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Women’s Political Rights In Connecticut 1830-1980

Whitney C. Russell

Contents of Curriculum Unit 81.ch.08:

This study is concerned with the evolution of the women’s rights movement in Connecticut since 1830. The substantive and documentary histories presented below will illustrate the complexity of the actions and ideas of Connecticut women. Junior and senior high school teachers will be able to infuse these materials into American and other history courses. While the woman suffrage issue is central to the entire 150 years of this movement, it is important that we and our students realize that the women’s rights movement consisted of many other important issues for women. By studying Connecticut women we will gain clearer understanding of the history of our state, our nation, and our women and men. This four part survey will also enable us to teach a number of important historical concepts and skills. [See glossary at Lesson One].

This substantive and documentary material should be understood on a number of historical levels. The brief histories presented at the beginning of each of the four eras can be treated on three different levels. You and your students can read this information to gain a basic chronological view of the woman’s suffrage and women’s rights movements in Connecticut. Junior high school courses dealing with American history can certainly benefit from this approach. On a higher level you can read and work to understand the different arguments women presented for suffrage and other rights during this 150 year period. A third level of appreciation would be our developing an understanding of the psychological and social forces influencing the development of feminist ideas and attitudes in the participants of these four eras. These last two levels of substantive history can and should be used by senior high school students.

This unit will also aid you in the development of different levels of history skills. On the junior high level your students will be introduced to basic skills of reading and analyzing primary source materials, and these students will be able to write outlines and brief paragraph essays to practice these skills. You may also have these students read the substantive historical material of each era and develop analytical skills through the writing of historical timelines. On the senior high level your students can develop skills of cause and effect, and comparison and contrast through their use of brief essays, historical syntheses, classroom debates and discussions. Both junior and senior high students can, with different degrees of sophistication, develop oral history skills. These oral history skills will become good peer teaching devices as each student returns to the classroom to explain what they have learned.

Along with the basic theme of the development of the Connecticut women’s rights movement, a number of related historical issues can be learned from this unit. As you and your students study each of the four historical eras, you will realize that four characteristics of the women’s rights movement exist in all four periods. Each Connecticut woman presented in this study expresses the prime importance of a strong education for women. These women also advocated or demonstrated their desire to become a role model for other women of their generation or younger women. The third characteristic is the presence of strong and positive encouragement by the father and/or the husband to these women. Finally, each woman demonstrated a dynamic personality, which included characteristics of courage, self-assertion and determination. By assisting your students in recognizing these four characteristics in the women from Catherine Beecher to Mary Griswold, you can contribute to the development of each student’s political and personal consciousness.

Basic characteristics about Connecticut’s history during the past 150 years can also be learned from this unit. You will see that while women’s rights did evolve over this time of 150 years, the progress was extremely gradual, conservative and traditional in nature. This observation will support a widely held view that a tendency of “steady habits” characterizes our state’s development. It will be noted that while some Connecticut women and men proposed ideas and policies to alter society, others of equally honorable intentions sought to keep society as it was. The interplay between them cause Connecticut history to be characterized by very gradual change.

The recommended approach to these women’s rights materials is to infuse them into your American history survey study of the Reform Era— 1830 to the 1850s, the Progressive Era—1870s to 1910, the Era of the World Wars—1910s to the 1940s, and the Modern Era—1950s to the Present. Each of these subject units can be taught in a couple of days. The substantive information can be included in your lecture or discussion parts of the class. The primary source materials can be easily photocopied for use in class, or as home reading assignments. Specific lesson plans are included with each era unit and will encourage discussion of the information, use of writing assignments to analyze or synthesize the documents, field trips or oral history activities for work outside of the classroom, and suggested bibliographies to assist you and your students in further research.

This unit can be used in a topical approach as well. All four eras combine to form a brief survey lasting approximately two weeks. The material presented here will fit well in sections on women’s history, or the expansion of suffrage, or political systems, or aspects of Connecticut history. The lesson plans will assist you in connecting the four historical eras. This can be another successful way to study women’s and/or Connecticut history.

