist contributors and an interested public, and much grassroots activity probably went unrecorded. After the Civil War destroyed slavery, Reconstruction-era politicians had to define citizenship and rights, especially the right to vote. Realizing this opened a rare window of political opportunity, the women’s movement leaders focused on suffrage, but their desperate efforts uncovered ugly racism in their ranks, and they betrayed former black allies. Disagreeing over whether to support the 15th Amendment, which guaranteed the vote to black men only, the women’s movement fell into two rival suffrage organizations: Stanton and Anthony’s National Woman Suffrage Association, which did not support the 15th Amendment, faced off against the American Woman Suffrage Association, led by Lucy Stone and Henry Blackwell. Stymied in their political moves, the suffragists then found their judicial strategy, the “New Departure,” checkmated by a conservative Supreme Court. By 1877, the moment of radical opportunity had passed, and though the women’s suffrage movement could count a few marginal successes in the West, it had stalled and was increasingly overshadowed by more conservative forms of women’s activism like the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.


  • Women's History
  • African American History

Women’s Rights, Abolitionism, and Reform in Antebellum and Gilded Age America

When the women’s rights movement began in the antebellum years in the northern United States, it seemed to emerge as an offshoot or a junior partner to larger and weightier abolitionist struggles against slavery and racial oppression. But a long perspective suggests the stakes were ultimately far higher than many activists then understood: a massive, world-historic movement for social change was underway, one with revolutionary implications for half of all humanity. Women who understand themselves as fully, self-consciously entitled to equal rights are among the most distinctive aspects of modern society—and they continue to confound traditionalists in many parts of the globe. The long struggle to win women’s rights, although deeply flawed, also often bears a “whiggish” cast as a story of progress. But historians debate its pace, path, and results.

By 1877, which marked the end of Reconstruction and 101 years of American independence, the women’s rights movement could look back on three or four decades of struggle that included notable progress but also serious setbacks. By 1877, the organized women’s rights movement had become a women’s suffrage movement. Yet activists’ campaigns for the vote had seen limited success. They were settling into a holding pattern that would endure for the next several decades, until the Progressive Era brought another surge of reform energy and final victory for woman suffrage in 1920.1


The women’s rights movement can be thought to have begun in the 1830s with Sarah and Angelina Grimke, abolitionists who spoke out for women’s rights, or in the later 1840s, with the women’s rights convention held in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. The exact point of origin is much less important than the ideological and social conditions that made the movement possible. Enlightenment thought made traditional mores subject to rational scrutiny and constructed powerful arguments for the rights of men, which logically enough prompted responses like Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Women, published in 1792. Historians can find isolated individuals like Mary Astell of England, who wrote on women’s rights in the 1690s, but a social movement for women’s rights needs a critical mass of adherents. When the British colonists in North America entered into a long struggle for independence, they created the conditions in which Enlightenment ideals could enter deeply into the consciousness of ordinary women and men. Abigail Adams encouraged her husband to “remember the ladies,” and the revolutionary years drew women into brave, public-spirited actions. In a nation founded on Jefferson’s declaration, “We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal,” it was only a matter of time before a group of women would offer the obvious clarification announced at Seneca Falls: “We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men and women are created equal.” In 1798, Judith Sargent Murray predicted, “I expect to see our young women forming a new era in female history.” No matter how narrow the intentions of the (white, male, property-holding) founding fathers, their message to the world—individual worth and the right to rebel—proved impossible to contain. But it took a while before U.S. women could appropriate their revolutionary heritage.2

The emergence of a women’s rights movement was delayed but not derailed by the conservative ideology of “republican motherhood.” Exponents of republican motherhood believed that the republic’s urgent need for virtuous male citizenry dictated an educational role for mothers, who would exert their influence within the home. It thus offered an indirect rationale for expanded female education, and as young women enrolled in academies in the early republic, they participated in public culture, where they learned “to stand and speak” in ways that set the groundwork for later activism. In the 1830s and 1840s, the northern states saw the emergence of a society in which male and female literacy rates became comparable—a crucial development, as literacy permits rebellious individuals to express themselves and communicate with others of like mind. Even so, pioneers of women’s education, like Emma Willard and Mary Lyon, justified young women’s education on very different grounds, as a guarantee of women’s domestic usefulness and benign maternal influence—just as republican motherhood had proposed. Yet the power to read and circulate ideas was so fundamental that the abolitionist Thomas Wentworth Higginson explained the drive for women’s rights with a famous essay entitled, “Ought Women to Learn the Alphabet?” “Concede this little fulcrum,” Higginson argued, and the outcome was inevitable.3

The emergence of women’s rights consciousness was quietly prefigured by a decline of fertility among married white women beginning in the late 18th century. The demographic transition, when white women’s fertility dropped sharply, overlapped chronologically with the emergence of the women’s movement and was similarly related to the ideology of the Revolution. In an age that valued rationality and maternal virtue, it made sense to protect maternal and infant health, and married women began to prefer smaller families and to avail themselves of traditional measures to “restore regularity.” Between 1760 and 1820, white family size began to drop, especially in urban areas, and with this, married women gained more freedom to contribute to churches, pursue education, and engage in social activism.4

But the American Revolution also affirmed legal traditions that undercut women’s authority and freedom, the law of coverture, which guaranteed husbands’ authority over wives, chief among them. As the legal commentator William Blackstone explained, “The very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage,” which meant that the husband owned his wife’s property, her earnings, and her children. The courts set few limits on the meanness and petty tyranny that wives and widows might suffer, and women’s rights activists sometimes told stories of their own encounters with this oppressive legal system. The African American activist Frances E. W. Harper had battled racial injustice, she explained in 1866, but when her husband died and the law seized all her possessions, she also enlisted in the fight for women’s rights. Struggles to modify aspects of this legal regime offered women’s rights activists opportunities for early victories in the form of the passage of married women’s property rights laws enacted in the antebellum years in states like New York. But married women’s property acts were not only inspired by feminist sympathies; they could also be instrumental measures designed to shield assets from creditors or protect daughters from feckless sons-in-law. Even with allies, the need to work piecemeal to effect legal reform state by state within a federal system meant that activist women would face enormous challenges in their fight for legal change. Thus the legacy of the American Revolution was deeply ambivalent: revolutionary ideology and republican motherhood were new, but neither did away with coverture.5

Another powerful ideological shift that laid groundwork for the women’s movement came in the form of the Second Great Awakening, which changed the teachings, tenor, and institutional structures of Protestant Christianity. Women were recast as more spiritual and pious, as elevated rather than degraded, as less rather than more sexual than men. Male clergy kept tight hold on power in most denominations, to be sure, but women, who were a majority in their congregations, found new sources of dignity and authority in missionary and benevolent work. And as denominations splintered, millenarian impulses led to the organization of breakaway sects and perfectionist utopias, some of which, like Shakers or the Oneida Community, criticized prevailing gender roles and family arrangements. The Second Great Awakening brought women together in a network of voluntary associations devoted to good deeds, such as the care of widows and orphans, where women created a “Benevolent Empire” that enabled them to move into public roles where they could wield power and assume responsibility. The Empire could serve as a training ground for the women’s rights movement, but it could also provide a safer substitute. The characteristic stance of service to others through feminine self-denial meant that many benevolent women would never take the final, radical step to assert their own interests.6

