Major Feminist Group Around 1900-1930
Major Feminist Group Around 1900-1930
Feminist groups in the United States were keen on fighting for the rights of women, including suffrage. The society at the time had largely suppressed women, limiting their social, political, and sometimes even marital life. Women were not allowed to work outside their homes, as this was perceived as a catalyst to the disintegration of the household. In addition to this, women were considered intellectually weaker than men were, and that educating them would degenerate them, thus limiting their abilities to be the proverbial good wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters. To this effect, very few women received education, and those who did, became enlightened and later formed the feminist groups that were actively advocating and lobbying for various women’s rights. The main concern at the time was suffrage, and amendment of the fifteenth amendment that gave black men the right to vote and categorically excluded the women. Despite the feminist groups in the 1900s to 1930s having common goal, which was to liberalize the women in the society, the groups sharply contrasted in terms of ideologies and doctrines they preached. There were three main feminist groups, which were the Suffragists, the social feminists, and the radical feminists.
The suffragists were the group of feminists whose main purpose was to secure the voting rights for women. They found it quite unsettling that their male counterparts had been issued with the rights to vote, yet they as women had been denied by the then government. The society at the time glorified men and oppressed women. This oppression was not only in politics but in the social setting as well. Women in marriages were expected to be completely submissive and largely, introverted. Before the Civil War, this group of feminists lived by the principles of the Cult of Womanhood. These principles stated that a good woman had four main virtues, which were, piety, purity, submission, and domesticity (Frintrop 23). In retrospect, some of these virtues were definitely limiting to the woman, and with time, their lines of thought and perspective about women rights shifted.
After the Civil War, the suffragists based their arguments for their rights to vote on one major doctrine from the cult of womanhood, which was piety (Coryell & Faires 34). These feminists claimed that a woman is more religious, noble, pure, and spiritual as compared to men. Therefore, granting them rights to vote would translate to the purification of politics and eradication of political evil. According to them, the society was filled with moral decadence and oppression of women, something that embittered them and fueled their course. Some of the feminists involved in this course include Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony who formed the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA). The suffragists also argued that married was simply a decoy to strip women of their power, and the source of women’s oppression for the men had been socially elevated and given a lot of power over the women. Granting the women their rights to vote would empower them causing a positive chain reaction in the society then.
The social feminists were intent on supporting the suffrage feminists, and strongly agreed with them that the women should get the voting right. However, the social feminists differed from the suffrage feminists in that their plight was mostly to advocate for social reforms in the society. Social feminists such as Carrie Chapman Catt and Florence Kelley were key figures in this movement. Unlike the suffragists, they believed that women were supposed to be accorded their voting rights in order to bring social reforms with their respective communities, and not to purify politics as the suffragists’ purported. Instead of fighting for a course for shallow reasons, as they may have perceived them, the social feminists reasoned that women should have political power, in order to improves their lives and those around them, as well as have control in global matters. Some of the global matters at the time were largely centered on economics and politics, as it was around this time that the World War I took place. According to the social feminists, the society was far more important than anything else was, and with these reforms, the independent and empowered woman would transform the society and their lives. For proper and systematic activism, Ms. Carrie formed the league of Women Voters in 1920 to push their interests further.
The final group of feminists was the radical feminists. Their ideologies seem to have had stronger grounds for argument when compared to the suffragists’ and the social feminists. They appeared with a very solid critique of the society at the times, on various matters regarding the economy and politics. A prominent radical feminist, Charlotte Perkins, strongly condemned the cult of true womanhood, citing it as backward and retrogressive. The main arguments presented by this group of feminists were that humanity was far more important than being sexually different; the roles of women were determined by their social environment. For instance, people ought to view the woman first as a human being, then later as a woman. To them, biological differences did not determine what a person could achieve in life. The mere fact that gender was the main hindrance to the socioeconomic development of women was an issue of great concern to this group of feminists.
Additionally, women living in an industrial society should be allowed to work, in order to contribute to the economy, not as a woman, but as a human being capable of being productive. Their perspective was that allowing the woman to work would not only boost them, but it was beneficial to the society as well. Issues such as education were of key concern and were included in their list of demands. The radical feminists believed that educating a woman and allowing her to work would result in an empowered society with the future generations. The feminists were involved in the campaign for the Equal Rights Amendment, spearheaded by Alice Paul. However much their ideologies seemed radical, their arguments were sounder than presented by the suffragists and the social feminists.
The fight for women rights saw a great division in ideological perspectives of the feminist groups present at the time. Some of the ideologies were quite retrogressive. Doctrines from the cult of true womanhood seemed to be restrictive and an inhibition to the advancement of women. Therefore, using reasons such as piety for women in order to gain voting rights did not have strong foundations. This therefore saw the rise of other feminist groups, which were more pragmatic in their approach to suffrage. The radical and social feminists seemed to provide a more viable argument for their course.
Coryell, Janet L, and Nora H. Faires. A History of Women in America. , 2012. Print.
Frintrop, Kim. The Cult of True Womanhood in Harriet Jacobs’ “incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl”. Munich: GRIN Verlag GmbH, 2014. Web.
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