Why was the vote considered to be so important in first wave feminism?

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            Why was the vote considered to be so important in first wave feminism?

Throughout this essay I intend to look at the period in history which defined first wave feminism and I seek to analyse why the vote was considered so important.

To begin this essay I want to start with a discussion of the term ‘first wave feminism’ in order to get a better understanding of the subject. 1.First wave feminism refers to the first concerted movement working for the reform of women’s social and legal inequalities in the nineteenth century. First wave feminists were those that fought for a woman’s right to vote and achieved it, these women are often referred to as suffragists or suffragettes. Meanwhile the term suffrage refers to the mobilisation of the whole suffrage movement in America, England, Australia and New Zealand between the 1880s and 1920s. in comparison second wave feminism often refers to the increase in feminist activity which occurred in the late 1960s .For the purpose of this essay however I am going to focus predominantly on the feminist movement within Britain and America.

The key themes concerning these first wave feminists centred around education, employment, and marriage laws. This movement was originally dominated by intelligent, middle-class, single women who were not that concerned by the problems facing women from the working classes. At the time these women did not view themselves as feminists in the modern sense of the word, infact the term was not coined until 1985.

Individual feminists such as Mary Wollstonecraft to quote an example, had long been influential in their arguments condemning the injustices suffered by women, yet it was not until the late 18hundreds that something in the form of an organised feminist movement evolved within Britain and America.

Feminism certainly did not originate in the early 19 hundreds surrounding the fight for suffrage; rather it can be traced as far back as to the seventeenth century with the advance of capitalism. Despite the fact that inequality between the sexes existed long before the establishment of this new economic order, capitalism had a profound impact on the position of women. It sought to devalue women’s role in production, reinforcing the notion that a woman’s place was in the home, and that her role was to provide a domestic haven of peace and tranquillity for her husband.

Additionally the civil rights movement in America played an influential role in the formation of the women’s movement. Women involved in the campaign for racial equality and political rights for African Americans drew inferences for their own situation, and became increasingly conscious of their own inequality.

For many historians a notable beginning to first wave feminism can be identified in 1848 when three hundred women and men attended the famous convention at Seneca Falls. The Seneca Falls Convention was not only the first of its kind but considered revolutionary for the time. On the 19th July 1848 it issued the Declaration of sentiments. This document proclaimed that “all men and women are created equal” furthermore that “all laws placing women in a position inferior to that of men are contrary to the great precept of nature and therefore of no force or authority”. This declaration listed eighteen injuries ‘on the part of man towards woman’. These included exclusion from the franchise ,covertures in marriage, denial of property rights and blocking access to higher education to name a few. Yet out of all these grievances and demands by far the vote was considered the most radical and controversial.  Although this declaration was only signed by about a third of delegates, the gathering still represented an important first step in the evolving campaign for women’s rights.

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The movement had had to struggle through a many number of barriers. The 1980s witnessed meagre funds, low membership, ineffectual political strategy and virtually no public support. Moreover antifeminist women and men made life very difficult, by 1900; the suffragists were facing an organised, vocal and well financed opposition. Little impression was made on the defenders of masculine prerogative who continued to insist that women belonged solely in the home “their mission is at home, by their blandishments and their love to assuage the passions of men as they come in from ...

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