The Second Great Awakening also spawned efforts to bring God’s will into history by perfecting human ways and combatting social evils. Women worked with men in the causes of reform—temperance, moral reform, prison reform, educational reform, pacifism or nonresistance, mental health reform, and, of course, abolition. These activities were more controversial and therefore more radicalizing than benevolence; moral reform (anti-prostitution) and temperance were especially likely to provide a constituency or training ground for early women’s rights impulses. New models of female identity took shape in the interstices shaped by particular religious convictions and social arrangements. The Quakers, who permitted women to speak in their meetings, were over-represented in both abolition and women’s rights, and on the island of Nantucket, women took over when men left for years at a time on whaling voyages. Lucretia Coffin Mott, a Quaker minister and a native of Nantucket, brought her calm, dignified manner into abolitionist work, then spoke up for women’s rights and stood as an example to others. To Elizabeth Cady Stanton, meeting Lucretia Mott was “like meeting a being from some larger planet” who immediately gave the younger woman “a new-born sense of dignity and freedom.”7

The emergence of women’s rights was connected to economic and social changes of the antebellum years, which saw the growth of a market economy, burgeoning industry, and rapid urbanization. The engines of capitalist development provoked socialist critiques, some of which reimagined gender roles or family relationships; but the left, whether utopian socialist or Marxist, was not an important source of early feminism in the U.S., as it was in Europe. Even so, the dynamism of this new economic order suggested that gender roles and family arrangements were subject to human decisions, not changeless aspects of a timeless natural order. And the rise of the middle class created a new space in the home, now separated from the workplace, where wives and mothers were educated, elevated, and—by employing domestic servants—freed from the onerous demands of household work. That was no small privilege before the advent of central heating, indoor plumbing, electricity, refrigeration, and the like. These women could devote time and energy to other things, and for some few, that meant activism and women’s rights. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, mother of seven, credited her housekeeper, saying firmly, “But for this noble, self-sacrificing woman, much of my public work would have been quite impossible.” Less privileged women, like the young women who entered the paid labor force in the new factories and worked long hours for low wages, might seize rare opportunities to rebel. One did so during a strike in 1834; a Lowell mill worker “mounted a pump and made a flaming Mary Wollstonecraft speech on the rights of women,” but her identity and her impact remain unknown to history. Similarly, working class wives might contrive ways to exert some agency in their lives, but given the crushing limitations they faced, few could be expected in the ranks of activists. Severe racial discrimination meant that the middle class in the free black population was tiny and the numbers of potential activists therefore limited—a problem later compounded in historical memory when white historians proceeded to overlook black efforts. The black orator Maria Stewart spoke out for racial and gender equality in Boston in the early 1830s, but she was largely isolated during her activist years, and almost forgotten thereafter. If the impulse to rebel was widely shared, few but middle class white women were in a position to act, and to do so in sufficient numbers to create a movement. Because the women’s rights movement was largely the creation of middle class white women, it was blinkered by their prejudices, and it featured an inherent mismatch between activists’ grand pretentions to speak for all women and the actual narrowness—in class, race, ethnic, and geographical terms—of their group.8

The white middle class could provide a seedbed for what later generations would call “feminism,” but it was also (and more often) a hothouse where “the cult of true womanhood” flourished. This ideology decreed that a woman should be pious, pure, submissive, and domestic—an “angel in the house” who provided a refuge for men and compensated for the dog-eat-dog marketplace world. Domesticity’s middle class model was supposed to apply to all women, but it could not, a fact obscured by the “pastoralization” of housework in which women’s work was reinterpreted as wholly spiritual and emotional. As Catharine Beecher explained it, there was real power to be had in domesticity, by manipulating men rather than challenging them directly, and making a citadel out of women’s “sphere.” The realms of private and public were never as separate as Beecher’s ideology claimed, and scholars debate the extent to which women may have benefitted by living within a “female world of love and ritual.” But early feminists like Stanton and Anthony rejected the mystifications of domesticity and expressed amazement that women like Beecher could be “so false.” Meanwhile, widespread literacy took many antebellum women into the rapidly expanding world of print culture, where some made careers out of writing fiction, and many more consumed it eagerly. A “damned mob of scribbling women,” in Hawthorne’s phrase, dominated the literary marketplace and produced imaginative substitutes for rebellion, or rehearsals for it, or, like the fictional character of the tomboy, a means to have it both ways. Through women’s fiction, changes in culture or consciousness shadowed the movement for women’s rights. Writing and reading changed women, even if only in the imagination. But culture and consciousness exercised limited influence on power structures, as the tumultuous politics of the early republic demonstrated. When the states extended the franchise to property-less white men, they gave women (and likewise men of color) more reason to feel excluded from the polity. Women were reduced to outsiders in a system where all white men, including many immigrant men who were not even citizens, possessed the vote and wielded electoral power. Thus, women sought to intervene as humble petitioners in antebellum political struggles over slavery and westward expansion, but they found their efforts unavailing.9

These underpinnings and preconditions help explain why the women’s rights movement emerged when and where it did, and why it was ultimately so extensive and influential. Scholars are beginning to understand the U.S. women’s rights movement in comparative national perspective, or as a product of the international flow of ideas and influence. The breadth of its underpinnings also made the boundaries of the women’s rights movement fluid, and its outer reaches elusive. Just as scholarship has not yet captured the diversity of American women’s lives in general, it has typically kept a narrow focus on self-identified women’s rights activists and their organizations and narrowed that focus still further when they restricted their agenda to the vote. Yet wide circles of women who neglected to join the women’s rights movement related to it nonetheless, or were affected by it, appropriating elements of it to act on independently. Social movement theory suggests that activists are typically surrounded by a penumbra of “non-activist contributors,” and beyond that by public opinion, elements of which may be affected by, and become sympathetic to, their agitation. Leaders like Stanton and Anthony discovered new grassroots supporters every time they took a train to give another lecture: Anthony spoke of women who materialized from the “vasty deeps—or distances,” or who were not “public workers” but sympathized nonetheless. Historians are challenged to work with lenses wide enough to take in all the various ways individual women might participate in or relate to the movement. Recent scholarship on African American women provides a good model for understanding how a broad spectrum of women’s activities, including church, uplift, and community betterment, as well as protest, can be viewed together as elements of black women’s self–assertion and their push for rights and recognition.10

The Movement Itself

Born in the Age of Reform, the organized women’s rights movement was specifically rooted in radical abolition. According to a long-accepted origins story, Sarah and Angelina Grimke, southern white women who came north and were encouraged by William Lloyd Garrison to testify against the evils of slavery, found they faced criticism for violating social customs and church teachings by speaking in public. Reasoning that they could not serve the cause of abolition if they were silenced, the Grimkes began to claim their own right as women to speak out, and soon they began to see comparisons between the plight of women and of slaves. In the course of campaigning against slavery, they articulated a rationale for gender equality built on the religious conviction that all human souls, white and black, male and female, were equally precious in the sight of God, and therefore should stand in society as equal “moral beings.” Even before the Grimkes spoke out, abolitionist women had already expressed a sense of women’s common interests when they formed the Female Anti-Slavery Societies, which brought white and black women together. Abolitionism provided women with sympathetic male allies like Garrison, Wendell Phillips, and Frederick Douglass, who took them seriously and publicized their cause, while the “school of anti-slavery” gave them practical experience with agitation through passing petitions, circulating pamphlets, sending out itinerant speakers, and calling “conventions.” Just as important, abolition trained its adherents to withstand ridicule and hostility; as extreme radicals, they had already seen social opprobrium and even mob violence. Because of its abolitionist roots, this early women’s rights movement was confined wholly to the northern states, and slaveholding southerners mocked women’s rights as a symptom of northern degeneracy.11

