Nowadays women enjoy a vast number of freedoms and rights and for a modern woman, it is hard to imagine this was not always the case. We own for these women of the abolitionist movement that brought up the issues of slavery and women’s oppression.
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The movement started in the 18th century with the purpose to disenthrall slaves in America. It is known that women in America of those times “lived in a rough and dangerous world” suffering from diseases, unable to “live a life devoted primarily to motherhood and were required to play an active role in supporting the household” (Mays, 2004, p. 15). That is the reason why American women contributed greatly to the development of the movement, emancipating slaves and gaining rights for Afro-Americans.
One of the first women who took an active part in the distribution of new principles were Sarah and Angelina Grimke, “who were the first female anti-slavery lecturers in the USA, and who traveled around the country lecturing first to women-only audiences and later to mixed audiences” (Mays, 2004, p. 23). Alongside these women entered “sewing circles where they made items for fundraising” (Mays, 2004, p.23). In fact, women’s activity, in particular, fund-raising and the distribution of abolition petitions had a great impact on the society of those days.
Another factor that advanced women’s liberation was the publishing of an antislavery book by Lydia Child An Appeal in Favour of That Class of Americans Called Africans (Mays, 2004, p. 54). The book influenced significantly the views on racial diversity in America and claimed free rights for Afro-Americans. Due to the endeavor of these activists, the women and Afro-Americans gained the right to speak in church and vote.
Apart from women’s contribution, an immeasurable success achieved the members of the Great Awakening movement that starts among Presbyterians in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The main idea of this organization was that “the most valuable quality a person could possess was spiritual conversion” (Mays, 2004, 166). Moreover, they strived to bring a second life to the religious devotion to god in American colonies.
Much as the Great Awakening made accomplishments in the women’s sphere and emancipation, the Second Great Awakening strengthened new social views and brought about a lot of new changes. Since the abolitionists gained equal rights for women and afro Americans in churches, the activists of the Second Great Awakening proceeded with securing the rights outside the church. The movement also started on religious grounds led by Charles Grandison Finney, the most influential and well-known Protestant clergyman of the time. It was intended to uproot racial and gender prejudices and is regarded to be more radical than the First Great Awakening. There is no surprise that this movement raised a lot of hostile responses as equal rights for women were demanded from the government.
The next step was the formation of the Liberty Party that gradually accumulated power in the political world. However, the adherents of the antislavery movement had not enough support to change the laws on slavery and women’s rights. The party had a vast range of interests and plans ranging from emancipation to equal wages. Despite all the attempts to convert people to their movement, the party sustained a defeat in the elections. But it doesn’t mean that the movement failed. Over time, the ideas of the Liberty party continued to spread (Hankins, 2004, p. 87).
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Despite all the difficulties women go forth and soon Women’s Rights Convention, the first in the world, breaks the world that secures the rights for women and prohibits discrimination against women. The activists claimed not only rights for women to be allowed as members of male groups but also stood up for emancipation and civil privileges for Afro Americans. “These women campaigned to improve the lives and save the souls of women, increase wages, expand employment opportunities and achieve the same rights men had as they strongly felt that women were created equal to men so they had the same rights as men” (Strong, 1999, p.64). On top of that, the leaders of the women’s movement tried to attain the same rights to get higher education, be free to vote, to hold property, to have the same rights as men for marriage” (Strong, 1999, p.65).
Joined with the ideas of the Perfectionism movement that strived for a perfect society the emancipation movement gained the right for women to operate in businesses. However, women began running their husbands’ business earlier during the war. Soon as far as the changes were implemented the women’s life began to improve. It should be pointed out that before the emancipation the life of women loaded with various duties was tough, therefore, women didn’t live long. The number of elderly people in the communities was scarce. Later women’s average age rose significantly. On top of that women were allowed to devote their lives to their primary feminine duties, such as keeping the family and raising children. This shift was justified by the fact that “the young republic needed wise, well-educated, and morally upright citizens” (Mays, 2004, p. 23).
On the whole, it was a lengthy and difficult process that managed to overcome a lot of obstacles on its way. However, the accomplishments that were made during that time didn’t exhaust all the problems women experienced. There are a lot of changes still to be implemented but we never should overestimate the contribution women, abolitionists made at the time of the Perfection Era.
Hankins, B. (2004). The Second Great Awakening and the Transcendentalists. NY: Greenwood Publishing Group.
Mays, D.A. (2004). Women in Early America: Struggle, Survival and Freedom in a New World. Santa Barbara, Cal: ABC-CLIO.
Strong, D.M. (1999). Perfectionist Politics: Abolitionism and the Religious Tensions of American Democracy. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.