The struggle for women’s rights and abolition were intricately linked movements of the 19th century.
Professor Kelton in fact has argued that the former was in many ways an unintended outcome of the latter. Kathryn Kish Sklar is one of the women who were born in the early 19th century and played a great role of ensuring that women achieve their equality with their male counterparts. Thus, the 19th century marked an era when this feminist views gradually came into play and greatly influenced gender interactions. Despite the challenges facing the women’s rights movement, the group is important movement that introduces women to equal opportunities with men.
Kathryn Kish Sklar’s general idea in the book is to enlighten people on the role of women in the society during the 19th century, how it changed dramatically, how women began to realize the various opportunities for them outside the domestic scene. She demonstrates this by showing how the white women became sympathizers of the black women who were held as slaves and were fighting for their liberation. Gender equality was the driving force behind the pushing for the freedom of slaves. As a result, the traditional views of women were changing, hence bringing about the notion of feminism (Sklar 14).
On the other hand, Feminism precedes anti-feminism. This means that when one makes an effort to eliminate male dominion in the society, another tries to counter this efforts in order to maintain the status quo (Heilmann 51). The issue of feminism was countered by the United States government by abolishing slavery and giving the black men the rights to vote instead (64). This shows that the government was not ready to offer the women their rights as it decided to be gender biased.
Sklar (31) points out that the Grimke sisters had a growing belief that every human being is an independent entity and only subject to God and not to another human being. In 1829, the Grimke sisters traveled from South Carolina to Philadelphia where they found an opportunity of justifying the rights for women in addressing their issues in public.
They received oppositions from the clergy men from South Carolina’s men, thus making the Grimke sisters to form the women’s rights movement in Philadelphia as they knew that the Orthodox Quakers in Philadelphia did not only oppose the issue of slavery but were also not ready to deal with challenging social issues that would result to disunity among members of their community. Despite the fact that they still had a challenge of addressing the issues concerning women equality, the Grimke sisters managed to convey their intended message using the biblical point of view. This is illustrated through Angelina who claimed that she did not recognize the difference between the rights of men and the rights of women since Jesus Christ does not advocate for inequality (Sklar 35). Therefore, the Grimke sisters objected the slavery and their inequality with their male counterparts by basing their arguments on a Christianity point of view. By addressing their issues publicly, they managed to push for the abolition of various rules that worked to their disadvantage. Some of these rules included obtaining the husband’s consent while carrying out some activities, loosing of their names once they got married, loosing their property once the women got married, lack of power in controlling the children (Sklar 53). The Grimke sisters played a critical role in facilitating the passing of the married woman’s property law in 1850.This law provided the married women with an opportunity of owning as well as inheriting property (Sklar 96).
Through these movements, the women continued pushing for other things such as schooling. As a result, they acquired high skilled jobs such as doctors. More over, in the civil war period they served as nurses to soldiers (104).
Towards the mid 19th century, during the time of economic growth the family unit begun to realize that they needed to work together to keep up with a changing world with new opportunities and intensified needs (Weiss and Marilyn 103). Most men went to urban centers to work in industries and women were left at home to carry out domestic work which included raising children, cooking and cleaning and being there when the husbands return. This resulted into a new dynamic in gender roles where women increasingly felt that they needed to do more to contribute to the welfare of the household through earning an income. This can be seen as the origin of women’s right movement whose reception was not welcomed by their male counterparts.
The women however did not relent on the push for their rights. In 1834, various women’s societies which comprised of members from Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, and New England collaborated in order to abolish prostitution as well as other types of women’s sexual harassment. The women in United States continued to fight for their rights to vote in 1848, hence leading to National Women’s Rights Convention in 1850 which was headed by male who supported this move (Sklar 109). In 1858, the rights for women however went to greater heights as they demanded for their reproductive rights. In spite the fact that women contributed greatly in the anti-slavery movement, their participation was however controversial and this led to a division in the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS) in 1839 after Kelley Foster was elected as a business committee member (Sklar 111). Therefore, the anti-slavery movement created an avenue for the formation of the women’s right movement thus bringing about what women wanted; women public speakers such as Grimke sisters, and Abby Kelly Foster among others. Women perceived that by being in a position of public speakers will provide them with an opportunity of creating a considerable impact on social changes of the women in the society.
The issue of race in the abolitionist and suffrage movement came as a result of the black women been given the rights to vote. This made the white men to be scared of what would happen if a women’s government came in place (Sklar 112).This facilitated the spread of racism into the women’s right movement which was instigated from both within the groups as well as outside the group. On the other hand, the white women feared that the black men would take up their positions in the political arena and hence they started to portray racism within the movement (Fluehr-Lobban 190). Hence, the issue of race and gender complicated the abolitionist and suffrage movement, thus weakening it in the latter through formation of black women rights movement and white women right movement.
From the above illustrations, Kathryn Kish Sklar’s demonstrates the power of the women’s rights movement by expressing the women’s words, deeds and life experiences. Women like the Grimke sisters who were the pioneers of the movement during the time of the anti-slavery movement have influenced the women of the 20th and the 21st century.
The 19th century marked an era during which the foundation of what today is referred to as “the independent woman” was laid. However, in spite the fact that the Grimke sisters managed to fight for the role of women in the society, racism thereafter played a critical role in segregating the blacks among the whites, thus forming what we see currently; the white women activist movement and the black women activist movement.
Fluehr-Lobban, Carolyn. Race and racism: an introduction. Lanham, MD: Rowman Altamira, 2006, pp. 186-194.
Heilmann, Anne. Anti-feminism in Edwardian literature. London: Thoemmes Continuum, 2006, pp. 46-93. Sklar, Kathryn. Women’s rights emerges within the anti-slavery movement, 1830-1870.
Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2000, pp. 113-12. Weiss, Penny and Marilyn Friedman. Feminism and community. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1995, pp. 109- 99.