Feminism: Then

The reason I am writing this article is because (as I’m sure you have heard) Hilary Clinton was nominated by the Democratic party to run for president. She would be the first female president. It would be one of the greatest accomplishments in feminism history. Even if she does not become president, her nomination is still a great accomplishment.

In this article I want to look at the history of women’s power and women’s rights. It has varied a lot over the years.

Let’s begin in Egypt, where women sometimes ran everything. One of the female pharaohs of Egypt was Hatshepsut, who was a powerful political person even before she assumed the title of pharaoh. Another was Sammuramat who joined her husband in battle and gained control of Babylonian territory. One of the most famous female pharaohs was Cleopatra. She was an ambitious ruler who was highly educated and possessed an impressive intellect. She was a student of philosophy and international relations.

The early Christian religion barred women, but from the fifth century onward, Christian convents provided opportunities for some women to escape the path of marriage and child-rearing, acquire literacy and learning, and lead a more active religious life.

In the medieval times, women were able to own land but when they married the land went to the husband. Women were typically housewives but they were able to work if need be.

Medieval England was not a comfortable place for most women. Most medieval women had a hard time in an era when all the lower classes lived harsh lives. A few women lived comfortable lives but medieval society was completely dominated by men and women had to know “their place” in such a society. The women would get paid less for their work. For example: men would get 8 pence for reaping and women would get 5 pence. Men would get 6 pence for hay making and women would get 4 pence. The reason given is that, men were considerably stronger than women and could get more work done. Noble women were often shown a lot of respect although they had no official say in the decisions of their husbands. Queens were the exception rather than the rule.

Organized feminism in America did not begin until the first women’s conference held in Seneca Falls America 1848.

In 1916 Margaret Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in the U.S. The next year she was deemed guilty of being a public nuisance and was sentenced to jail for 30 days. When she got out she re-opened the clinic and continued to persevere through more arrests and prosecutions.

On November 7, 1916, Jeannette Rankin became the first woman to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. She believed “Men and women are like right and left hands; it doesn’t make sense not to use both.” Starting in 1910, Jeannette Rankin worked for women to have the right to vote.

On August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment was passed and women earned the right to vote. This was a major accomplishment for women’s rights.

The first woman elected to the Senate was Hattie Wyatt Caraway of Arkansas. Appointed to fill the vacancy caused by the death of her husband, U.S. Senator Thaddeus Caraway. Ms. Caraway then sought and won election on her own in 1932. She was reelected in 1938 and served until 1945.

In the next post I will continue the history of women’s power and women’s rights, starting with World War II.


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