Although the Grimke sisters soon withdrew from the public arena after Angelina Grimke’s 1838 marriage (and subsequent ill health and inability to afford domestic servants), the issue of women’s equality that they raised became one of high importance for abolition. Anti-abolitionist mob violence in the late 1830s marked the failure of moral suasion and led Garrison to define a broader and deeper movement that would renounce injustice, force, and domination in all forms, thus making room for women’s rights to become an integral part of abolitionist agitation. But moderate abolitionists chided women’s rights activists for their “selfish” demands and considered women’s rights a distraction from the fight against slavery. In 1840, when the World’s Antislavery Convention met in London, the issue came to a head and split the movement: the radical Garrisonians eschewed politics, while the moderates turned toward antislavery politics, which led to the creation of the Liberty Party, the Free Soil Party, and ultimately the Republican Party. The women’s cause found its strongest allies in Garrisonian ranks, but some abolitionist women transferred their interests and loyalties to the insurgent parties and the electoral process, despite their own disenfranchised status.12

The standard narrative suggests that the women’s movement burst into full bloom at the Convention in Seneca Falls, in 1848, inspired by Lucretia Mott and under the deft leadership of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a brainy young matron frustrated by the limitations of domestic life. In the Declaration of Sentiments Stanton produced at Seneca Falls, women claimed their revolutionary heritage in full-throated fashion, basing women’s rights on secular rather than religious arguments, and articulating a wide range of grievances that cut deeply into social and personal life. Seneca Falls symbolized at least some black-white cooperation because Frederick Douglass attended, and it highlighted the vote as the most radical of all demands, one that Stanton proposed against Mott’s advice and that carried only with the help of Douglass’s endorsement. As Douglass pointed out, the vote was the most fundamental right, the guarantor of all other rights. The movement that followed soon brought on board an energetic schoolteacher, Susan B. Anthony, and found audiences among those inspired by Lucy Stone, a gifted young orator who provided key leadership. An increasingly vibrant women’s rights movement carried on through the 1850s, without formal organization but coherent nonetheless, meeting in yearly national conventions until the Civil War. They gained widespread public recognition through a sympathetic abolitionist press and by exploiting the curiosity of mainstream newspapers until, by the end of the 1850s, public awareness and sympathy had increased. In fact, the 1858 National Woman’s Rights Convention resolved to focus on the state legislatures for changes in the laws, since “The interest in the educational and industrial aspects of our movement has made sufficient progress to be safely left to individual energy.” Married women’s property rights laws moved forward in some places, but the stage was set for the movement to focus on the vote when further action was delayed by the advent of the Civil War. Or so the story goes.13

But is this story accurate? Was Seneca Falls, and the leadership asserted there, really so important? The origins story was crafted, after all, by Stanton and Anthony themselves. In their massive History of Woman Suffrage (HWS), which they wrote in the 1880s, at a time when the vote remained out of reach and their movement seemed stalled, they created a narrative and rich archive of historical documents that also was a bid to establish the history of their leadership in a movement that was diffuse and not always cohesive. In fact, the Seneca Falls convention reflected the convergence of radical Quakers, abolitionist agitators, and Liberty Party sympathizers in Seneca County, not just Stanton’s leadership. One might tell the story of the women’s rights movement to draw more attention to free-lancers like Fanny Wright or Margaret Fuller, or to attribute equal importance to other conventions like the one at Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1850, or one might question the importance of leadership itself. Some upstate New York farm women petitioned for the ballot before Seneca Falls, and their rhetoric suggests that the key insights of women’s rights were, in effect, lying around ready to hand—and if so, perhaps the movement featured mushroom growth and “untidy origins.” Historians may yet settle on a decentered story in which multiple strains of activism—some of them black and/or working class, and some not so tightly tied to the vote—constituted the women’s rights movement writ large. What entered the record as “the” women’s movement should probably be understood as the most visible and articulate tip of a very large iceberg.14

Early women’s rights activists wanted to see progress in many areas. They hoped to expand women’s access to education, the professions, and equal pay, but they left those issues largely to “individual energy,” and the history of those struggles has typically been written separately. They also wanted to press further on issues of marriage and sexual autonomy. The right to vote and own property meant little, said Lucy Stone, “if I may not keep my body, and its uses, in my absolute right.” Some activists wanted “voluntary motherhood,” or the right of wives to refuse sex to their husbands, rather than access to either contraception or abortion, but the issue never became central to the women’s rights movement. They could not hope to control the public conversation about sexuality and reproduction in the antebellum period, and they became reticent on this question when pressured by sex radicals who could embarrass the women’s movement by associating it with “free love.” In any case, mid-19th century ideas about sexuality and heredity, many of which were little more than crackpot theorizing, left women’s rights activists at a loss regarding remedies for the continuing oppression suffered by women in intimate life.15

The most troubling questions about the early women’s rights movement revolve around racial prejudice in the mostly white movement. Racism within the movement had been obscured by the HWS and soft-pedaled by white historians until the 1970s and 1980s, when African-American historians began to show that black women activists had been important to the women’s rights struggle and demonstrated the importance of seeing the situation from a black perspective. Ultimately, students of women’s history have to grapple with the way that Stanton and Anthony descended into deplorable racism in the late 1860s, when they were faced with the success to achieve black men’s voting rights and the failure of their own efforts to achieve the vote for women. By pointing fingers at Stanton and Anthony, women’s historians have begun a task rather than completed it. One line of scholarship explains their behavior as a retreat from previous commitments to racial justice and, focusing mostly on the political context, interprets their turn to racism as more opportunistic than essential. On the other hand, a study that focuses on ideology in the later 19th century concludes that the whole cause of women’s rights was inherently racist and elitist from its origins—a matter of white, middle class, Protestant women claiming their own rights based on their mission to civilize and uplift lesser peoples and races. Of course, sources that date from the late 19th century cannot be entirely persuasive about the “origins” of a movement with deep roots in antebellum abolition a half-century earlier, and scholars should probably not be shocked to discover race and class bias in the movement, given the constraints within which it emerged. Disagreements about race and racism in the women’s movement will help to clarify assumptions about rights and citizenship, especially as related to the differences among women and the extent to which the liberal tradition of equal rights can suffice to serve women’s interests or structure women’s history.16

For a long time, the history of women’s rights was elaborated by admiring biographers who portrayed the movement as the creation of a small band of extraordinary heroines, women whose courage and persistence were inspiring and world-changing. Of course this sort of hagiography eventually gave way to more nuanced biographies as women’s history was taken on by professional academics, but the result has been surprisingly uneven. Biography expanded the story of women’s rights beyond the circle of white middle class leadership—to include biographies of Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman, for example—while it filled in a growing group portrait of white activists, explored comparisons among them, and ranged beyond their tight ranks to take in less central characters, from Margaret Fuller to Lydia Maria Child. But academic biographers have avoided Susan B. Anthony and have failed to go beyond an abbreviated (though excellent) look at Elizabeth Cady Stanton, despite the fact that biographical research on this crucial pair is now facilitated by the microfilm of the Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony and six volumes of their Selected Papers edited by Ann D. Gordon. Perhaps a focus on leaders may seem dated, but greater understanding of key historical figures is not advanced by neglect; nor can such figures be convincingly diminished or discredited without thorough study. Of course, scholars should question the nature of leadership, but widening the historian’s lens to encompass sympathizers, fellow travelers, and responsive members of the public may even reemphasize it because gender is inherently performative. After attending a lecture by Susan B. Anthony, for example, one woman had to revise her assumptions about the motives of women’s rights advocates: “Why, I had no idea that Miss Anthony was a decent-looking woman!”17