Before we begin to study the substantive and primary materials, we should consider a few significant questions for you and your students,

If you were a Connecticut woman (man) living in the Reform Era, the Progressive Era, the Era of the Two World Wars, or the Modern Era, would you feel that society had certain sex stereotyped expectations about your role and your responsibilities in the community, such as women having to educate the children, run the home, do volunteer services in the community, and men having to work at a productive job, participate in suffrage and political issues, and serve in military service? How would you feel and think about these expectations, feeling and knowing what you do today? Do you believe that social or economic class might affect your role choices and opportunities for living an autonomous life style?

What reasons can you give for the gradual evolution in Connecticut and the nation of the political consciousness of women? Do you know, or can you find out about any additional Connecticut women during the past 150 years who participated in this women’s rights movement?

Are the historical terms feminist, woman suffragist [suffragette], and woman’s rightest synonymous? Was and is it still possible for a person to be a feminist, but not a woman suffragist, or vice versa?

You should consider one final point before we begin the general and then topical information. An article in Newsweek magazine in the fall of 1980 described the results of a study in 1979 by the Public Agenda Foundation of Pollster Daniel Yankelovich and former Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance. The study entitled, “Today’s American Woman: How the Public Sees Her” reached the following conclusions:.

There is unqualified acceptance by American husbands of their wives going into the general work force.

The majority of Americans said for the first time that it makes no difference if a woman is the mayor of a town, if she is a lawyer, a doctor, even their boss.

Husbands and wives feel they should share financial decision-making as well as household chores and child care.

The public accepts the concept of total equality, but appears to fear some of the consequences. The role of the parent is believed to be becoming more difficult.

In contrast to the 1930s, when the vast majority of Americans said they would not vote for a qualified woman if she were nominated for president; three-fourths (75%) of the public now say they would vote for a woman.

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General Themes Found in Each of the Four Eras of Connecticut Women’s Search for Political Rights

Women’s suffrage as it evolved over the past 150 years in Connecticut became the common theme for women, even in our modern times. Along with woman’s suffrage however, education, health, temperance, and community services were other issues for their attention during much of the past century and a half. One perspective that women held in their movements to improve and make society more equal was known as the code of domesticity. This ideology, which will be explained in detail in the first of the four eras, was conservative, traditional and anti-suffragist. This view gained significant popularity in the antebellum era as some women by separating female from male responsibilities. By segregating women’s work into clear and certain traditional roles in the home, education, and community service, the code or “cult” of domesticity would raise women’s status by allowing their moral, intellectual, and patriotic qualities to achieve full development. Womanhood, this school of women’s rightists believed, would save society from its many crises through the triumph of woman’s moral superiority over society’s evils. This segregationist view of society glorified women’s potentials. The proponents, like Catharine Beecher [to be highlighted below], were domestic feminists and sought to build a sphere of female hegemony by encouraging gender based roles and responsibilities. Thus, women would gain a place in the country’s social leadership equal to men.

A second perspective in the modern development of women’s consciousness sought women’s political equality with men. This was the branch of the woman’s rights movement that called for women’s active participation in the political and economic areas of society [usually referred to as the public sector]. Woman suffrage was the early and almost constant theme of this school of women’s thought. In the 1840s this perspective developed rapidly, especially outside of Connecticut in New York and Massachusetts. The woman suffragists were feminist and worked to educate the “hearts, minds and actions of women and men to the realization that women were the political economic and social equals of men.” The franchise for women would be the first step in America’s establishment of this equality. Once women achieved electoral equality, this philosophy held, they would be able to implement directly their positive values of honesty, morality and equality. Thus, the possession of personal liberty and personal responsibility by all would insure equality for all.

Both of these schools of 19th-century feminist thought continue to today. The following materials will enable your students to understand and to feel the complexities of these philosophies.

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Connecticut Women in the Reform Era,1830s to the 1850s Catharine E. Beecher, 1800-1878

Between the end of the American Revolution and the outbreak of the Civil War, American women could be found working to break down the barriers to their sex’s full and equal participation in society. With the coming of the Jacksonian era of the 1820s and 1830s, increased efforts were made to apply the democratic ethic to many segments and groups in American society. Female and male leaders encouraged reforms in education, working conditions, health care, prisons, temperance, and slavery. Numerous women participated in these reform movements, and many recognized the need to apply the reform principles to women’s conditions. In Connecticut Catharine E. Beecher spoke out for certain reforms in women’s conditions. Her writings, speeches, and actions detail the contributions she made to improve women’s status and power.

