Women's Equality: Changing Attitudes and Beliefs

That motley mingling of abolitionists, socialists, and infidels, of all sexes and colors, called the Woman's Rights Convention, assembled in this city, to-day…
— From The New York Herald, Friday, October 25, 1850, p. 1 on the EDSITEment resource U.S. Women's History Workshop

Every time our society benefits from its recognition of the equality of women, thank the Foremothers of the Women's Movement, pioneers such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Stanton understood the difficulties women faced, clarifying the extent and vehemence of the opposition to equality in her Declaration of Sentiments. She detailed, in a series of grievances, the "absolute tyranny" society held over women. The "injuries and usurpations" she described were enabled, in part, by widely accepted stereotypes and beliefs about gender reflected in and perpetuated by everything from children's stories to magazine humor. Analyzing archival materials contemporaneous with the birth of the Women's Rights Movement, your students can begin to appreciate the deeply entrenched opposition the early crusaders had to overcome.

Note: This lesson may be taught either as a stand-alone lesson or as a companion to any or all of the complementary EDSITEment lessons Who Were the Foremothers of Women's Equality?, Voting Rights for Women: Pro- and Anti-Suffrage, and Women's Suffrage: Why the West First?.

Guiding Questions

What attitudes and beliefs obstructed the progress of the Women's Rights Movement in its formative years?

What primary sources can help reveal these attitudes and beliefs?

Learning Objectives

After completing the lessons in this unit, students will be able to

List some of the attitudes and beliefs obstructing the progress of the Women's Rights Movement in its formative years

Cite and analyze examples of primary sources revealing obstructive attitudes and beliefs

Take a stand (and provide support for it) as to whether or not such attitudes persist today