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The Feminist Movement

We often associate feminism with the activism of the 1960s, but feminist theory goes much further back on the timeline of history.

Sappho ‘s writings in 6th century Greece reflected feminist thinking, as did those of French writer Christine de Pizan in the 15th century. Olympe de Gouges wrote the pamphlet Rights of Woman during the French Revolution. In 1787, Mary Wollstonecraft published A Vindication of the Rights of Women.

By the mid-nineteenth century, American women began open involvement in furthering women’s rights.

In 1848, the first Women’s Rights Convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York. It was organized by women’s advocacy pioneers Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902) and Lucretia Mott (1793-1880).

Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906), a lifelong friend of Stanton, worked with her to establish the National Women’s Suffrage Association in 1869. Anthony decried the inclusion of the word “men” as a descriptive term for legal voters in the 15th amendment, and worked toward the goal of voting rights for women.

Anthony voted in the 1872 presidential election in Rochester, New York. She was arrested, tried, convicted, and fined $100 for this act. It wasn’t until August 26, 1920, that the 19th Amendment was finally passed, giving women the right to vote.

These women were among the first wave of feminists in America.

The Lucretia Mott Amendment—an amendment calling for equal rights —was introduced in Congress in 1923, and every Congress thereafter, until 1972 when it was finally passed. It was sent to the individual states for ratification on a seven-year deadline, which was extended until June 30, 1982, but ratification was not complete. The amendment was reintroduced to Congress on July 14, 1982, without a deadline for ratification. To date, 35 of the 38-needed states have ratified the amendment.

At the same time, women’s rights activities developed in other parts of the world. In 1917, the Women’s Indian Association began; in 1918, the first Women’s Conference was held in Moscow; in 1923, the Egyptian Women’s Federation was formed; and Chinese women made large strides toward equality during the Revolution of 1949.

The second wave of feminism started in the 1960s. Betty Friedan (1921-2006) graduated from Smith College in 1942. In 1957, she began studying women’s discontent with traditional female roles, concluding that women could not be fulfilled living vicariously through men and children.

She published The Feminine Mystique in 1963, a seminal work on feminism. In 1966, she co-founded the National Organization for Women , a group dedicated to equality of the sexes.

Friedan partnered with Gloria Steinem to establish the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971. NWPC campaigned for the Equal Rights Amendment.

Steinem founded Ms. Magazine the same year. It was first distributed as a newspaper insert; 300,000 copies sold in the first eight days. The first regular issue was published in July 1972.

Today, we are in the third wave of feminism, the 20-and 30-something women of the new millennium. They are often daughters of the ‘60’s feminists, and have grown up with feminism. They continue the journey toward equality.

There are numerous types of feminism, among them are:

Liberal—emphasizing individual equality

Socialist—seeking collective reform of the fundamental inequalities in capitalism

Radical—fighting against patriarchy

Third-Wave—working toward personal empowerment

Eco—addressing the link between exploitation of nature and women

Black—connecting the link between racism and women

For more information, review details on types of feminism

Further Reading