Whitney C. Russell
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
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.