The Reverend Lyman Beecher and his family were a nationally influential family and Beecher himself was a dominant and dynamic family leader. His seven sons each of whom entered the ministry, and his four daughters all achieved some degree of national recognition for social, political, or cultural thought. Catharine Beecher, the most prominent Beecher woman prior to the 1850s, developed principles and practices seeking to equalize the education of women for teaching and domestic “science.” She wrote and spoke extensively on her new ideology of domesticity, hoping that women could attain equality through work in spheres separate from men.

One of Catharine Beecher’s major aims was the education of women and her numerous books advanced ways to increase their status and power in society (see the bibliography at the end of this period unit.) She encouraged the establishment of women’s colleges, seminaries, and Institutes. She hoped that women educated at these schools of higher learning would become professional educators, community service leaders and managers of well organized and “scientific” homes. Beecher’s goal was that women would be educated to attain positions of status comparable to men in other sectors of society. A long term benefit of such clearly defined spheres of work and duty would be to further women’s individual autonomy and equality.

In her writings and speeches Beecher criticized the rival school of women’s thought which called for woman suffrage.* She believed that the involvement of women in the political life of the state or the nation would be a “grievous wrong” for spiritual, physical and psychological reasons. Women were meant to improve and save society; not to become embroiled in the destructive forces infecting the political arena of men.

Isabella Beecher Hooker often explained that the vote for women was the only method for safeguarding the social structure. Anne Farnam has described Hooker’s political philosophy:

If women were allowed the power to vote, they could exercise their moral strength and good influence, so evident in their rule of the family (remember or see Catharine Beecher’s views on women’s moral superiority, and note that Catharine was a mentorlike figure in Isabella’s education.) This rule could be developed by women in a much broader sense, and would thus mitigate the evil forces of men, which include war, aggression, dishonesty, sex and drink. Not only did woman have a moral responsibility, and a natural right to use the vote, but she also had a personal right to protect herself and her individuality against man. “Personal liberty and personal responsibility” were words Mrs. Hooker used often in her legalistic end constitutional arguments for woman’s suffrage. 2

Isabelle Hooker and other Connecticut and national suffragists did not succeed in winning the right to vote during the Progressive Era. However, their spirit and love of battle for their cause rarely dimmed. Their actions and principles established characteristics and ideologies that would be fundamental to the attainment of women suffrage in 1920.

Before reading the selected passages from Isabella Beecher Hooker and others, you should consider the following lesson plans and historical questions to use with your students.

LESSON PLANS: For two or three days.
1. Present a brief biographical lecture on Isabella Beecher Hooker as a leader in the early woman suffrage movement in Connecticut, or have your students read photocopies of this material.
2. Discuss with your students their views on Isabella Hooker’s claim that every woman and man should have their natural right to “personal liberty and personal responsibility.” Discuss how personal liberty and personal responsibility are opposite halves of an individual’s political rights. (Also realize that Isabella Hooker by the turn of the century expressed feelings that woman suffrage should be possessed by only responsible women, immigrant and “bad” women should be excluded.)
3. Have your students research and draw timelines for the expansion of woman suffrage, beginning with Wyoming in 1870 and culminating with the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. (Use Encyclopedias).
Beecher was innovative in designing an ideology that focused on the home and the family. This ideology, described below, proposed the unification of American women in service to their society and nation. As a result, superior moral and social power would accrue to women through their leadership in the private sector of society. Thus, Catharine Beecher believed that women could overcome their present marginal status in antebellum society.

Much of Catharine Beecher’s code of domesticity remains with us today. The code’s underlying principle of female self-sacrifice continues today to contribute to the belief that the theory of domesticity is valid. Kathryn Kish Sklar in her biography Catharine Beecher; A Study in American Domesticity wrote about the principle of self-sacrifice:.

