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8.6: Women’s Suffrage

Created by: CK-12

The section below includes documents from the women’s suffrage movement, both for and against. The Declaration of Sentiments, from 1848, is the first classic statement from the American Women’s Rights movement. The following two documents are texts from anti-suffragists. The set concludes with a photograph of a participant in a pro-suffrage rally. As you examine these documents, attempt to determine why some people supported the Women’s Suffrage movement while others opposed it.

The Declaration of Sentiments

Source: The Declaration of Sentiments, Seneca Falls Conference, 1848. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, two American activists in the movement to abolish slavery organized the first conference to address Women's rights and issues in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. The Declaration of the Seneca Falls Convention was signed by sixty-eight women and thirty-two men.

We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of those who suffer from it to refuse allegiance to it, and to insist upon the institution of a new government....

The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise.

He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice.

He has made her, if married, in the eye of the law, civilly dead.

He closes against her all the avenues to wealth and distinction, which he considers most honorable to himself. As a teacher of theology, medicine, or law, she is not known.

He has created a false public sentiment by giving to the world a different code of morals for men and women, by which moral delinquencies which exclude women from society, are not only tolerated but deemed of little account in man.

He has endeavored, in every way that he could to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life.

Now, in view of this entire disfranchisement of one-half the people of this country, their social and religious degradation, - in view of the unjust laws above mentioned, and because women do feel themselves aggrieved, oppressed, and fraudulently deprived of their most sacred rights, we insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of these United States.

Questions:

  1. Sourcing: When was this document created? By whom?
  2. Contextualization: What else was happening at this time? How would you expect people to react to the Declaration of Sentiments?
  3. Close Reading: What other document is the Declaration of Sentiments modeled upon? Cite specific words and phrases that are similar between the two documents.
  4. Close Reading: Why might the authors of the Declaration of Sentiments have chosen to model their writing on this other document?

Molly Elliot Seawell, The Ladies’ Battle

Source: Excerpt from Molly Elliot Seawell’s The Ladies’ Battle, published in 1911. Seawell was an anti-suffragist from Virginia.

It has often been pointed out that women could not, with justice, ask to legislate upon matters of war and peace, as no woman can do military duty; but this point may be extended much further. No woman can have any practical knowledge of shipping and navigation, of the work of trainmen on railways, of mining, or of many other subjects of the highest importance. Their legislation, therefore, would not probably be intelligent, and the laws they devised for the betterment of sailors, trainmen, miners, etc., might be highly objectionable to the very persons they sought to benefit. If obedience should be refused to these laws, who is to enforce them? The men? Is it likely they will? And if the effort should be made, what stupendous disorders would occur! The entire execution of the law would be in the hands of men, backed up by an irresponsible electorate which could not lift a finger to apprehend or punish a criminal. And if all the dangers and difficulties of executing the law lay upon men, what right have women to make the law?

....

But that woman suffrage tends to divorce, is plain to all who know anything of men and women. Political differences in families, between brothers, for example, who vote on differing sides, do not promote harmony. How much more inharmonious must be political differences between a husband and wife, each of whom has a vote which may be used as a weapon against the other? What is likely to be the state of that family, when the husband votes one ticket, and the wife votes another?

Questions:

  1. Sourcing: Who created this document? When?
  2. Contextualization: What else was happening at this time?
  3. Contextualization: Consider the date of this document, compared to the date of the Declaration of Sentiments and the dates of the abolition movement. How would you expect people reading this document in 1911 to react?
  4. Close Reading: What is Seawell’s argument? What words and evidence does she use to support her argument? Cite specific quotations.

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CK.SOC.ENG.SE.1.History-U.S.-Adv.8.6

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