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.
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.