Women have always been praised for their readiness to put the needs of others before their own, but not until Catharine Beecher’s lifetime were they led to accept self-sacrifice as a positive good and as the female equivalent to self-fulfillment. As American culture developed new forms of self-realization in the nineteenth-century (exemplified in the image of the frontiersman and the writings of Emerson) it attached a male label to these experiences and called women selfish and unnatural if they wanted the same set of personal goals. For them another set applied: devotion and service to others, selflessness, sacrifice. Catharine Beecher was especially attracted to this formula since it described her own experience and since it focused the spotlight of cultural virtue on women. Self-sacrifice, more than any other concept, informed both the triumphs and tensions of nineteenth century womanhood, and Catharine Beecher was its major theoretician.1

Thus, during America’s Reform Era, a Connecticut woman advanced a theory establishing the “genteel cult of the lady and the encumbering customs of domesticity.”

Before reading the selected passages from Catharine Beecher, consider the following lesson plans and historical questions.

Important historical concepts, skills and eras in the Connecticut women’s rights movement, 1830-1980.


Republicanism: a government in which supreme power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote and exercised by elected officers and representatives responsible to them and governing according to the law.

Liberty: the state or quality of being free, the power to do as one pleases and be free from physical restraint, the positive enjoyment of various social, political, or economic rights and privileges.

Equality: the state of being alike in status, quality, or nature. Feminism: the theory of the political economic and social equality of the sexes, and organized in an activity on behalf of women,s rights.

Autonomy: the state or quality of being self-governing, self-directing freedom and especially moral independence.

Emancipation: the releasing of a person from paternal care and responsibility, and making one free.

Civil Rights: the nonpolitical rights of a citizen, especially the rights of personal liberty guaranteed to U.S. citizens by the 13th & 14th Amendments to the Constitution and by Acts of Congress.

Suffrage: the vote or franchise used by a citizen in deciding a question or choosing a person for an elective office.


Historical Analysis: the separating of a whole picture into its component parts through short essay, outline, timeline and debate formats.

Historical Cause and Effect: explaining the sequential relationship between two historical facts or situations with answers to the questions when, how and why.

Historical Comparison and Contrast: an examination of two or more items to establish their similarities and their differences.

Oral History: historical information that is obtained through interviews with persons who have participated in the event under study or with the subject being analyzed. Interviews are usually tape recorded.

Infusion History: the method of integrating one limited aspect of history into a larger historical survey.


Connecticut Women in the Reform Era, 1830 1860s.

Connecticut Women in the Progressive Era, 1870s 1910.

Connecticut Women in the Era of the World Wars, 1910s 1950.

Connecticut Women in the Modern Era, 1950s to the present.

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LESSON PLANS: for two or three days.

1. Present a brief lecture on the history of Catharine Beecher and the Reform Era, or have students read photocopies of the material.
2. Discuss with your students their views on Beecher’s cult of domesticity and its presence in our society.
3. Give as in-class work or homework assignments some or all of the following passages from Beecher. Have your students write a one paragraph analysis of her central points. Have your students use selected quotations from these writings to validate their observations. The passages are on the next page.
4. Consider a possible debate between Catharine Beecher, played by a student volunteer, and either Susan B. Anthony or Elizabeth Cady Stanton from New York. Most libraries will now have biographies on these women for those who wish to research their views.

KEY QUESTIONS: Covering a two or three day assignment.

1. Can you recognize the decidedly conservative and traditional points of view in Catharine Beecher’s writings on the theory of domesticity? [Consider statements made by Kathryn Sklar in her book Catharine Beecher; A Study in American Domesticity. Here she discusses the potential isolation that Beecher’s view could cause in the rapidly changing life styles of 19th-century America.]
2. Knowing that Reverend Lyman Beecher was a strong and dynamic social leader, can you explain the influence such a parent might well have on a daughter as well as on a son? [Have students look at their own parental relationships, and consider research in the early chapters in Sklar’s book on Catharine Beecher.]
3. Would your understanding that Beecher’s views found wide acceptance in antebellum Connecticut help to support the view that the state’s society was one that held very strong ties with the ways of the past? [Thus making Connecticut at least during the first half of the century a state “ruled” by the attitude of maintaining the “Steady Habits.”]
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Connecticut Women in the Progressive Era, 1870s-1910; Isabella Beecher Hooker, 1820-1907, et al.

