Mightier Than the Sword: How the News Media Have Shaped American History

By Rodger Streitmatter | Go to book overview

3
Slowing the Momentum for Women's Rights

IN JULY 1848, a group of progressive-minded Americans announced a concept that some people considered every bit as revolutionary as colonists demanding their independence or slaves seeking their freedom. The American women and men who gathered in upper New York state said, simply and forthrightly, that liberty was not the province of men alone but also was--or should be--the birthright of women as well. The tangible product of their first historic meeting in Seneca Falls was a paraphrase of the Declaration of Independence reading, "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal." Despite the formidable resources, impressive commitment, sound logic, and noble purpose of this stalwart band of individuals, more than seven decades would pass before the crusaders were finally able to secure the fundamental right for American women to vote.1

One of the most serious impediments to the march toward gender equality was the same force that already had built a record as a highly influential institution in American history: the news media. For by the mid-nineteenth century, it had been firmly established that the Fourth Estate was a body overwhelmingly peopled by--and largely committed to serving--men. Threatened by the possibility that women might be rising from their second-class citizenship to command a share of the male power base, the men who dominated American journalism ignored the Women's Rights Movement or, when they did cover it, did so with mockery and disdain.

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