That function gives women such wisdom and power as no male ever can possess. When women can support themselves, have their entry to all the trades and professions, with a house of their own over their heads and a bank account, they will own their bodies and be dictators in the social realm. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 1890 (Banner, 1980)
The activists for women's rights in the nineteenth century may have read Godey's Lady's Book and the same domestic novels as their neighbors, but they believed that women's moral superiority justified their working for women's equality inside and outside the home. Why did they challenge the prevailing restrictions on women How did their own experiences in the family lead them to a feminist consciousness How did their domestic experiences shape their feminist thought and action
Family issues--women's property rights, child custody, marriage, reproductive control, and divorce--were central to the early women's rights advocates' understanding of women's oppression. The Declaration of Sentiments passed in 1848 at Seneca Falls, New York, as well as the resolutions passed at other women's rights conventions, reflected the centrality of these concerns. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, along with many Quakers and Spiritualists, were the strongest advocates for marriage reform, both before and after the Civil War, when the women's rights movement as a whole narrowed its platform to concentrate on the vote. This emphasis on family issues stemmed from the supporters' own domestic experiences--empowering as well as restrictive--and from their outrage over the victimization of other women by abusive husbands. Aware of the precariousness of women's covert domestic power, many early activists for women's rights forged a feminist agenda designed to benefit women and their families. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, Antoinette Brown Blackwell, and other notable feminists who were dismayed by the slow progress of achieving public power sought to apply feminist principles in their own lives. They pursued two major alternative strategies: combining marriage, motherhood, and careers; or choosing single celibate lives dedicated to reform (Banner, 1980).
Many early advocates for women's rights came to a feminist consciousness as they perceived the disparities between their own experiences as wives and mothers and the cultural ideals of true womanhood. Some of them came to an awareness of their subordination when they were discriminated against in the abolitionist and temperance movements. In these movements they gained valuable political organizing experience through public speaking, lobbying, and petition campaigns. For others their feminist consciousness stemmed from their experiences as Quakers and Spiritualists. Women spoke in Quaker meetings, became ministers, held separate business meetings, and had equal educational opportunities.
Feminists against the Traditional Family
Certain topics were almost universally taboo in nineteenth-century America. Even husbands and their wives avoided discussing sex, homosexuality, prostitution, insanity, illegitimate children, birth control, and suicide. In a time when nudity was considered indecent, Hiram Powers's statue of a nude female titled Greek Slave caused uproar. Some museums had a "ladies hour" when women could view the statue