With the Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiment in 1848, the American women’s political rights movement began in earnest. Women from many states and walks of life were able, probably for the first time, to identify common grievances and realize that they were not alone. A woman’s rights convention was held every year in New York state from 1850 to 1860, with the exception of 1857. Women’s political consciousness also developed through their participation in early reform and the abolition movement. With the ending of the Civil War, the knowledge and experiences gained through participation in these earlier activities, and the fact that American women were no better off after than before the war, caused women’s rightists to work with renewed efforts.

After the Civil War, as before, women were interested in establishing rights and equality through property reform, control of earnings, educational and work opportunities, labor regulations, guardianship rights over children, and equal legal status. For a number of women’s rightists suffrage became the major goal. This emphasis was in part women’s reaction to the Republican and abolitionist request for them to hold off on woman suffrage demands. Behind this request was men’s belief that suffrage for Negro males could not be attained if it were connected to a women,s suffrage amendment. The results were a renewed unity and activism among women suffragists, and the realization once again that male power was forcing women to take self-sacrificing action.

Women now began to organize on state and national levels for their right to vote. It was at this time in the late 1860s that Isabella Beecher Hooker of Hartford founded the Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association in Hartford. Beginning at the age of 47 Isabella Hooker sought to lead Connecticut women in obtaining the vote. She allied herself with other national woman suffragists, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Paulina Wright Davis, and Olympia Brown. She corresponded with these and many other woman suffragists in Connecticut and around the nation. She delivered many speeches within Connecticut and on national lecture tours. She wrote legislation and testified before state and federal legislative committees. Finally, in 1889 Isabella and her husband John put their words and thoughts into action in Hartford by promoting two limited woman suffrage bills before the state legislature.

While such attempts had been tried before in Connecticut and in numerous other states, the suffragist and anti-suffragist arguments surrounding this event are quite worthy of our analysis. The two suffrage bills proposed by Isabella Hooker sought the vote by women on the local option sale of liquor and on local school issues. The advocacy of a limited suffrage for women, and the tactics that Mrs. Hooker used to seek its approval represent an excellent model for subsequent efforts in other states. [A limited success for Connecticut suffragists was achieved in 1893 when local communities could let women vote on education issues.] These early activities and the arguments for and against the legislation were also important in preparing the way for the final years of the struggle between 1916 and 1920 for woman’s suffrage gained in the Nineteenth Amendment.

4. Have your students debate or discuss the similarities and differences between the two women’s rights perspectives. These are the Code of Domesticity and the principle of Equal Political Participation.
5. Consider a class field trip to Nook farm in Hartford. This is where the Beechers, Hookers, Stowes, Mark Twain lived. It’s on Farmington Ave near exit 46 off of Rt. 84. The tours and the sights are alive with social, political, and architectural history.

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KEY QUESTIONS: Covering a few days assignment.

1. What might the positive and negative effects on society and on women be if they possessed the vote and the right to run for elective office?
2. Would Isabella Beecher Hooker be described by her peers as being a progressive and liberal thinker, or as a conservative? Which political label would fit her today?
3. Does the failure of the 1889 limited woman suffrage bills indicate that Connecticut is still a conservative, and “Steady Habits” state?

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Bibliographical citations for Isabella Hooker, et al.

Hooker, Isabella Beecher. The Constitutional Rights of the Women of the United States. Washington, D.C.: International Council of women, 1888.

————. Memorial of Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association to the Constitutional Convention. Hartford.: Plimpton Mfg. Co., 1902.

————. Womanhood; Its Sanctities and Fidelities. New York: Lee, Shepard and Dillingham, 1874.

Farnam, Anne. “Isabella Beecher Hooker,” Bulletin of the Connecticut Historical Society 36 (April, 1971): 41-51.

Stowe-Day Foundation. Isabella Beecher Hooker Project. Hartford: Stowe-Day Foundation, 1979.

