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.