The Enlightenment was a philosophical movement that occurred during the mid-nineteenth century. It challenged old conventional beliefs about women being inferior to men and that gender was entirely irrelevant in politics. Mary Wollstonecraft, and others, founded a women’s political association to campaign for women’s political rights. This cause was taken up by a Liberal MP named John Stuart Mill. Mill tried to get the word “man” changed to the word “person” in the 1867 Reform Bill, so that women could get the vote. His idea was rejected, but this was the idea that the Enlightenment took up, and was a key factor in the Women’s Suffrage Movement of 1870.
The French Revolution broke out in 1789. It was a movement that encouraged the idea that political systems should be based on the principle of popular sovereignty. The French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote a book called “The Social Contract”. In it he argued that a contract existed between the government and the governed, which rested on the right of the governed to choose their political masters in a democratic fashion. These ideas of democracy were very important in the breakout of the Women’s Suffrage Movement in 1870.
In the later 1830s and 1840s the Chartists campaigned for universal men’s suffrage. The Reform Act of 1932 did not end public agitation for parliamentary reform, because almost all working people were still excluded from voting or sitting in Parliament. Associations of working men began to press for change.
Conditions of work and education for women were extremely poor in the eighteenth century. They were working twelve hours a day, or more, for poor wages. The sheer unfairness was making people challenge this. There was a high number of women getting cholera, and the infant mortality rate was high. Women’s stereotyped role in society was extremely trivial. The ideal woman was viewed as someone who was very good at doing housework, cooking and looking after her husband and children. Women’s jobs were supposed to be orientated around domestic tasks. At school they were taught how to clean and cook, how to deal with clothes, and other domestic jobs. This meant that at some point women had to start to press for proper education and proper jobs.
I think that, with all these phenomena going on at the same time, something had to be done about the fact that women had not gained the right to vote. Universal men’s suffrage had been achieved. The Americans had gained independence, and ideas had arisen about all people being created equal with certain rights that everyone was entitled to. Conventional beliefs about religious dogma and inferiority of women had been challenged. There was a movement for women after 1870 because women had had enough of being the “inferior sex”, and all the ideas that arose from the above phenomena pointed to women being just as equal as anyone else.