abigalesmal
Abigail Adams

“I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.” —To John, March 31,  1776.

Freedom was in the air in of  the American colonies’ movement for Independence; and that included the women. The crisp and powerful 1776 commentary by Abigail Adams that opens this project is proof.that active involvement in these debates and conversations. Before the Constitution was written women were voting in several colonies  (New Jersey permitted the vote for some time after.) Property rights and even divorce rights were held in a number of constituencies.

sojournaltruth
Sojourner Truth

The roots of American feminism are intertwined with our abolitionist roots ,and so was peace, The recognition in the Constitution of certain universal rights inherently and equally endowed made implicit the necessity for the ultimate dissolution of the institution of slavery and other discriminatory institutions.   Following the ending of the Civil War many feminists  and abolitionists also took up the cause to end wars. Cross pollination among the  variously focused human rights political movements has always been a feature.

“Women’s  rights are human rights.” — Hillary Clinton, n 5 September 1995, at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.

The political and social movement that  that came to be called feminism evolved  from a  from small groups of educated women coming together in teas and salons such as the Margaret Fuller Conversations and later large conventions.  Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were the primary originators of the the activist organization named The American Women’s Movement . It began with the 1848 Seneca Falls Conference. Mott and  Stanton,  understood the power of women gathering and sharing experiences and encouragement. Stanton’s great intellectual capacities gave the movement the language.  Lucretia Mott a compelling orator gave the movement a visible voice.  Threads emerged from the moment in Seneca Falls that connects the various  waves of activism that continue to endure.

They early recognized equal participation could not come without equal legal status and It had to begin with the vote. Suffrage became the political goal. It was never the only intended goal but the first step. In its singularity it united the widest of diversity of  women.

Cady-Stanton
Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Beginning with a series of regional women’s conventions the numbers of activists  expanded to thousands. Freed African American slave Sojourner Truth brought her unique formulation of feminism and human rights to the movement delivering her “Ain’t I a woman?”; speech at the 1851 Ohio Women’s Convention.  Unity between the African American and white women in the cause for women’s suffrage was shattered in 1868 when they split  over the issue of support of the 15th Amendment. A brief summary of the details can be found in the Smithsonian article referenced below.

pioneerwom
Pioneer Woman, Ponca City, Oklahoma

The vision and achievements of the women on the frontier deserve note. We were have for more  than 300 years been also a nation of frontiers and pioneers. The primitive conditions of  living on the frontier demanded partnership with husbands in combining the manual labor with  the executive functions necessary for operating a  farm or business, family with child bearing and rearing and education.  Proof of capability was not an issue with these women in their assumption of the right to full citizenship.

The unique perspective of women, both black and white,  who lived within the institution of slavery been poorly explored and documented. Perhaps modern author Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid could serve as a proto-(or retro)-type as. sexual privilege by men was an aspect of “ownership.” The conditions for the wives  and female relatives of slave owners had their own unique constellation of oppression.

julia_a_j_foote
Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

It is not surprising that the  most publicized history of the suffrage and women’s rights movements has ignored the vigorous social and political activism led primarily by the daughters and granddaughters of slaves. It was  conducted in parallel with  the various other mostly white organizations seeking women’s suffrage.  According to Smithsonian Historian Martha S. Jones they actually achieved the first legal vote in 1916.  “Their’s was a unique brand of politics crafted at the crossroads of racism and sexism. African-American women had always made their own way.”

“Frances Ellen Watkins Harper was in the end a political visionary: “We are all bound up in one great bundle of humanity, and society cannot trample on the weakest and feeblest of its members without receiving the curse of its own soul.” She demanded that black women be included as part of “one great privileged nation.” This was the purpose of the ballot. Sadly, her vision of unity failed, the movement splintered into two competing organizations.”  Read more of  the Smithsonian article by Martha S. Jones

Suffragist Parade in New York
American Women’s Movement March – 1911-14 *

The gold banner had these words stitched upon its face: “Forward, out of error. Leave behind the night. Forward through the Darkness. Forward into light.” The banner was often in the care of suffragist Inez Milholland who led multiple suffrage parades from 1911 through 1913. It was the adopted motto of the National Woman’s Party, one of many organizations leading the charge for the right to vote for women at the turn of the last century. Milholland, a Brooklyn-born lawyer, socialite and firebrand activist, had become one of the most prominent public faces of the movement. Seldom was there a march that didn’t include her face and inspiring voice. She died at age 30 before the constitutional amendment was ratified, but was considered the spirit guide and soul of the movement. —Syreeta McFadden 01.20.17

womenatwork
Feminism at Work, David Trumble. Commissioned by Women You Should Know. *

In  the constant need for vigilance and activism to protect of the right to self-determination there are and have been in hundreds, likely thousands,  giants of feminism coming in waves as society demands.Suffrage activists, and women since the vote, have been a powerful  presence in the causes for human rights,  child welfare, domestic violence, workers’ rights abuses exposed by the shirtwaist factory and radium girls scandals. and more.  And of course reproductive rights which are so threatened today.  We honor all those women , from colonial dames to  Sojourner Truth to the partners Elizabeth Stanton-Susan B. Anthony -Lucretia Mott to Shirley Chisholm to Gloria Steinem  to today’s diverse young women, always aspiring  to a better world and life for daughters and granddaughters. 

* More about this painting and these women Here: Women You  Should Know.

The images of today are as compelling as is the cause as at any time in the history of the battle for the rights of all women to self determine.  Our own North Georgia women are there at the Georgia Capitol protesting and intending to stop the passage of HB 481. The bill has passed and been signed into law. It if implemented will  end the to reproductive autonomy for Georgia women   The protests continue.

abortion2
This photo by Steve Eberhardt is  from  the social media page of the tireless Marissa Pyle.

P