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.