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Connecticut Women in the World Wars Era” 1910s-1940s, Katharine Houghton Hepburn and Charlotte Perkins Gilman

By the early 1900s the founders of the woman suffrage movement in Connecticut and the nation were gone. Lucy Stone died in 1893, Elizabeth Cady Santon in 1902, Susan B. Anthony in 1906, and Isabella Beecher Hooker in 1907. Their deaths marked the end of an era and the end of the second phase of the women’s rights movement. These deaths created a temporary vacuum in the movement’s leadership. But new women did joined the state and national suffrage organizations. These new women brought new policies and ideas on suffrage and other women’s issues to revitalize the organizations in Connecticut and on the national level. Carrie Chapman Catt and Harriot Stanton Blatch instilled new life into the suffrage movement with the formation of the Woman’s Political Union. New tactics of spreading suffrage propaganda and interacting with the male power structure were initiated by these women. This new generation believed that health care, reform of living and working conditions, and educational reforms were political causes just as much as the right to vote. Thus, many women now thought that aggressive political tactics would be necessary to gain any or all of these reforms.

In Connecticut during this time, two women wrote, lectured, and demonstrated for equal rights for women. While the suffrage issue dominated the activities and writings of Katherine Houghton Hepburn (1878-1941) and Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935) they and other Connecticut women spoke out on a wide variety of women’s issues. Job opportunities, working conditions, birth control, social welfare, domestic and living conditions attracted their attention. Both Hepburn and Gilman were from Hartford of the educated elite.* Each woman, in her own fashion, was a proponent of a united woman’s movement. Such a union of women and women’s organizations could well achieve equality in politics, business, employment, and social welfare. One reason women had always sought to vote was to be able to pressure legislators into writing reform laws in these areas.

Katharine Houghton Hepburn, described as one who was committed to the suffrage movement, was an early advocate of birth control. She worked along side of the famous Margaret Sanger in seeking to overturn oppressive birth control and anti-abortion laws. She also picketed before the White House for better working conditions for women. Hepburn spoke throughout Connecticut and New England against women’s enslavement in the home and the work place. Paradoxically, she was the mother of six children and in bearing them, she had expressed her “love for her husband who profoundly wanted children.” However, she was clearly aware of the fact that, “for many poorer women, bearing children was simply an onerous duty, seriously affecting their health, welfare and psychological development.” Her husband, the successful physician Dr. Thomas Hepburn, enthusiastically shared her views on women’s rights. He too became an early supporter of birth control, and together the Hepburns stood for respect for freedom of thought, and the encouragement of freedom of movement for each person.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman earned an enormous reputation in her life time. She, like Isabella Hooker and Katharine Hepburn are almost unknown today. It was through her writings that she became a famous and serious critic of society and history, and in early 1900s believed that:

It is only in social relationships that we are human, and thus, to be human, women must share in the totality of humanity’s common life. Women, forced to lead restricted lives, retard all human progress. Growth of the organism, the individual or the social body, requires the use of all of our powers in four areas; physical, intellectual, spiritual, and social. In each, women are still denied their equal share of human activities.3

Like her earlier Beecher relatives, Mrs. Gilman lectured upon her theoretical view of the world. This view on humankind in the future would achieve a new society based on combining the principles of feminism and socialism. She concluded that women, as a collective entity, could if they so chose become the peaceful moving force in the reorganization of society.

Before reading the selected passages from Hepburn and Gilman, we should consider the following lesson plans and historical questions for use with students.

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LESSON PLANS: For two or three days.

1. Present a brief lecture on the history of Hepburn and Gilman during the World Wars Era, or have your students read photocopies on the material.
2. Have your interested students research the difference between the attitudes and actions of the Women’s political Union and the earlier National American Woman Suffrage Association. They could research encyclopedias, women’s history texts, and personal histories of the women who participated in these groups. Your students could give a brief description of their findings to the class, or write on their political values and contributions.
3. Give some or all of Hepburn’s and Gilman’s readings to
the class as in-class or homework assignments. Have them compare or contrast these two women’s ideas, or analyze one or both of their writings. Have students use selected quotations from these writings to validate their opinions.
4. Alice Paul was from Connecticut and wrote the national Equal Rights Amendment in 1923. The Amendment stated:.
Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction.
Have some or all of your students conduct a brief research of Alice Paul’s life and political career, and write a brief essay on this women in the inter-war era.
*5. Any students interested in developing an oral history project of this era could study the original and radio tapes of 20 Connecticut women who participated in state politics between 1920 and 1945. The originals of this collection entitled, “The Emergence of Political Women in Connecticut, 1920-45” is on file at the center for Oral History, University of Connecticut at Storrs. The project was conducted by Carole Nicols & Joyce Pendery.
KEY QUESTIONS: Covering the two or three day assignments.
1. Why did women in Connecticut and throughout the nation achieve woman suffrage in 1920, when they could not in earlier decades?
2. Can political and philosophical differences be found between the woman suffragists of the progressive era and the women politicians of the world wars era?
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3. Can Connecticut’s ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920, shortly after Tennessee had ratified the amendment as the required 36th state, be a further example of our state’s conservative and “Steady Habits” character?

