Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12

Women's Equality: Changing Attitudes and Beliefs


The Lesson


Portrait of Elizabeth Cady Stanton (seated) and Susan B. Anthony.

Portrait of Elizabeth Cady Stanton (seated) and Susan B. Anthony.

Credit: Courtesy of American Memory.

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

Preparation Instructions

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. Foremothers: Open to Ridicule

Share with students the cartoon Halloo! Turks in Gotham (a commentary on the fashion reform movement for women, which advocated more comfortable clothing and of which bloomers had become a notorious symbol), from the Marchand Archive of the Area 3 History and Cultures Project, a link from the EDSITEment resource History Matters. In a whole-class setting, using the Cartoon Analysis Worksheet offered by the EDSITEment resource Digital Classroom as a guide, model the process of analyzing the cartoon.

Archive's notes for this cartoon were, as follows:

"Halloo! Turks in Gotham," from "Bloomerism in Practice." "Mrs. Turkey, having attended Mrs. Oakes-Smith's lecture on the Emancipation Dress, resolves at once to give a start to the New Fashion and in order to do it with more Effect, she wants Mr. Turkey to join her in this bold Attempt." Elizabeth Oakes-Smith was a feminist and abolitionist. The husband wears bloomers; the sex roles are reversed. Mrs. Turkey has a pair of daggers, and Mr. Turkey only a fork, spoon and cooking pot. The cross is gone from the steeple, a fit sign of the "fact" that the reformers want to abolish Christian customs and substitute the abominations of the East.

What assumptions/attitudes about women does "Halloo! Turks in Gotham" express? What fears of some men does this cartoon exploit?

Activity 2. Analyze This: Students View Documents Independently

Divide the class into groups and assign to each group one or more of the following archival documents. Assign the documents to the groups according to your knowledge of their work styles so that each group will take about the same amount of time to finish the assignment below. It's fine for some documents to be analyzed by more than one group. Note to students the variety of media among the documents.

Groups should conduct a general analysis of their documents using the Cartoon Analysis Worksheet, the Written Document Analysis Worksheet, or the Poster Analysis Worksheet, all offered by the EDSITEment resource Digital Classroom. Then students should use the handout "Nineteenth Century Attitudes Toward Women: Inferences and Evidence," on pages 1-2 of the PDF (see Preparing to Teach This Lesson, above, for download instructions), to focus on some specific attitudes toward women. Remind students to think about the assumptions about women these various documents express. What fears of (some) men do they exploit?

Activity 3. Assumptions and Fears

Reconvene in a whole-class setting. Have student groups share their documents and the conclusions they derived from them about attitudes toward women. Did students notice any other attitudes/assumptions about women not included on the worksheet? Make a list of these attitudes.

Activity 4. Attitudes Today

What attitudes about women are expressed in the media of today? Using the list of assumptions and attitudes completed in Activity 3 as a starting point, students could create a form or forms for analyzing any or all of the following to gauge attitudes about women today:

  • situation comedies on network television
  • newspaper cartoons
  • television, print, or online advertisements
  • articles in women's and/or girls' magazines
  • public opinion in the local community

Each form would be a matrix listing, in the leftmost column, the specific attitude(s) for which a student should be looking while allowing spaces to the right for noting sources and evidence. Working individually or in groups and focusing on one particular medium, students should cite specific examples they believe either perpetuate or debunk the stereotypes, assumptions, and attitudes on their list. Reconvene the class to share results orally or in written summaries and analyses of the data collected. What attitudes toward women did student research detect? Are the same attitudes expressed by all media? Do particular media express particular attitudes? Which, if any, attitudes from the past persist?

Extending The Lesson

  • Students can look at recent controversies regarding Title IX, which in its most basic statement says, "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any educational programs or activity receiving federal financial assistance." (From the preamble to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.) Title IX is variously praised as the vehicle that has fostered the progress of women's athletics in the U.S. (most notably demonstrated by the performance of American female athletes at recent Olympic Games) and condemned as reverse discrimination and the death knell to many collegiate athletic programs. Using the resources of the EDSITEment-reviewed Oyez Project: A Supreme Court Multimedia Database, students can explore the historical and legal contexts of the debate over Title IX. A search of the archived cases for "Civil Rights: Sex Discrimination: Other" yields the following instances in which the Supreme Court has tackled the issue of Title IX:



Selected EDSITEment Websites

The Basics

Grade Level


Time Required

1-2 class periods

Subject Areas
  • History and Social Studies
  • History and Social Studies > U.S.
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Civil Rights
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. History
  • History and Social Studies > People > Women
  • MMS (AL)


Activity Worksheets