The Upshot

After the Civil War transformed the landscape of human rights in the United States by sweeping away slavery, Reconstruction-era politicians put in place new constitutional amendments that defined citizenship and appeared to guarantee rights, culminating with the 15th Amendment, which specifically extended the right to vote to black men. A window of opportunity opened for political outsiders, especially on questions of the franchise, and some women’s rights activists chose to seize the day, plunging into a complicated political landscape to fight for the vote as their single issue. The women’s rights movement became a women’s suffrage movement, and by 1877, it had made some faltering progress. Grassroots interest in women’s suffrage was widespread in the late 1860s, independent of any prompting from national leaders or organizations, and women actually won the vote for the first time in two jurisdictions, Wyoming Territory in 1869 and Utah Territory in 1870. But these first successes did not generate the snowball effect that activists had hoped for. The fact of woman suffrage, which was supposed to demonstrate its own merits, proved embarrassing because Utah women had been enfranchised by the Mormon elders, and they proceeded to vote as other Mormons did, in favor of polygamy. Later on, the first states that voted for woman suffrage were also in the West; Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and Idaho all enfranchised women before the turn of the century. Each case reflected local circumstances and threw little or no weight into the balance for woman suffrage nationally. In the same interval, activists learned that fighting through a state referendum campaign was an exhausting marathon that would have to be repeated over and over and over again. Moreover the woman suffrage cause had faced its first outspoken opposition from other women—“Antis,” who would bedevil suffrage campaigners and undermine their claim to speak for women. After 1869, two rival suffrage organizations, struggling for want of resources, were reduced to special fundraising for referenda or to publish a newspaper. Individual activists found that lyceum lecturing might generate an income, but it demanded long weeks on the road and tended to encourage messages tailored to appeal to popular audiences. Meanwhile, backlash prevailed in the realms of culture and sexual expression, due in part to the Comstock laws, which outlawed all sorts of sexually oriented information and materials, including contraceptives. The women’s movement seemed sullied by the Beecher-Tilton scandal in the 1870s, sparked when Victoria Woodhull accused the country’s most prominent preacher, Henry Ward Beecher, of adultery with a prominent woman in his congregation, Mrs. Elizabeth Tilton. Woodhull was a suffragist who worked with Stanton and Anthony but also a free lover, while Beecher was the first president of the American Woman Suffrage Association. Sexuality had never been a key element of women’s rights demands, and after the Beecher-Tilton scandal it became even less so.18

By 1877, the suffrage movement had clearly failed to capitalize on a window of political opportunity that was now closed. Why? Political opportunity structures were crucial to the movement’s controversial and divisive choices in the Reconstruction era. In quick succession, movement activists were faced with a number of events that demanded their immediate reaction: the 14th Amendment in 1866, two referenda on suffrage in Kansas in 1867, the presidential election of 1868, and the 15th Amendment in 1869. They had to ask themselves: What was politically possible, effective, or wise? Stanton and Anthony were denied the resources to take advantage of their best chance, in Kansas, and the effects of that failure were magnified when they turned to a racist funding source thereafter. By 1869, a deep and bitter rift had developed. On the question of whether to support the 15th Amendment, which enfranchised black men only, Stanton and Anthony’s National Woman Suffrage Association said No; Lucy Stone and Henry Blackwell led the American Woman Suffrage Association, which said Yes. Neither organization developed a winning strategy or compiled an admirable record. Stanton and Anthony endorsed disgusting racists, made offensive remarks about “Sambo,” and sold out their black allies, but their opportunistic moves availed little. And while Stone and Blackwell loyally deferred to black male suffrage, they too came up empty-handed for women, and Blackwell’s published appeal to southern white men—enfranchise your women as the means to defend white supremacy, he urged—was as reprehensible as some of Stanton’s ugly rhetoric. The activists’ retrospective analyses of what had gone wrong often featured petty personality conflicts, and eventually Stanton and Anthony tried to bury the fiascos of Reconstruction with a misleading narrative in the HWS that conflated the 14th and the 15th Amendments (and confused historians thereafter). Entering into a phase of regrets and cover-ups, and interested only in a history that would be useful to them, Stanton and Anthony left modern historians with much work to do on this period.19

By 1877, a shortcut to the vote through a legal strategy known as the “New Departure” had been tried and failed. It had seemed so promising. The 14th Amendment defined women as citizens and guaranteed citizens equal protection, while the 15th Amendment said that the right to vote of American citizens could not be abridged on account of race. Conclusion: the Constitution already gave women the right to vote; women simply needed to exercise it. Activists pressed for a declaratory act in Congress, and significant numbers of women voted illegally in 1872, to seize rights or to mount test cases. Susan B. Anthony was tried and convicted of illegal voting in Rochester. But in the test cases that reached the Supreme Court, Bradwell v. Illinois and Minor v. Happersett, the Court moved to a strained reading of the 14th and 15th Amendments, saying they guaranteed no rights other than those of national citizenship and did not make suffrage a right of citizenship—the same logic it used to undercut black rights in the Slaughterhouse cases and U.S. v. Cruikshank. The Court simply refused to read the Reconstruction amendments to mean what they manifestly did mean on their face, thereby setting up a roadblock against progressive causes for decades to come—women’s rights, black rights, the labor movement. Finding its electoral and legislative successes nullified by the courts, the labor movement moved toward conservative “business” unionism. And women’s rights activists undertook a similar strategy as they moved toward narrow, respectable, white supremacist suffragism, thereby managing to keep their movement alive in a conservative era.20

By 1877, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union was rapidly growing to become the largest women’s organization in the country, its ranks dwarfing the numbers of woman suffragists. Its leader, Frances Willard, was an organizational genius, but its success also reflected the way more modest, ladylike activity could come to the fore at a time when radicalism and suffragism had lost momentum. The WCTU ultimately asked for the vote and can be seen as a different version of women’s rights activism, an alternative route to “power and liberty,” but a more constrained and cautious one—a milk-and-water version of rebellion that challenges historians to think carefully about their terms and categories. Was this sort of women’s activism a matter of domestic feminism, or social feminism, or the feminism of the mothers—or feminism at all? One might ask whether the WCTU served to advance women’s rights or to detour them. After all, temperance and social purity would absorb huge amounts of women’s energy and resources in the late 19th century, but they did so in causes—the battles to end prostitution and to suppress alcohol—that many now judge to have been futile or positively mistaken. By 1877, the women’s suffrage movement stood surrounded by other women’s organized activities that were alternatives, or allies, or competitors—posing difficult questions about common interests, common goals, and the way forward.21

