The First Wave

What Do We Want Why Do We Want It

As we delve into creating an intentional space for women today, and attempt to re-engage with the idea of a feminism-as-life-practice-of-inclusivity, it is important to note that the feminist movement has a really robust history, and so much has been accomplished. I am thinking a lot about anger, about what it takes to make a stand, and when a current situation needs to be responded to WITH an action, with a forcefulness of language and putting forth of other ways to be in the world. We know about Susan B Anthony, she is on the silver dollar, but what was the world like that she existed in? A world where women could not vote or own property or sign contracts, where the cult of domesticity dictated the extent of how women could relate to the public sphere. Women were relegated to the home as the industrial revolution came to separate the genders in relation to the home. Home became a space of rest for a male, and the female of the house was meant to keep it clean and neat, and herself too!

First Wave Feminism really came out of the abolition movement; women were “allowed” to attend anti-slavery meetings, and many took on this cause. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott actually hatched their plan for a Women’s Center/Convention on Women’s Rights on the boat-ride back from the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840. Both women were Quakers, a spiritual denomination that was against slavery, and had attempted to create spaces where males and females could work in harmony. The two women met often in the following years, and wrote and planned and dreamed and this convention was called the Seneca Falls Convention, and took place in a Methodist Church in Upstate New York in July 1848.  The convention was meant to connect women over the common cause of equal rights. Elizabeth Cady read the Declaration of Sentiments:

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted, deriving their powers from the consent of the governed. Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these rights, it is the right of those who suffer from it to refuse allegiance to it, and to insist upon the institution of a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness….” – From the Declaration of Sentiments, which was written on this tea table.

Over 200 people signed the document, demanding equal rights for women. Frederick Douglass spoke about equal rights for women on the second day of the convention, when men were also allowed to attend and participate. This convention was the first of many, including the National Women’s Rights Convention.

Women worked with men who supported their cause, and remained relatively civil in their asking to vote. Suffragettes fought and met and rallied and wrote through the beginning of the 20th century, when they finally gained the right to vote in 1920 with the passing of the 19th amendment. The first wavers worked within the political system, mirrored its speeches and petitions; the female body is an equal political entity, and should be able to participate in the creation of a fair and inclusive governing body. As should former slaves- the abolition movement was deeply wrapped up with the first wave feminist movement, the movements supported each other, against the racist and misogynist dominant political system. This comraderie of movements did not exist at the same level in the second wave of feminism.

by Katie Bachler.
January 2014