In celebration of International Women's Day, I have collected quotes from the Library of Congress and National Archives from the American Suffrage Movement. These quotes include Susan B Anthony, Lucy Stone, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Sojourner Truth.
At the time of the civil war women were disenfranchised citizens. They could not vote, serve on a jury or hold public office. The jobs women could hold were very limited, and pay was a third to half of what men would make in the same position. All property that a married woman inherited or earned could be taken by her husband at any time for any reason. In cases of divorce and separation, the children always went to the father, regardless of the reason for the divorce. Women were blocked from higher education and could not give testimony in court. They could not preach in the churches, and were sharply criticized if unfeminine or outspoken. The only thing women could do more than men was pay taxes. If an unmarried woman or a widow inherited property, she was taxed on it, but she wasn't allowed to vote.
"No taxation without representation" became common point in the speeches and writings of the "Votes for Women" advocates. They also pointed to the Declaration of Independence and Constitution with their promises of equality and representation. They discussed the prejudices inherited from the dark ages and misuse of the Bible to justify servitude.
Most of the advocates of Women's Suffrage also fought for the rights of the newly freed slaves. Unfortunately, the fourteenth amendment that allowed black men to vote did not include votes for women. It was not until 1920 that women were finally given the vote, causing the fight for Women's Suffrage to span many generations.
Even now, women are paid less than men for the same work. The goal of equal pay for equal work that the activists listed at the end of the Civil War still has not been achieved. Women are still a minority in elected public offices and high-paying professional work, despite having made great progress in higher education. Female preachers are still rare, and pressure to flirt or date to maintain a paying job is high. Women are still sharply criticized if unfeminine or outspoken.
Progress has been made, but it is slow progress. Like the Women's Rights Advocates of the past, we cannot give up now. If we give up, we may backslide into servitude, confinement and misery.
When I gathered the quotes from the "Votes for Women" movement, I found that some of them were still true, and some of them were more historic. It was a bit upsetting how many stories from over a hundred years ago seemed a slight variation of modern injustice.
This International Women's Day, we should remember where we came from, what our ancestors have already accomplished, and we should plan for the future, to finish their work of equality and make "a more perfect union".