The factors that gave rise to the women’s rights movement—the ideology of individual human rights, the spread of literacy, the rise of the middle class—were among the vast tectonic shifts of modernity, even though the initial constituency of the women’s movement remained limited and parochial. Because women have so little in common besides their oppression as women, the participants in this struggle inevitably fell into separate groups with different interests, the more so as barriers were breached. Their history is intrinsically long and slow and uneven, because the changes afoot had to be inscribed in law, but they also had to take place inside individuals and families, and in the spaces between, where education and work and social customs were being reshaped. Although scholarship has often focused on a small band of the usual (white, middle class) suspects, taking into account the extraordinary diversity of women need not throw this history into disarray. Even though women differ so greatly by race and class that one might conclude “all women do not have the same gender,” they are all entitled to equal rights, and have historically been denied them. In stories of connection, collaboration, differences, and, yes, conflict, a great deal of the history of women’s rights, abolitionism, and reform remains to be written.22

Discussion of the Literature

The Women’s Rights movement was long ignored by professional historians, and even now the historical literature is uneven and marked by surprising gaps. The participants themselves began to talk about writing their own history as early as the 1840s, and in the 1880s Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage produced a massive three volume History of Woman Suffrage (HWS). It indulged predictable biases—neglecting women of color, claiming leadership while scanting Lucy Stone’s wing of the suffrage movement, and assuming that the vote was inherently central rather than chosen among many goals. The interpretive framework of the HWS “master narrative” is questionable, but as an archive of original sources, it continues to be essential. In memoirs and authorized biographies, the aging leaders continued to try to shape their own story, and thereafter partisans and journalists kept the subject alive.23

Finally, in the 1930s, Mary Ritter Beard began to push women’s history in the direction of rigor and critical analysis, but academic historians continued to ignore women’s history right up through the 1950s. Thus it fell to a gifted independent scholar, Eleanor Flexner, to publish the first balanced, scholarly history of the women’s rights movement. Flexner’s Century of Struggle transcended the HWS by taking a nonpartisan approach, extending the story to 1920, and devoting much more attention to black and working class women. In her best-selling The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan recommended Flexner’s book to her readers, and the history of the women’s rights movement soon became enmeshed in, and often driven by, the needs of modern feminists. They tipped their hats to the past by calling themselves “the Second Wave,” but turning to history as a tool in the ongoing struggle, they tended to prefer stories of inspirational leadership and bracing “herstory.”24

Renewed feminist activism brought a generation of young women into academia in the 1970s, but most of them were enthusiastic about social history, and tended to write off the story of organized feminism and the fight for the vote as uninteresting, elitist, or both. The exception was Ellen DuBois, whose remarkable body of work forms the indispensable foundation of all subsequent study of the history of women’s rights. But most specialists in the new field of women’s history chose to study the lives of ordinary women rather than the struggles of women’s rights advocates, and while scholarship on the history of women flourished, scholarship on the history of the women’s rights movement, and especially of suffrage, did not keep pace.25

Meanwhile, slavery, abolition, and emancipation drew the attention of many gifted scholars, who transformed U.S. historiography in the late 20th century by showing how the history of African Americans was crucial, not marginal, to the story of the American nation. New research in these related fields, which uncovered primary sources and took up the point of view of neglected black leaders, served to highlight the undoubted racism shown by women’s rights leaders, especially Elizabeth Cady Stanton, in the Reconstruction era. By the 1980s and 1990s, with the achievements of Second Wave feminism seemingly secure and the insights of black history in hand, younger scholars were ready to take an iconoclastic approach to the history of the women’s rights movement. The historiographical pendulum swung all the way back from hagiography to debunking, and some even questioned whether the whole movement amounted to white women’s rights, and was inherently racist. At the same time, some historians began to argue that the proper subject of historical study was not women but gender, and [to put] an emphasis on discourse and representation rather than experience and behavior. Gender analysis promised to bring critical attention to men’s roles, masculinity, and the male-dominated public arena, but some historians feared that it also dismissed women’s history as passé or carried “an implicit undertow of essentialism.”26

Scholars now routinely refer to “women’s and gender history” and agree it is essential to study the intersection of race, class, and gender, but there is no one prescription for how to do this. Some may continue to elaborate skeptical analyses of the traditional narrative and its famous leaders, which certainly needs more study. Others will continue to uncover the lives of women, especially nonwhite and non-elite women, who have been heretofore unstudied and whose narratives may contribute or relate to an enlarged narrative of the women’s rights movement. Still others will bring together antebellum and postbellum sources to move beyond conventional but unhelpful chronological boundaries, or will expand the terms of historical inquiry so as to include black and white activists in the same frame. Historians who look to expand the lens and study a range of activists, fellow travelers, and quasi-feminists will probably find that well-chosen local studies offer the best opportunities, as they do generally for efforts to examine the interactions of race, class, and gender.27

In terms of the subheadings used in this article, scholarship on “origins” is stronger and more plentiful than work on the “the movement itself” or the “upshot.” The movement’s relationship to politics must be explored further, and there is much is to be gained by more attention to legal and constitutional history, which may appear in law reviews rather than historical venues. A perspective that brings together these concerns by studying the history of citizenship is most promising. There are opportunities for important work in biography; and the connections between the women’s rights movement and women’s advancement in the fields of medicine, the law, and higher education remain understudied. The topics of religion and temperance, and the merger of the two in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, are far from exhausted.28

Primary Sources

Researchers will continue to find much useful primary source material in the History of Woman Suffrage, written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage, despite the authors’ self-justifying agenda. Stanton’s memoirs, Eighty Years and More, and Anthony’s authorized biography by Ida Husted Harper contain a good deal of material not available elsewhere. The microfilmed Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, which include a full run of the Revolution, the weekly paper published by Stanton and Anthony in the late 1860s, are indispensable. Nor should researchers neglect Ann D. Gordon’s superbly edited Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony in six volumes.29 Gordon’s meticulous footnotes contain extensive information on many aspects of the movement, including grassroots activists and sympathizers.

Traditionally, researchers on the women’s rights movement have looked to the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College, which holds the Garrison Family Papers and a Suffrage Collection, and to the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library in the History of Women in America, at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard, which holds much valuable material, including the Olympia Brown Papers. The Schlesinger’s Blackwell Family Papers are now digitized and accessible online. The Library of Congress holds an additional collection of Blackwell Family Papers, as well as the records of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center in Hartford, Connecticut, includes relevant materials in its collection of Beecher Stowe family papers, while the Boston Public Library and Harvard’s Houghton Library contain collections that are valuable for the study of Garrisonian abolitionists. Black history finds a specialized home at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, at the New York Public Library, and its African American Women Writers of the Nineteenth Century, now digitized, is invaluable. Researchers can also consult published collections of works by individual writers including Frances Ellen Watkins Harper and Maria Stewart.30 The website Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600‐2000, created and maintained by Thomas Dublin and Kathryn Kish Sklar, contains large amounts of very valuable material. Extensive resources were collected on microfilm for The History of Women and the Gerritsen Collection of Women’s History, available in some libraries.31 Proprietary databasesrelated to women’s history are available from Adam Matthew Digital, to which some libraries subscribe. Of course primary sources not specific to women’s history, such as the digitized database America’s Historical Newspapers or the American Periodical Series can also be useful.