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Connecticut Women in the Modern Era, 1950 to the Present

Mrs. A. Whitney Griswold, Mrs. Ella T. Grasso. Barbara Lifton, and Griswold V. Connecticut.

Anna Howard Shaw, a suffragist leader and the Director of the Committee of Women’s Defense in World War I, stated in 1920 that:

Despite the political progress for women accomplished by the 19th Amendment, women, especially young women, will face great difficulties that having the vote will not solve. You younger women will have a harder task than ours. You will want equality in business, and it will be even harder to get than the vote. You will have to fight for it as individuals and that will not get you far. Women will not unite, since you will be in competition with each other.

By the 1920s and ‘30s the unity that had existed among women no longer existed. Women’s rights leaders were still calling for unity, but there was very little response. Suffragist and other women’s rights activists discovered that their right to vote seemed to give women less political power, not more. In Connecticut this problem clearly existed, especially because women did not wish to form a united bloc of voters, and because the Democratic Party was not able to become a viable alternative to the Republicans. Early attempts to ratify the 1923 Equal Rights Amendment, written by Connecticut woman Alice Paul, illustrate the problem. In Connecticut and around the country numerous conservative groups joined with many labor and even women’s organizations to oppose the ERA and work for more protective legislation for women. The general belief now ran that political and economic rights of women would be better advanced by government’s protective legislation than through complete equality with men in open competition.

Progress for women was quite gradual in Connecticut, and at times the appearance of progress in the political sphere of life was not progress at all. Women were entering government service in both bureaucratic and elective offices. By the late 1930s twenty percent of the federal bureaucracy were women. In Connecticut’s House of Representatives the percentage of women representatives was as follows:

1921 = 4 of 262, or 1.5%

1927 = 14 of 267, or 5.3%

1931 = 21 of 267, or 7.9%

1937 = 21 of 267, or 8.0%

1941 = 19 of 272, or 7.0%

1947 = 32 of 272, or 12.1%

1951 = 34 of 272, or 12.5%

1957 = 45 of 279, or 16.1%

1961 = 52 of 294, or 17.7%

1967 = 19 of 177, or 10.8%

1971 = 16 of 151, or 10.6%

1977 = 27 of 151, or 17.8% 5

World War II had a slight affect on the number of women participating in elective offices. Opportunities in industry improved for women as the armament and related industries began a new era of economic prosperity in Connecticut. Yet, through the second World War and into the 1950s little change occurred. Republican women made up most of the women state legislators during this period, and their view of politics was to support the status quo. A survey made at the end of the war in 1945 presents another view of this traditionalist attitude in Connecticut.

The average thinking American woman has a fairly modest, though as yet utopian, dream of the good life. It would be something like this: She would live in a comfortable, though not pretentious home, probably with a backyard grill, equipped by science to relieve her from drudgery and give her time for the subtler phases of homemaking. Her husband would have a secure and stable job in an economy that had a minimum of unemployment. He would probably work six hours per day, thus having time to help make the home a center of education and enjoyment.6

By the late 1950s this image of the ideal, traditional woman was stated and refined hundreds, even thousands, of times in magazine articles, and over radio and television. However, an alternative picture of woman’s life was gradually developing in Connecticut and across the country.

While a few Connecticut women, such as Claire Boothe Luce and Chase Going Woodhouse, attained either national or state offices respectively, they were successful as individuals. Most were not open, outspoken, or active in support of women’s causes and rights. They were successful because they adapted to the male power structure, gaining and using the political support of men. Thus, from the 1920s through the 1950s, the words of Anna Howard Shaw rang true.

