Women's Rights in the United States: A Documentary History

Women's Rights in the United States: A Documentary History

Women's Rights in the United States: A Documentary History

Women's Rights in the United States: A Documentary History

Synopsis

The passion, pain, victories, and disappointments of the struggle for women's social, political, legal, economic, and educational rights in America from colonial times through 1993 are dramatized in this comprehensive documentary history. A rich panoply of voices and viewpoints, from feminists of diverse socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds to opposition leaders, make this an important resource for research and student debate on landmark issues of social and political justice. Letters, personal narratives, policy statements, laws, court decisions, and even poetry are featured in the collection. Organized into five chronological periods, the 125 documents included here integrate the dynamics of the movement into the historical period in which they were written. Each period and each document is preceded by an explanatory introduction that puts it in historical context. The collection provides many documents not found elsewhere and shows that the struggle for women's rights is a process that is still continuing as we approach the 21st century.

Excerpt

The preparation of this volume has been, for the editors, inspiring, instructive, and disappointing--inspiring because, among other things, it catalogues the triumph, partial though it has been thus far, of a group that has faced overwhelming odds in its fight to escape stifling injustice and to gain social equality; instructive and disappointing because it clearly shows a United States that, despite its claimed commitment to human equality, has still not reconciled itself to granting equal dignity to over one-half of its population. That failure is particularly evident in certain recurring themes in the nation's history--from what we call "departures" to the "recognition of rights."

What kind of departures do we mean? Look at the Massachusetts of John Winthrop, the American Revolution, the Civil War, World War I and the postsuffrage era, and the Kennedy administration. Each purported to usher in profound changes that would represent a parting of company with the past. For Governor Winthrop, Massachusetts was to be "a city upon a hill"; for sponsors of the Revolution, the republic that they founded was to begin a new social order; and for those who led the nation out of the Civil War--the Radical Republicans--the new United States was to be defined by a reconstructed social system. World War I and the postsuffrage period would launch a "new day" for democracy; and Kennedy proposed a New Frontier. But for women in the United States, there was no departure, no parting of company with the past.

In every instance mentioned above, our leaders deliberately devised schemes to hold women "in their place," to see that they would not be part of any social and cultural departure. Governor Winthrop's scheme (see Documents 3 and 4) was to prevent women from sharing with men the public space or being seen as meriting the exercise of any authority . . .

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