Further Reading

  • Baker, Jean H., ed. Votes for Women: The Struggle for Suffrage Revisited. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.
  • DuBois, Ellen Carol. Feminism and Suffrage: The Emergence of an Independent Women’s Movement in America, 1848–1860. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1978.
  • DuBois, Ellen Carol. Woman Suffrage and Women’s Rights. New York and London: New York University Press, 1998.
  • Dudden, Faye E. Fighting Chance: The Struggle Over Woman Suffrage and Black Suffrage in Reconstruction America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.
  • Flexner, Eleanor. Century of Struggle: The Woman’s Rights Movement in the United States. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1959.
  • Ginzberg, Lori D. Untidy Origins: A Story of Woman’s Rights in Antebellum New York. Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 2005.
  • Ginzberg, Lori D. Elizabeth Cady Stanton: An American Life. New York: Hill and Wang, 2009.
  • Gordon, Ann D., and Bettye Collier-Thomas, eds. African American Women and the Vote, 1837–1965. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1997.
  • Hewitt, Nancy A. Women’s Activism and Social Change: Rochester, New York, 1822–1872. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1984.
  • Hoffert, Sylvia D. When Hens Crow: The Woman’s Rights Movement in Antebellum America. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1995.
  • Isenberg, Nancy. Sex and Citizenship in Antebellum America. Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.
  • Jeffrey, Julie Roy. The Great Silent Army of Abolitionism: Ordinary Women in the Antislavery Movement. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999.
  • Jones, Martha S. All Bound Up Together: The Woman Question in African-American Public Culture, 1830–1900. Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 2007.
  • Kerber, Linda K. Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980.
  • Leach, William. True Love and Perfect Union: The Feminist Reform of Sex and Society. New York: Basic Books, 1980.
  • Lerner, Gerda. The Grimke Sisters from South Carolina: Rebels Against Slavery. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1967.
  • Ridarsky, Christine L., and Mary M. Huth, eds. Susan B. Anthony and the Struggle for Equal Rights. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2012.
  • Stansell, Christine. The Feminist Promise: 1792 to the Present. New York: Modern Library, 2010.
  • Terborg-Penn, Rosalyn. “Discrimination Against Afro-American Women in the Woman’s Movement, 1830–1920.” In The Afro-American Woman, edited by Sharon Harley and Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, 17–27. Port Washington, NY: Kennikat, 1978.
  • Terborg-Penn, Rosalyn. African-American Women in the Struggle for the Vote, 1850–1920. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1998.
  • Tetrault, Lisa. The Myth of Seneca Falls: Memory and the Woman’s Suffrage Movement, 1848–1898. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014.
  • Wellman, Judith. The Road to Seneca Falls: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the First Woman’s Rights Convention. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004.
  • Wheeler, Marjorie Spruill, ed. One Woman, One Vote: Rediscovering the Woman Suffrage Movement. Troutdale, OR: NewSage Press, 1995.
  • Zaeske, Susan. Signatures of Citizenship: Petitioning, Antislavery, and Women’s Political Identity. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.


  • 1. Kathleen Laughlin, et al., “Is It Time to Jump Ship? Historians Rethink the Waves Metaphor,” Feminist Formations, 22.1 (Spring 2010): 76–135; Jean V. Mathews, Woman’s Struggle for Equality: The First Phase, 1828–1876 (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1997); and Christine Stansell, The Feminist Promise: 1792 to the Present (New York: Modern Library, 2010).

  • 2. Linda K. Kerber, “Why Diamonds Really Are a Girl’s Best Friend: The Republican Mother and the Woman Citizen,” in Women’s America: Refocusing the Past, 8th ed., ed. Linda K. Kerber, Jane Sherron DeHart, Cornelia Hughes Dayton, Judy Tzu-Chun Wu (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), 117–125; Carol Berkin, Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for America’s Independence (New York: Knopf, 2005); Mary Beth Norton, Founding Mothers and Fathers: Gendered Power and the Forming of American society (New York: Knopf, 1996); and Joan Hoff, “The Illusion of Change: Women and the American Revolution,” in The American Revolution: Explorations in the History of American Radicalism, ed. Alfred F. Young (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1976), 385–445.

  • 3. Linda K. Kerber, Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980); Jan Lewis, “The Republican Wife: Virtue and Seduction in the Early Republic,” William and Mary Quarterly 44 (October 1987): 689–721; Rosemarie Zagarri, Revolutionary Backlash: Women and Politics in the Early American Republic (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007); Mary Kelley, Learning to Stand and Speak: Women, Education, and Public Life in America’s Republic (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006); and Thomas Wentworth Higginson, “Ought Women to Learn the Alphabet?” Atlantic Monthly 3.16 (February 1859): 138–150.

  • 4. Susan E. Klepp, Revolutionary Conceptions: Women, Fertility, and Family Limitation in America, 1760–1820 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009); John D’Emilio and Estelle B. Freedman, Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America (New York: Harper & Row, 1988); and Janet Farrell Brodie, Contraception and Abortion in Nineteenth-Century America (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994).

  • 5. Linda Kerber, No Constitutional Right to Be Ladies: Women and the Obligations of Citizenship (New York: Hill and Wang, 1998); Blackstone; Proceedings of the 11th Woman’s Rights Convention (New York: Robert J. Johnston, 1866), 45; and Norma Basch, In the Eyes of the Law: Women, Marriage, and Property in Nineteenth-Century New York (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1982).

  • 6. Barbara Leslie Epstein, The Politics of Domesticity: Women, Evangelism, and Temperance in Nineteenth-Century America (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1981); Keith E. Melder, Beginnings of Sisterhood: The American Woman’s Rights Movement, 1800–1850 (New York: Schocken, 1977); Barbara Berg, The Remembered Gate: Origins of American Feminism, the Woman and the City, 1800–1860 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978); Joan Jacobs Brumberg, Mission for Life: The Story of the Family of Adoniram Judson (New York: Free Press, 1980); Anne M. Boylan, The Origins of Women’s Activism: New York and Boston, 1797–1840 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002); Mary P. Ryan, Cradle of the Middle Class: The Family in Oneida County, New York, 1790–1865 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1981); Nancy Hewitt, Women’s Activism and Social Change: Rochester, New York, 1822–1872 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1984); Lori D. Ginzberg, Women and the Work of Benevolence: Morality, Politics, and Class in the Nineteenth-Century United States (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990); and Lawrence Foster, Women, Family, and Utopia: Communal Experiments of the Shakers, the Oneida Community, and the Mormons (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1991).

  • 7. Margaret Hope Bacon, Valliant Friend: The Life of Lucretia Mott (New York: Walker, 1980); Carol Faulkner, Lucretia Mott’s Heresy: Abolition and Women’s Rights in Nineteenth-Century America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011); Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage, History of Woman Suffrage, Vols. 1–3 (Rochester, NY: C. Mann, 1881–1886), 1:420.

  • 8. Gerda Lerner, “The Lady and the Mill Girl: Changes in the Status of Women in the Age of Jackson” (1969) reprinted in The Majority Finds Its Past: Placing Women in History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979); Faye E. Dudden, Serving Women: Household Service in Nineteenth-Century America (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1983); Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Eighty Years and More: Reminiscences, 1815–1897 (1898; Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1993), 204; Barbara Taylor, Eve and the New Jerusalem: Socialism and Feminism in the Nineteenth Century (New York: Pantheon, 1983); Susan Strasser, Never Done: A History of American Housework (New York: Pantheon, 1982); Thomas Dublin, Women at Work: The Transformation of Work and Community in Lowell, Massachusetts, 1826–1860 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1979), 91; Christine Stansell, City of Women: Sex and Class in New York, 1789–1860 (New York: Knopf, 1986); Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, African-American Women in the Struggle for the Vote, 1850–1920 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998); Shirley Yee, Black Women Abolitionists: A Study in Activism, 1828–1860 (Knoxville, University of Tennessee Press, 1992); and African American Women and the Vote, 1837–1965, ed. Ann D. Gordon with Bettye Collier-Thomas (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1997).

