This is the last week of Women’s History Month, a month dedicated to women’s long struggle for equal rights as well as celebrating the historical contributions to society they made. The month observation started in the United States as a day - International Women’s Day, and eventually became Women’s History Week in various places in the country. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued a proclamation declaring the week of March 8th as National Women’s History Week. Eventually in 1986, Congress passed a statute designating the Month of March as Women’s History Month.
It’s been a long battle over the years going back to Abigail Adams. She was intelligent, had strong political viewpoints and was a prolific letter writer. Because of these qualities she is one of the most documented First Ladies. A March 1776 letter to her husband John Adams and the Continental Congress is well-known and often quoted. In it she requests that to “. . . remember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.” The letter didn’t change her husband’s or the Congress’s minds, but those words lived on in the hearts and minds of women.
Abigail and John Adams believed that slavery was evil and a threat to the American democratic experiment. Harriet Beecher Stowe also believed this and bravely fought for the slaves’ freedom with her novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. We all know what she accomplished with that book. When she visited Abraham Lincoln in the White House in 1863 to urge him to remember the slaves, he greeted her as “the little woman who wrote the book that made this Great War.” A strong woman in many ways, she supported her family with her writing while her preacher husband went on rural retreats for long periods to sooth his nerves. Harriet Beecher Stowe considered slavery a masculine enterprise, and thought women with their feminine conscience were better able to see the evil of slavery. In a way Abigail Adam’s threat of a women’s rebellion came through, albeit in the form of a subtle or not so subtle advocacy against the laws of slavery. A little aside here, more writers of books and novels during this period were women than men, but how many women writers of this period are taught in literature classes? Not many.
|Susan B. Anthony|
Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) with a Quaker upbringing was very active in the anti-slavery movement. In 1848 when working as a teacher in Canajoharie, New York, she became involved with the teacher’s union after discovering that male teachers had a monthly salary of $10.00 while female teachers earned $2.50 a month. From this as well as her temperance and anti-slavery reforms she started the battle for women’s rights. She’s probably the best known of the suffragists of her generation. But it was through meeting Elizabeth Cady Stanton and hearing a speech by Lucy Stone, that they formed the National Woman’s Suffrage Association in 1869. All students of history know what a long hard battle that was. As a final tribute to Susan B. Anthony, the Nineteenth Amendment giving women the right to vote was named the Susan B. Anthony Amendment. It was ratified in 1920.
|Harriet Taylor Upton|
Another woman, not as well-known as the three mentioned above, was Harriet Taylor Upton. She was born in Ravenna, Ohio and moved to Warren, Ohio which is only a few miles from where I live. She was a key organizer and the first president of the Suffrage Association of Warren, and was a member of the National Woman Suffrage Association from 1890. In 1880, her father was elected as a member of the United States Congress, succeeding President James Garfield in the position. Her father’s position gave Harriet the opportunity to meet leading political leaders of the day, including Susan B. Anthony. She brought the headquarters of the organization home to Warren from 1903 to 1910. Her home remains as a National Historic Landmark. Although she died in California in 1945 at the age of 91, recently her remains were brought home to Warren and are buried here.
|Harriet Taylor Upton House in Warren, Ohio|
Although women have made great strides in our country and many others, there are still gaps. Women earn only 77% of what men do. Teachers in a field which is preponderantly female except for higher education are paid far below what they should for the amount of education they have and the additional classes they are required to take. Administrative positions in higher education have been traditionally staffed by men although that has evened out in English departments, which is now close to 50-50. Women are only recently making gains in business. In investment banking only 18% of the managers are women. Of the fortune 500 companies there are only 23 CEO’s who are women. Not much, but still higher than it’s been in the recent past. And in government and other fields that have been dominated by men over the years women are making gains, too. We are slowly and steadily making progress.
What inequalities between the genders have you seen or experienced?
What advantages do women have today that our mothers or grandmothers didn't have?