Activists, Campaigners and Reformers Women 1865-1992

Overview of women themselves/ main figures


Activists, Campaigners and Reformers 1865-1914

Social Reform

  • Before the First World War women had no political power or aspiration to achieve it, but were prepared to protest and campaign on issues that really concerned them.
  •  Minority of mainly middle class women: campaigned for issues that were percieved to be inequality of treatment of particular groups of people or "social evils" that threatened the home and family.

Jane Addams- Hull House, Chicago 1889

  • established a social centre to support the settlement of newly arrived immigrant families (including healthcare, nurseries, english language sessions, issue of housing etc.)
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Activists, Campaigners and reformers 1865-1914


  • Temperance was another social issue that women tried to deal with as the evils of alcohol threatened and undermined the tradition of home and family.
  • Showed women were a force to be reckoned with (prohibition movement in the 1920s)

Women's Christian Temperance Union 1874 - mainly middle class organisation established by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton to promote suffrage and combat the evils of drinking.

Women's Crusade 1973 - active protest in demanding the prohibition of the sale of intoxicating beverages. Thousands took to the streets of Ohio, successfully closing saloons and liquor outlets.

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Activists, Campaigners and Reformers 1865-1914

Reform in the Workplace: National Consumer's League 1899

  • Successfully exerted pressure to gain rights of women in the workplace:
    • Improvement of wages
    • Protective legislation for women and children and improvement of working conditions
    • Pressure on state governments to provide aid for mothers and improved facilities for children (better schools etc.)

National Association of Coloured Women 1896

  • Black women in Southern states were beginning to organise forming women's clubs that were directly concerned with their own rights and equality. (Ida B. Wells and anti-lynching)
  • Unlike white women they suffered racial discriminaton so whilst there was a concern for social reform, the aquisition of civil rights was always at the forefront of their campaigns.
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Activists. Campaigners and Reformers 1965-1914

Campaign for the vote: Women's suffrage

-Spearheaded by mainly white middle class women

-Closely allied with abolitionists and temperance movements

-Campaign for women's suffrage began in 1848 at the Seneca Falls Convention lead by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucreita Mott.

-The passage of the 15th ammendement giving all men the vote infuriated female activists as it failed to establish the vote for wealthy educated women (hint of racial superiority?)

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Activists, Campaigners and Reformers 1865-1914

Organisations for Women's Suffrage: a split in the movement

Opposition to the 14th and 15th ammendments split the early women's movement:

  • One section that remained pledged to securing the vote for male African Americans while campaigning for women's suffrage moderately at state level was the American Women's Suffrage Association (1869) lead by Lucy Stone
  • The other section campaigned more aggressively for women's suffrage at federal level, protesting for a constiutional ammendement: the National Women's Suffrage Association (1869) lead by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton

In 1890, however, both organisations merged to form the National American Women's Suffrage Association. Mainstream support was limited: majority of women concerned with social reform.

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Activists, Campaigners and Reformers 1865-1914

Organisations for Women's Suffrage continued:

1900- Carrie Chapman Catt became president of NAWSA and continued to lobby politcians, distribute leaflets and hold meetings making steady headway state by state.

  • Alice Paul established the Congressional Union for Women's Suffrage (National Women's Party 1917) in 1913
  • Emulated the tactics of militant British suffragettes, picketing the white house regularly and holding mass demonstrations.

Policy of NAWSA did yield some positive results: 1918 20 states had given women the right to vote and Wilson in 1919 after the World War gave all women the vote in the 19th ammendment.

But the campaign for the vote never became a mass movement: was largely white middle class, interest in political issues and the vote was limited.

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Activists, Reformers and Campaigners 1915-1940

Political Change: did the vote empower women after 1919?

  • Little evidence to suggest that women used the vote to promote significant change in this period
  • The vote for the minority of white middle class the vote was a triumph.
  • Failed to make further substantial change because they were divided as to how to use the vote to improve the position of women and increase opportunites.