  • 9. Kathryn Kish Sklar, Catharine Beecher: A Study in American Domesticity (New York: Norton, 1976); Jean Boydston, Home and Work: Housework, Wages, and the Ideology of Labor in the Early Republic (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991); Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, “The Female World of Love and Ritual: Relations between Women in Nineteenth-Century America,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 1 (1975): 1–30; “Susan B. Anthony to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 26 May 1856,” in The Elizabeth Cady Stanton-Susan B. Anthony Reader: Correspondence, Writings, Speeches, ed. Ellen Carol DuBois (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1981); Mary Kelley, Private Woman, Public Stage: Literary Domesticity in Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1984); Nina Baym, Novels, Readers, and Reviewers: Responses to Fiction in Antebellum America (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1984); Jane Tompkins, Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction, 1790–1860 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985); Renee Sentilles, American Tomboys, 1850–1915 (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2018); Barbara Sicherman, Well-Read Lives: How Books Inspired a Generation of American Women (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010); Alexander Keyssar, The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States (New York: Basic Books, 2000); Susan Zaeske, Signatures of Citizenship: Petitioning, Antislavery, and Women’s Political Identity (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003); and Alisse Portnoy, Their Right to Speak: Women’s Activism in the Indian and Slavery Debates (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005).

  • 10. Bonnie S. Anderson, Joyous Greetings: The First International Women’s Movement, 1830–1860 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000); Pamela E. Oliver and Gerald Marwell, “Mobilizing Technologies for Collective Action,” in Frontiers in Social Movement Theory, ed. Aldon D. Morris and Carol McClurg Mueller (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992), 251–272; Sarah A. Soule and Susan Olzak, “When Do Movements Matter? The Politics of Contingency and the Equal Rights Amendment,” American Sociological Review 69 (August 2004): 473–497; Ann D. Gordon, ed., National Protection for National Citizens, 1873 to 1890, Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony 3 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2003), 527, 308; Martha S. Jones, All Bound Up Together: The Woman Question in African American Public Culture, 1830–1900 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007); and Premilla Nadasen in Kathleen A. Laughlin et al., “Is It Time to Jump Ship? Historians Rethink the Waves Metaphor,” Feminist Formations (2010): 98–105.

  • 11. Gerda Lerner, The Grimke Sisters from South Carolina: Rebels Against Slavery (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1967); Kathryn Kish Sklar, Women’s Rights Emerges within the Antislavery Movement, 1830–1870: A Brief History with Documents (Boston: Bedford, 2000); Ellen Carol DuBois, Woman Suffrage and Women’s Rights (New York: New York University Press, 1998); Beth Salerno, Sister Societies: Women’s Antislavery Organizations in Antebellum America (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2005); Jean Fagan Yellin and John C. Van Horne, The Abolitionist Sisterhood: Women’s Political Culture in Antebellum America (Ithaca, NY, and London: Cornell University Press, 1994); and George Fitzhugh, Cannibals All! Or, Slaves without Masters (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1960). The original Cannibals All! was published in 1857.

  • 12. Aileen Kraditor, Means and Ends in American Abolitionism: Garrison and His Critics on Strategy and Tactics, 1834–1850 (New York: Vintage, 1970); Ronald G. Walters, The Antislavery Appeal: American Abolitionism after 1830 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976); Richard H. Sewell, Ballots for Freedom: Antislavery Politics in the United States, 1837–1860 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976); Kathryn Kish Sklar and James Brewer Stewart, eds., Women’s Rights and Transatlantic Slavery in the Age of Emancipation (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007); and Carol Lasser and Stacey Robertson, Antebellum Women: Private, Public, Partisan (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2010).

  • 13. Stanton, History Of Woman Suffrage, vol. 1; Eleanor Flexner, Century of Struggle: The Woman’s Rights Movement in the United States (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1959), with a revised edition in 1973; Ellen Carol DuBois, Feminism and Suffrage: The Emergence of an Independent Women’s Movement in America (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1978); and Sylvia D. Hoffert, When Hens Crow: The Woman’s Rights Movement in Antebellum America (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995). “Women’s Rights Convention,” New York Daily Tribune, May 14, 1858, in Papers of ECS and SBA, reel 8, frame 1124.

  • 14. Judith Wellman, The Road to Seneca Falls: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the First Woman’s Rights Convention (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004); Lisa Tetrault, The Myth of Seneca Falls: Memory and the Woman’s Suffrage Movement, 1848–1898 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014); Lori Ginzberg, Untidy Origins: A Story of Woman’s Rights in Antebellum New York (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005); and Nancy Isenberg, Sex and Citizenship in Antebellum America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998).

  • 15. Barbara Miller Solomon, In the Company of Educated Women: A History of Women and Higher Education in America (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1985); Regina Markeell Morantz-Sanchez, Sympathy and Science: Women Physicians in American Medicine (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985); Virginia Drachman, Sisters in Law: Women Lawyers in Modern American History (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998); “Lucy Stone to Antoinette Brown Blackwell, 1856,” in Loving Warriors: Selected Letters of Lucy Stone and Henry B. Blackwell, 1853–1893, ed. Leslie Wheeler (New York: Dial Press, 1981), 186; Linda Gordon, Woman’s Body, Woman’s Right: Birth Control in America (New York: Penguin Books, 1977); Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz, Rereading Sex: Battles over Sexual Knowledge and Suppression in Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Knopf, 2002); Janet Farrell Brodie, Contraception and Abortion in Nineteenth-Century America (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994); Joanne E. Passet, Sex Radicals and the Quest for Women’s Equality (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2003); and William Leach, True Love and Perfect Union: The Feminist Reform of Sex and Society (New York: Basic Books, 1980).

  • 16. Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, “Discrimination against Afro-American Women in the Woman’s Movement, 1830–1920,” in The Afro-American Woman, ed. Sharon Harley and Rosalyn Terborg-Penn (Port Washington, NY: Kennikat, 1978), 17–27; Angela Davis, Women, Race, and Class (New York: Random House, 1981); DuBois, Feminism and Suffrage, 1978; DuBois, Woman Suffrage and Women’s Rights, 1998; Faye E. Dudden, Fighting Chance: The Struggle over Woman Suffrage and Black Suffrage in Reconstruction America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011); Louise Michele Newman, White Women’s Rights: The Racial Origins of Feminism in the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999); Elsa Barkley Brown, “‘What Has Happened Here’: The Politics of Difference in Women’s History and Feminist Politics,” Feminist Studies 18.2 (Summer 1992): 295–312.

