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Account for the rise of organised feminism in the second half of the 19th century

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Eleanor Fell Tony Howe Account for the rise of organised feminism in the second half of the 19th century The belief in feminism, that women should be entitled to equal rights and opportunities with men, has existed for many generations. Feminism first materialised following the French Revolution in 1789 and industrialisation in Britain from the 1780s. It was not until the 19th century however that feminism began developing, and not until the second half of the century that it became organised. This was due to many factors such as a widening electorate and increased publicity of inequalities that contributed to a rising discontent amongst women, especially in the middle classes. This organised feminism continued to gain strength throughout the second half of the 19th century. The French Revolution saw campaigns for civil rights, and they were only given to men. This aggrieved some women who believed that the rights should have been granted to everybody. Similarly, following industrialisation in Britain from 1780 and the opportunities that it created, tension arose as those opportunities were denied to women. This feeling of discontent was only felt by a small minority of elite however, who began campaigning against male dominance, whilst most women at the time were content fulfilling their traditional roles as wives and mothers. ...read more.


This meant that it was no longer possible for all women to become married, and rely on the support of their husbands as traditionally had been the case. In 1851, 42% of women aged between twenty and forty were spinsters7. This therefore forced many women to take action to try and gain some kind of independence, which they did by joining feminist movements to campaign for access for higher education and wider opportunities, led by women like Josephine Butler. From 1867 onwards, there was a significant advance in the rise of organised feminism, as a result of all the factors previously mentioned, but sparked by the 1866 Women's Suffrage Petition formulated by Emily Davies and Elizabeth Garrett and presented to the government by John Stuart Mill. The petition was rejected by Parliament, and was followed by the 1867 Reform Act that emancipated around one million working class men. This heightened tensions for females who believed they deserved equal rights, as had been shown by the many signatures on the petition. This number of signatures reflected the growth of feminism and increased the publicity of the plight of the feminists, and the formation of The Women's Suffrage Society in 1867 showed how feminist organisation was increasing. ...read more.


Therefore, when capitalism was overcome, it was believed that opportunities for women would develop outside of the home. By 1913, 141,000 females had joined the Social Democrats12, showing the extent of a type of organised feminism. It was because the workers supported a political party, which presented their campaigns to Parliament that their influence in organised feminism was so much greater than in Britain. Overall, it can be seen that many factors led to the rise of organised feminism in the second half of the 19th century. Feminist organisations were created initially as a result of women opposing their lives in the domestic sphere, a desire for improved conditions in the workplace, and wanting the vote in order to influence change. Feminist organisation then rose as a result of events emphasising inequality, such as the 1867 Reform Act, campaigns that were successful, such as the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act, and publicity spreading the feminist message. It must be acknowledged however that despite the rise in organised feminism, by the 20th century the ultimate aim of gaining the vote hadn't been achieved. This led to the beginning of militant campaigns led by people such as the Pankhursts, which in turn reduced the support for organised feminism, as many people opposed their violent tactics. ...read more.

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