  • Women who upheld the sancitity of the home and family and pushed for social reform
  • Women who were part of feminist groups who chose to take up the issue of equal rights and campaign for the ERA from 1923.
  • Division in attitudes: equality and difference feminists
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Activists, Campaigners and Reformers 1915-1940


  • Some women believed that women were equal to men in every respect
  • Others saw the ERA as a threat to securing the right of women to be protected in situations where their physiological and biological differences may be compromised eg, in the workplace.
  • anti-feminist, right wing backlash: propaganda that portrayed feminists as spinsters and lesbians
  • By 1969 the campaign for the ERA had a achieved little.

Social Reform

  • Other groups continued to focus on social reform, campaigning for legislation to regulate working hours and improve conditions for women, abolish child labour and improve living conditions for poor families. African American women continued to focus on anti-lynching campaigns.
  • Divisions in social reform campaigners was also evident concerning what equality meant particularly in legsilation in the workplace.
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Activists, Campaigners and Reformers 1915-1940

Success in sphere of legislation limited:

  • Women's Bureau established in Federal Government Department of Labour in 1920, but limited in what it achieved
  • The Shepherd Towner Act 1921 made funds available for maternity and infant health education but was terminated in 1929
  • Legislation to ban child labour was short lived due to pressure of big busnisses on politicians.
  • Legisaltion concerning prohibition however, showed the power of women's campaigns.

New Feminism

  • Roaring Twenties introduced a new culture of "flappers" mainly middle class women who rebelled to find a new identity
  • But did not represent a social revolution: were a minority and many disapproved of their behaviour
  • Continuity of "Separate Spheres"
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Activists, Campaigners and Reformers 1915-1940

Birth control

  • The Comstock Laws of 1873 had banned the sale and advertisment of contraceptives, driving them "under the counter" and forcing poorer women to either continue child bearing or have an illegal back street abortion.
  • Attitude of sanctity of the home, separate spheres and religion served a barrier to progressing women's right of choice and improving their health.

Margaret Sanger- American Birth Control League 1921

  • devoted much of her life to providing women with health advice and birth control, opened up clinics (although they were intially shut down).
  • The extent to which the vast  majority of women were liberated at this time is limited- she was very much ahead of her time
  • Still, she had 27,500 members
  • Comstock Laws were ended in 1938 and the federal ban on contraceptives lifted (though state governments enforced their own regulation)
  • No real change until 60s/70s with Roe v. Wade.
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Activists, Campaigners and Reformers 1915-1940

The Prohibition Campaign

Good example of the divides that existed between women's organisations, but also the strength and influence of the female voice on issues that were identifiable with their separate sphere.

  • 18th ammendment banning alcohol passed in 1917
  • 21st ammendment repealling prohibition passed in 1933

Female pressure groups played a major part in passing these two conflicting pieces of legislation, using the same arguments to produce different outcomes.

For prohibition: Women's Christian Temperance Union(WCTU) and the Anti-Saloon League (ASL)

Against prohbition: Women's Organization for National Prohibition Reform (WONPR)

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Activists, Campaigners and Reformers 1915-1940

The passage of the 18th ammendment

  • From 1874 the women's campaign concerning temperance was spearheaded by Frances Willard and the WCTU.
  •  The argument for promoting prohibtion was rooted firmly in the protection of the home.
  • Establishment of the ASL as a non-partisan organisation (which worked closely with the WCTU) pushed for prohibition measures through lobbying and joint campaigns = prohibition laws being enacted in several states.
  • By 1917 26 states had prohibition laws. WCTU and ASL began to campaign for a constitutional ammendment at federal level.

Context: Nativism was rife in the 1920s, the outbreak of WWI lead to hostility towards Germans who owned the majority of breweries, the "wets" failed to unite against the prohibition campaign or clean up saloons.

This created a climate that was favourable to the passage of the 18th ammendment at this time.

