We owe our thanks to these women who first stood up to fight for woman’s rights. It must have been a thankless task when the women they were fighting for had no idea they could ever stand equal in the law to men. They were owned by their fathers and if the father died, by their brothers. When women married they ceased to exist altogether. They owned nothing, not even their children.
Women who Fought for Equal Rights
Early in the nineteenth century a woman legally ceased to exist as a person when she married. Any property she owned became her husbands. She was required to submit to her husband under the law. A woman had no more rights than an animal. She was chattel. Later in the century women began to stand up for women’s rights. One of them was Catharine Beecher, an independent woman. Through her writing she sought to elevate the role of women in the home.
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When she talked of the purity of women, it was not so much to raise them above the common, but to ensure that women were given more than a menial role. Beecher never married in an age when unmarried women were both pitied and scorned. She found that she enjoyed reading, math and philosophy. She took a job tutoring and found she could make her way as a teacher.
Beecher supported lower pay for women teachers as a way to encourage schools to hire them. During her campaign for women teachers, she said that women could afford to work for less than men because women didn’t have to worry about supporting a family. Beecher felt that all girls should be educated so they could support themselves if they had to, but she believed a married woman’s place was in the home.
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Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton held that women should be able to vote and be politically involved, but in the short run Beecher’s views held out because women had few career options. In the long run, the political feminists won as women went to work outside the home, and demanded the political rights to protect their own interests. Beecher had done her part in any case. She didn’t sit home waiting on husband and children, as she had none. Through her lectures and printed word, she had put up a good argument. It was a new role for women in America.
Elizabeth Blackwell applied to twenty nine medical schools before she was admitted to one. When she arrived at the school she was treated as a joke. She endured loneliness and scorn. She was unable to rent office space, was shunned by male doctors and was not allowed to work in hospitals. She was cut off from all chances to practice her chosen profession. This made her only more determined. She not only eventually established a clinic run by female doctors but founded a medical school for women.