  • 17. Nell Irvin Painter, Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol (New York: Norton, 1996); Margaret Washington, Sojourner Truth’s America (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2009); Lori D. Ginzberg, Elizabeth Cady Stanton: An American Life (New York: Hill and Wang, 2009); Jean H. Baker, Sisters: The Lives of America’s Suffragists (New York: Hill and Wang, 2005); Patricia D. Holland and Ann D. Gordon, eds., Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony (Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 1991), forty-five reels; Ann D. Gordon, ed., The Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, 6 vols. (Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1997–2009); Charles Capper, Margaret Fuller, An American Romantic Life (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992); Charles Capper, Margaret Fuller: Transatlantic Crossings in a Revolutionary Age (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2007); Carolyn L. Karcher, The First Woman in the Republic: A Cultural Biography of Lydia Maria Child (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1994); and Susan B. Anthony quoted in Ann D. Gordon, “Rambles with Umbrellas,” online at Historical Details, It’s All in the, November 28, 2014.

  • 18. Stanton, History Of Woman Suffrage, vol.2; DuBois, Feminism and Suffrage; Beverly Beeton, Women Vote in the West: The Woman Suffrage Movement, 1869–1896 (New York: Garland, 1986); Sarah Barringer Gordon, “The Liberty of Self-Degradation: Polygamy, Woman Suffrage, and Consent in Nineteenth-Century America,” Journal of American History 83 (December 1996): 815–847; Susan Goodier, No Votes for Women: The New York State Anti-Suffrage Movement (Urbana: University of Illinois, 2013); Lisa Tetrault, “The Incorporation of American Feminism: Suffragists and the Postbellum Lyceum,” Journal of American History 96 (March 2010): 1027–1056;Lois Beachy Underhill, The Woman Who Ran for President: The Many Lives of Victoria Woodhull (Bridgehampton, NY: Bridge Works, 1995); and Horowitz, Rereading Sex.

  • 19. Eric Foner, Reconstruction, 1863–1877 (New York: Harper & Row, 1988); Tera Hunter, To’Joy My Freedom: Black Women’s Lives and Labors after the Civil War (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997); Elsa Barclay Brown, “Negotiating and Transforming the Public Sphere: African American Political Life in the Transition from Slavery to Freedom,” Public Culture 7 (1994): 104–146; Laura Free, Suffrage Reconstructed: Gender, Race, and Voting Rights in the Civil War Era (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2015); Dudden, Fighting Chance; and Andrea Moore Kerr, Lucy Stone: Speaking Out for Equality (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1992)

  • 20. DuBois, Woman Suffrage and Women’s Rights; Lynn Sherr, Introduction to The Trial of Susan B. Anthony, by Susan B. Anthonyand United States Circuit Court (Amherst, NY: Humanity Books, 2003); Victoria C. Hattan, Labor Visions and State Power: The Origins of Business Unionism in the United States (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993); and Stansell, The Feminist Promise.

  • 21. Nancy F. Cott, “What’s In a Name? The Limits of ‘Social Feminism’; or, Expanding the Vocabulary of Women’s History,” Journal of American History 76.3 (December 1989): 809–829; Stansell, The Feminist Promise; Ruth Bordin, Women and Temperance: The Quest for Power and Liberty, 1873–1900 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1981); Jed Dannenbaum, Drink and Disorder: Temperance Reform in Cincinnati from the Washingtonian Revival to the WCTU (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984); and Jack S. Blocker Jr., “Separate Paths: Suffragists and the Women’s Temperance Crusade,” Signs 10.3 (Spring 1985): 460–476.

  • 22. Elsa Barkley Brown, “‘What Has Happened Here’: The Politics of Difference in Women’s History and Feminist Politics,” Feminist Studies 18.2 (Summer 1992): 300.

  • 23. Ellen Carol DuBois, “Making Women’s History: Historian-Activists of Women’s Rights, 1880–1940,” reprinted in DuBois, Woman Suffrage and Women’s Rights, 210–238.

  • 24. DuBois, “Eleanor Flexner and the History of American Feminism,” in DuBois, Woman Suffrage and Women’s Rights, 239–251; Leila Rupp, “Eleanor Flexner’s Century of Struggle: Women’s History and the Women’s Movement,” National Women’s Studies Association Journal 4.2 (Summer 1992): 157–169; Carol Lasser, “Century of Struggle, Decades of Revision: A Retrospective on Eleanor Flexner’s Suffrage History,” Reviews in American History 15.2 (June 1987): 344–354; and Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique (New York: W. W. Norton, 1963).

  • 25. Jean H. Baker, “Getting Right with Women’s Suffrage,” Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 5.1 (January 2006): 7–17.

  • 26. Louise Michele Newman, White Women’s Rights: The Racial Origins of Feminism in the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999); Joan W. Scott, “Gender: A Useful Category of Analysis,” American Historical Review 91 (December 1986): 1053–1075; Louise M. Newman, “Critical Theory and the History of Women: What’s at Stake in Deconstructing Women’s History,” Journal of Women’s History 2.3 (Winter 1991): 58–68. For issues of gender analysis, see Kathy Peiss, “Women’s Past and the Currents of U.S. History,” in Making Women’s Histories: Beyond National Perspectives, ed. Pamela S. Nadell and Kate Haulman (New York: New York University Press, 2013), 17–37; Jeanne Boydston, “Gender as a Question of Historical Analysis,” Gender & History 20 (November 2008): 558–583.

  • 27. Alison M. Parker, Articulating Rights: Nineteenth-Century American Women on Race, Reform, and the State (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2010); Corinne T. Field, The Struggle for Equal Adulthood: Gender, Race, Age, and the Fight for Citizenship in Antebellum America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014); Carol Faulkner and Alison M. Parker, eds., Interconnections: Gender and Race in American History (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2012). For a model of the local issues approach, a study of the struggle for black rights through a focus on Boston, see Stephen Kantrowitz, More Than Freedom: Fighting for Black citizenship in a White Republic, 1829–1889 (New York: Penguin Press, 2012).

  • 28. Reva B. Siegel, “She the People: The Nineteenth Amendment, Sex Equality, Federalism, and the Family,” Harvard Law Review 115.4 (February 2002): 948–1045.

  • 29. Stanton, History of Woman Suffrage (1881–1886), includes a cumulative index at the end of vol. 3; Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Eighty Years and More; Reminiscences, 1815–1897, reprinted from the original of 1898, with an introduction by Ellen Carol DuBois and afterword by Ann D. Gordon (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1993); Ida Husted Harper, Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony, 3 vols. (Indianapolis, IN: Bowen-Merrill, 1898–1908); Patricia D. Holland and Ann D. Gordon, eds., Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony (Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 1991), forty-five microfilm reels; Ann D. Gordon, ed., The Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, vol. 1, In the School of Anti-Slavery, 1840–1866 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1997); Gordon, ed., The Selected Papers, vol. 2, Against an Aristocracy of Sex, 1866–1873 (2000); Gordon, ed., The Selected Papers, vol. 3, National Protection for National Citizens, 1873–1880 (2003); Gordon, ed., The Selected Papers, vol. 4, When Clowns Make Laws for Queens (2006); Gordon, ed., The Selected Papers, vol. 5, Their Place inside the Body Politic (2009); Gordon, ed., The Selected Papers, vol. 6, An Awful Hush, 1895–1906 (2013).

  • 30. Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, A Brighter Coming Day: A Frances Ellen Watkins Harper Reader, ed. Frances Smith Foster (New York: Feminist Press, 1990); and Maria Stewart: America’s First Black Woman Political Writer, Essays and Speeches, ed. Marilyn Richardson (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987).

  • 31. The History of Women (New Haven, CT: Research Publications, 1977); and The Gerritsen Collection of Women’s History (Glen Rock, NJ: Microfilming Corp of America, 1975).