I have always admired strong women: Women who take a stand that defines them through life. Elizabeth caught my attention when I bought a slip of paper on which she wrote the words: “Men are what their mothers make them.” That comment, framed and hanging on the wall outside my writing room seemed to call to me. One day I stopped to consider what kind of woman, far ahead of the feminist movement when women could “have it all,” could devote herself to making the lives of women more important. I had to investigate her motivation. That journey became The Lost Diaries of Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
Most modern women have no idea how difficult it has been to gain equal footing with men in the United States. As early as 1619 when the Virginia House of Burgesses reviewed a proposal to give women an equal portion in colonial lands, they rejected it. When Margaret Brent, the first female lawyer in America demanded a “vote and voyce” in the 1648 Maryland Assembly, her plea was denied by the Governor. In 1776, as the Continental Congress debated the language of the Declaration of Independence, Abigail Adams wrote a note to her husband asking that laws represent both women and men. When he balked, she complained, “…whilst you are proclaiming peace and good will to Men, Emancipating all Nations, you insist upon retaining an absolute power over Wives.” While efforts to acknowledge women’s rights inched forward, by 1787 initial voting rights for women that were approved during the colonial and early statehood periods, were withdrawn. Equality for women began in earnest when Mississippi passed the Married Woman’s Property Act in 1839. Notice it did not apply to all women, only those who had husbands. History doesn’t note if Elizabeth was involved in pushing for that right, but its purpose goes to the heart of her concerns. Up until that time, women who divorced could not lay claim to their community property.
Over time, women like Elizabeth and her colleagues, Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott, traveled the country speaking out on behalf of the inequality of women’s rights compared to those for men. Their calls for change began to ripple through groups of women everywhere. These women faced an all-male Congress that fought them every way possible: Conservative Southern men held strong convictions about the public role of women. Finally, a promising 1878 Amendment was introduced, but failed in committee and was rejected in 1887. It would be not until 1920 that the Nineteenth Amendment, guaranteeing women the right to vote in federal elections, passed. It reads, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” For all her efforts, Elizabeth Cady Stanton did not live to see the culmination of her efforts, and sadly, women still fight for equality.
In modern history, The Equal Pay Act passed in 1963, requiring equal wages for women and men doing equal work, yet forcing compliance has been difficult even though it is the first federal law prohibiting sex discrimination. In 1972, nationwide access to contraception was approved regardless of marital status–fifty-six years after the first birth control clinic opened, and Roe v. Wade established nationwide access to abortion in 1973. Title IX of the Education Amendment Act, also passed in 1972, assures equal access to academic and athletic resources regardless of gender, but colleges and universities continue to financially and physically favor men’s sports over sports for women.
Today, women continue to protest for equal pay for equal work, abortion rights, parity in academics and athletics, and paid childcare for women who hold jobs and manage a family. But if not for women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who recognized as a child that the law treated women unfairly and decided to change the laws that favored men over women, who knows what rights women would have?
Recommended Article: – The Lost Diaries of Elizabeth Cady Stanton – a Review
Sources: Allen, Richard “Practiced law in State and Federal Courts at both the Trial and Appellate level”, https://www.quora.com/profile/Richard-Allen-53, October 3, 2016; Cunnea, Professor. [pseudonym of L.S., Esq.], http://wlh.law.stanford.edu/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/cunnea-timeline.pdfrequires, October 3, 2016