Ms. Matthews's new study of the early years of the women's rights movement outlines the period from 1828 to 1876 as a distinct "first phase." She situates this early feminist activity within the lively debate over the Woman Question and pays attention to the opponents of equal rights for women as well as its advocates. Her book demonstrates that the intense conflict generated by the movement was due less to its specific reform proposals than to the realization - among men and women - that these early feminists wanted a complete rethinking of what womanhood meant and of the relations between the sexes. In many ways, as Ms. Matthews shows, the early-nineteenth-century movement - in its origins, individualism, hostility to tight organization, dedication to self-discovery, and concern for health issues - strongly resembled the revived feminism of the 1970s. Like the late-twentieth-century movement, its nineteenth-century precursor fostered an initial yearning for personal "liberation" and opportunity, and was later riven by issues of race and sexuality, and confused over the perennial question of "difference."
A post-Revolutionary settlement: separate spheres -- Ambiguous relations of education, reform, and feminism -- Some activist defenders of woman's sphere: Emma Willard, Catharine Beecher, Sarah J. Hale -- A radical stream of equal rights: Frances Wright, Robert Dale Owen, John Neal, an "indignant factory girl" -- Claiming the right to speak: Maria Stuart, the Grimké sisters -- Antislavery and feminism -- A schoolgirl debate on women's rights -- Raising the consciousness of middle-class women -- Margaret Fuller and self-development -- Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 -- Organizational structures of social movements -- Susan B. Anthony -- Importance of the "public sphere" -- The conventions -- Men in the movement -- The press and the movement -- Fears of role reversal -- Feminist dress and the bloomer costume
The problems of organizing -- Practical campaigning -- Changes in the movement postponed by Civil War -- Some characteristics of the movement, its leaders and constituency -- Sojourner Truth -- Attraction to "New Age" movements -- Motivation -- Goals of the movement -- Self-development and independence -- Importance of work -- Individualism and rights -- The right to vote -- Antifeminist women -- Marriage and divorce -- The women's rights movement, the Civil War, and postwar reconstruction -- Disputes over priortities -- Women and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments -- Failed Kansas campaign and founding of the Revolution -- Abortive attempts at alliance with labor
New women in the movement -- Question of racism, quarrels with old allies, and a split in the women's movement -- NWSA and AWSA -- What the split meant -- The divorce question again -- Cady Stanton and issues of sexuality, birth control, and abortion -- Victoria Woodhull and free love -- Constitutionalism and the "new departure" -- Facing new opponents -- The arguments from science -- New rivals for the loyalty of American women -- American feminists contemplate how to celebrate 1776 -- The women's declaration of rights
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