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Activists Campaigners and Reformers 1915-1940

The passage of the 21st ammendment: context

  • Attitudes towards prohibition began to change significantly. It was not difficult to produce a claim that prohibition had not been effective in protecting the home and family.
  • Intially the campaign to repeal prohibiton was focused on the notion that personal rights of freedom and choice were being denied, but this arguement  lacked strength in the face of the moral arguments presented by the WCTU.
  • But prohibition by the 1930s had sparked a new culture of violence and immorality, a threat to the sancitity of the home
  • Speakeasises and racketeering began, gang culture evolved and violence was a major issue.

As a result, WONPR was established, an organisation that used similar methods as the WCTU and ASL, but to achieve confliciting legislation.

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Activists, Campaigners and Reformers 1915-1940

The passage of the 21st ammendment:

  • the arguments used by the WCTU and ASL by this time had lost their power and credibility
  • WONPR was well organised and lead and quickly capitlised on women's disillusionment with prohibition to drive for its repeal.
  • Its rationale for repealling prohibition was the protection of the home and family as opposed to personal freedom as well as the convincing arguement that prohibtion was achieved little.
  • It was well organised at state and national levels, and the organisation was mainly white middle class with good connections.
  • Carried out lobbying tactics, pressured congressmen, were a non-partisan organisation and therefore gained allies in politics.

With the climate of violence and the depression (which needed the potential income from the sale of liquor) was certainly favourable for the passage of the 21st ammendent.

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Activists, Campaigners and Reformers 1915-1940

What did prohibition achieve for women?

Established that women were certainly a force to be reckoned with when they were organised and campaigning for emotionally charged issues (although the nature of prohibition allowed mass support- it was the most controversial issue of the time).

Divisions between women who remained loyal to WCTU and those in WONPR highlight the differences which existed between women themselves and continued to characterise the movement (particularly with the ERA)

The work of WCTU and WONPR ultimately achieved nothing progressive for women, particularly poor women who had been the forefront of their campaigns.

The importance of family and the home continued to be the most powerful cause that united American women.

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Activists, Campaigners and Reformers 1941-1969

New Feminism

A group of women who were clearly focused on their rights and prepared to challenge the accepted status of women in society emerged in this period:

  • Inspired by the successes of the civil rights movement/ the reaction to the Vietnam War
  • Response to the failure of the government to respond positvely to the demands of women- particularly equal pay- politicians had no incentive to respond as women did not vote en bloc.
  • Disillusionment with the old - JFK failed to deliver many of the policies he first promised. His Commission on the status of women sent out mixed messages: the Equal Pay Act embodied the principle of equality for women while the report still promoted training for women for marriage and motherhood.
  • Kennedy also failed to respond to the demands of Margaret Sanger and the Equal Employment Opportunities Commision failed to satisfy the demands for equality of thousands of women.
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Activists, Campaigners and Reformers 1941-1969

New Feminism: Rejection of the home and family

1968 Burial of True Womanhood symbolised the rejection of the tradtional position of women as submissive, head of the sancity of the home and family

The total rejection of the home and family inspired by books and propaganda on the subject of liberation from "separate spheres"

Betty Friedan "the feminine mystique" - argued that women should escape from their "comfortable concentration camps" to discover their own identities and rights- inspired ideological change and a change in consciousness (consciousness raising sessions etc.)

Founding of NOW in 1966 pressed for equality using all the available means of protest: lobbying, lawsuits, seeking support of public opinion. Involvement in civil rights movement gave women increasing confidence in the power to protest effectively.

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Activists, Campaigners and Reformers 1969 - 1992

Radical Feminism

The momentum gained by the feminist movements of the 60s continued into the 70s and became more radical in its demands and means of protest.

Abortion as a woman's civil right, a right to freedom of choice was pushed to the forefront of feminist campaigns being hugely important but also very controversial.

