In many ways, in the U.S., the abolitionist movement was a necessary precurser to the woman suffrage movement. (There were similar movements for both causes in England and on the continent, notably in France.) I deal here only with the movements in the U.S.A.
The abolitionist movement in the U.S. gave women the language necessary to describe their status (or more appropriately, lack of it), organizing tools and political strategies, public speaking skills, a knowledge of useful allies, and impetus.
A major impetus to suffrage was a result of the U.S. delegation attendance at the world anti-slavery convention in London in 1840. In this famous event, women delegates were not seated or heard. Two of them were Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Eight years later, in July 1848 Mott and Stanton called the Seneca Falls Convention for the express purpose of discussing "the social, civil, and religious rights of women..."
The roll call of the first wave of suffragists (In U.S. history, "suffragists," in the U.K. "suffragettes") is also a list of abolitionists: Sarah and Angelina Grimke, Mott and her husband James Mott, Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass... and on...
It needs to be noted that a woman's rights were not much better than a slave's. She had no legal right to the wages of her labor, no right to the custody of her children, and no legal presence save the person of her husband. She could not own property in her own name, could not contract legally in her own name, and could not travel if her husband or father objected. Many doors to education were closed to women. It could be argued that the Emancipation Proclamation and subsequent 13th Amendment to the Constitution provided freedom only for male slaves.
It is my belief that the personal and political understanding that it was within a woman's proper sphere to speak and act on behalf of another to right a terrible civil wrong (abolitionist activity) inevitably led the conclusion that activity on behalf of and the ultimate possession of women's rights also was appropriate.
The two movements had deep parallels. At the core of each was a society-wide radicalization and redefinition of who and what was a Negro and who and what was a woman. In both cases, by redefining the nature of a class of people, the array of rights that came to them were changed. The redefinition and subsequent rights are still in process as (for example) race relations, pay equity, job opportunities, and child care issues are debated.
I further believe that women's participation in the anti-war movement in the 1960s had direct consequence in the wave of feminism that followed. Once again, women acted on behalf of others and thereby gained agency for themselves.
gained the vote in 1920 after 72 years
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