Historical progress, however, runs in cycles, and in the early 1960s a renewed women’s political consciousness experienced a renaissance. Women became involved increasingly in paid employment and became aware of political injustices and inequalities that needed to be redressed. Connecticut women became active in court actions, in writing the new state constitution, and running for elective office in response to the 1964 Supreme Court decision on “one man one vote.” Women now re-established the old belief of the turn of the century that direct political action and participation by women was the better and just way to improve society and attain equal status for women.

The 1964 federal Civil Rights Act, furthered women’s awareness that legislative assemblies and the courts were institutions that could begin to correct problems of sex discrimination. Connecticut women were initiating court cases, running for local, state, and federal offices, and joining in numerous political organizations, such as the Connecticut Women’s Political Caucus and the Connecticut chapters of the National Organization for Women. The Black civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam War protests had been both a consciousness raising experience and a training ground for the development of political organization and tactics. By the early 1970s Connecticut women were increasingly ready to actively work within the political system to remedy their own conditions.

The following Connecticut women and court cases will illustrate some characteristics of the modern women’s political rights movement. You will be able to see the scope and depth that women’s political consciousness has achieved. In order to help your students appreciate the opinions of these participants, a series of brief background sketches is provided. Mary B. Griswold, referred to below as Mrs. A. Whitney Griswold, is the first participant mentioned and she earned a B. A. degree from Smith College. Ella T. Grasso is the second to be studied and she earned her B. A. degree from Mt. Holyoke College. Barbara Lifton is the third women studied in the political arena of Connecticut and she earned her law degree from the University of Connecticut.

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LESSON PLANS: For two or three days.

1. Present a brief lecture on the history of some of the important women of this modern era, or have your students read photocopies of the material.
2. Have interested students research such present women’s organizations as Connecticut N.0.W. and the Connecticut Women’s Political Caucus. They can contact public relations chairpersons in local chapters or on the state level. Your students can research to find their philosophies, tactics, and accomplishments, and return to the class with an oral or written presentation.
3. Give some or all of the readings and descriptive biographies to your students. Have them compare and contrast the women involved. Have your students use quotations from these women to validate their own observations.
4. Claire Booth Luce and Chase Going Woodhouse were very important Connecticut women involved in federal and state politics respectively. Have your students research these women’s political lives and write brief descriptive biographies like those that follow.
5. Any student interested in developing an oral history project on political women of this modern period should contact the Women’s Political Caucus in the state to find the names, addresses, and phone numbers of nearby Connecticut women they might want to interview.

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KEY QUESTIONS: Covering the two or three day assignments.

1. Has the women’s movement in Connecticut helped to advance the political nature and structure of state politics? If so, why has the women’s movement been successful? If not, what facts have limited the potential success of the women’s movement?
2. Can you explain the existence of at least two different perspectives of thought and action within the Connecticut women’s rights and feminist movements?
3. After reading statements by women like Mrs. A. Whitney Griswold and Barbara Lifton, would you conclude that politically, Connecticut is still a state of “Steady Habits?”
Bibliographical sources for learning about modern women. Connecticut State Library, Hartford, Phone # 1-566-4192. Connecticut Register and Manual. Hartford: Yearly 1785 to 1980. The Women’s Studies Program and Center at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, Ct. Phone # 1-486-3970. University of Connecticut Oral History Project, Storrs Campus.

(figure available in print form)

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(figure available in print form)

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*Advocacy of woman suffrage in New England went back at least as far as Abigail Adams’ letters to her husband John in 1776. In one letter Abigail Adams wrote that the “women would not be bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.” This can be interpreted as a call for woman suffrage.
*Charlotte Perkins Gilman was related to the famous Beecher family
1. Kathryn Kish Sklar, Catharine Beecher: A Study in American Domesticity New Haven: Yale University Press, 1973. p. 85.
2. Anne Farnam, “Isabella Beecher Hooker,” The Bulletin. Vol. 36, No. 2, Ap., 1971. p. 43.
3. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Herland. New York: Pantheon Books, 1979. p. xi.
4. Beth Millstein and Jeanne Bodin, We, the American Women. Toronto: Science Research Associates, Inc., 1977. p. 202.
5. Connecticut Register and Manual, Hartford: 1921-1977.
6. Millstein, Women. p. 238.

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Contents of 1981 Volume on Connecticut History | Directory of Volumes | Index | Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute

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