Radical feminism continued to challenge traditional ways of thinking: organised campaigns raised awareness among women of inequality and discrimination they experienced- young women especially were influenced by popular culture (I am Woman/ Ms magazine)

The availability of the contraceptive pill in combination with the powerful influence of radical feminism allowed women to have control over child bearing but also take advantage of educational opportunities and careers as alternatives to motherhood.

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Activists, Campaigners and Reformers 1969-1992

The demise of Radical Feminism?

  • The extremism of radical feminists led to rejection and loss of support from male population (this had an influence on political gains and many members of congress were male)
  • Significant number of working class or poorer women were not as positvely effected by the movement- radical feminism therefore did not have mass support.
  • The priorities of many feminist organisations, particularly NOW worked at grass roots level not nationally
  • A highly organised anti-feminist back lash seriously undermined the achievements and work of radical feminists.

Divisions: the establishment of many feminist groups with different or conflicting areas of focus meant that some campaigns were fragmented and achievements limited. African American women and minorities often organised separately and likewise the working class. However such diversity in a movement allowed women to cover a wide spectrum of issues that effected them.

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Activists, Campaigners and Reformers 1969-1992

Roe v. Wade

A landmark decision in the pursuit of women's rights, but also highly controversial. It effectively ensure the establishment of a women's right to legal abortion and her right to make that choice independently.

Earlier campaigns for the legalisation of abortion had focused on the pain and misery caused by back street abortions but by the 1970s it had become a burning issue in establishing women's right of choice.

Organisation such as New Women Lawyers and the National Abortion Action Coalition as well as NOW filed numerous lawsuits in individual cases.

The impact of Roe v. Wade thrust women's rights into the political arena, and subsequently there was a growing politcal awareness among women as highlighted by changing voting patterns.

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Activists, Campaigners and Reformers 1969 - 1992

Roe v. Wade - the backlash

  • For traditional defenders of the home and family it struck the root at what they held most dear
  • Was challenged by state legislatures which refused to implement the ruling or imposed restrictions of the availability of abortion.
  • Religious leaders condemned the decision and decreed that aboritions should not take place in catholic hospitals.
  • Galvanised anti-feminists in to organised opposition under the leadership of Phyllis Schlafly and the establishment of Pro Life organisations
  • A conservative back lash: Republican Presidents Reagan and Bush were strongly opposed to abortion legislation, the Republicans wanting a consitutional ammendment to ban abortion.

Despite such resistance Roe v. Wade has remained intact and was a fundamental and continued change in the progression of women's rights

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Activists, Campaigners and Reformers 1969-1992

Anti-feminism & ERA

Opposition to the feminist movement and landmark decisions such as Roe v. Wade lead those who believed and upheld "separate spheres" and the tradition of home and family to create an organised anti-feminist movement.

  • Lead by Phyllis Schlafly- organised and driven, skillfully used arguments that praised the traditional role of women while dismissing radical feminists as "anti-family lesbians" attracting support from disillusioned women

The campaign for the ERA was bitterly divided between NOW and radical feminist groups and anti feminists.

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Activists, Campaigners and Reformers 1969 -1992

Anti-feminism & ERA

  • some women believed that gender specific legislation was needed to protect their interests in the workplace
  • It had been presented to congress repeatedly since the 1920s but had limited success
  • opposition came from labour unions that were apprehensive of an influx of female labour with equal rights to male workers.
  • changing views about equality meant that some feminists questioned the ERA when it was finally passed in 1972 to be ratified as it meant that women and men were treated as identically equal.
  • Phyllis Schlafly established the National Committee to Stop ERA in 1972, using arguments that it would threaten the home and family and that women would become subject to military service/ unisex bathrooms
  • No more states ratified the ERA after 1977- the anti-feminist organised leadership and the divisions in ideology had limited its impact.
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one of the dates is wrong - women's crusade on the second card was during 1873 not 1973- hundred year difference - just wanted to point that out  

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