In the 1960s, the National Organization for Women fought the good fight to bring women's rights and equality for all to the forefront, while at the same time some women, like Phyllis Schlafly, were very vocal against feminism and women's movement. Nonetheless, reformers have made great strides towards equality in society today, both in the workplace and within the home. The proverbial "glass ceiling" that keeps women from substantial promotions in the workplace still exists, and there are definite strides to be made, however, as time passes and outdated ideals and beliefs are shattered, total equality for women may be just a short distance down the road.
The women's rights movement began in the first half of the nineteenth century. From the emergence of the suffrage movement in the 1850's until women obtained the right to vote in 1920, suffrage became the primary goal of the women's rights movement. Suffrage included a set of grievances such as unequal wages, inequality at work, unsanitary working conditions, and limited job options. This movement also targeted the suffering of the non-working woman as well, such as married women's property rights and the suffrage of women overall. This led to the first women's rights convention held at Seneca Falls, New York in 1848 (Baker 24).
An outspoken proponent of women's rights was Francis Wright who gained prominence within the women's movement in the late 1820's as a colorful, sensational speaker. She spoke out against slavery and also believed that marriage was a coercive institution and advocated replacing current laws on marriage with a non-legal bond called "generous attachment", based only on mutual respect and love and not regulated by any legal authority (24). Because she was a woman, her speeches were considered radical and improper and her detractors labeled her a "Red Harlot" along with any other woman who followed her or attended her lectures (25).
Frederick Douglas, a well-known reformer within the anti-slavery movement, was also a staunch supporter of women's rights, and as early as 1848 demanded the vote as an essential right of women (42). Furthermore, Susan B. Anthony, an American civil rights leader, played a pivotal role and wrote often about the women's suffrage movement. In her writings, many times she equated the women's movement
with the anti-slavery movement. She stated:
the 'Woman Suffrage Movement,' was the Anti-Slavery struggle
Anthony was also a paid agent of the American Anti-Slavery Society as well as a suffragist (42).
In 1875, a major court case, Minor v. Happersett, arose out of the quest to vote by a woman named Virginia Minor. She attempted to cast her vote in St. Louis and the registrar, Happersett, refused to permit her to do so. Minor was the president of the Woman's Suffrage Association of Missouri and her husband was a prominent attorney. They sued the registrar for denying her what they believed was her privilege and immunity of citizenship. The court in Minor v. Happersett decided against her and Minor appealed her case to the United States Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court ruled that if the founders wanted to include suffrage in the constitution, it would have been explicitly stated. The Court refused to interpret the constitution any other way and decided that