Research Paper on the Feminism in the United States Prior to the Civil War

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707 words
Vanderbilt University
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Research paper
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Feminism involves the aspect of advocating for women rights on the grounds of equality of all genders. Feminism has been used to represent womens efforts to live to their optimum potential in a world where their lives have been dictated and shaped for and by men (Head, 2017). Feminism in the United States can be first be attributed to heterosexual white women from wealthy backgrounds who had enough power and capability to spread their messages. Mary Wollstonecraft has been referred to as the "first feminist" (Head, 2017). Her work "A vindication of Rights of a Woman, is an important piece of work for historians studying feminism in the US. Wollstonecraft works initiated intellectual conversations on right of women in Europe and America. From Wollstonecraft, feminism has evolved tremendously to cater for issues arising in the struggle for equality such as rights to vote, rights of black women and rights of immigrant women.

Before the Agrarian revolution, the work of both husbands and wives was to provide full days labor to the farm (Donnaway, 2005). The success of a farm depended on hard-work of the both. It was assumed that there was a natural order in the society in which man and women were on different levels in the society. The ideal woman was supposed to be submissive and act as a servant to her husband.

With industrialization, machines were developed to carry out tasks that were initially done by women such as spinning and weaving. Women now had more time to perform other tasks rather than household chores. From 1800s women were ready to move out of the family to make an impression on the society (Donnaway, 2005). A large number of women organizations were formed, but most emphasized on performing social tasks such as running charity schools and assisting the clergy.

At Around 1815, a female seminarian movement led by leaders such as Emma Willard and Catherine Beecher was formed to improve education among women. The movement aimed to improve female education to enable women to become better citizens and mothers of future statesmen (Donnaway, 2005). It advocated for separate education for boys and girls. This movement dealt only with education, but it proved that the female mind was capable of learning. This was a small but vital step in advocating for equal rights for women.

With industrialization in 1830's and rapid increase in the number of working women, women became involved in labor movements. Women in these labor movements advocated for better pay and improved working conditions and working together with the labor movements representing men. The Female Labor Reform Association formed in 1944 in New England was one of the most notable labor movements (Bennet, 2006). However, it failed miserably when women could not stand up to their employers. Participation in labor unions introduced women to politics and this exposure to politics was utilized to demand equality, democracy, the emancipation of slaves and equal treatment of illegitimate children.

Frances Wright was one of the most notable advocates of equality in 1820's (Macy, 2005). As one of the first female lecturers in the US, Wright spoke out for political rights of working men, women rights, birth control, freeing of slaves and free education for everyone. She even set up a model community in Tennessee that represented her policies. Although her model society failed, she left a major mark for feminists. Other feminists after Wright such as Angelina Brimke fought for both emancipation of slaves and equal rights for women.

The women advocating for equality in pre-Civil War America each contributed to the rights enjoyed by women of today. They may have had different methods of improving the welfare of women, but they all hoped to attain equal rights for both genders. These women played a vital role in the feminist movement and are an inspiration to the today's feminist movement.



Bennett, J. (2006). History matters: patriarchy and the challenge of feminism. Philadephia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Donnaway, L. (2005). Women's rights before the civil war. Retrieved August 2, 2017, from

Head, T. (2017). Feminism in America from 1792 through the millennium. ThoughtCo. Retrieved August 2, 2017, from

Macy, J. (2005). An Anti-Slavery Crusade; a chronicle of the gathering storm (p. 48). New York: Cosimo Inc.


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