Copyright © 2004 Henrietta W. Hay
Women's Rights: A History
March 19, 2004
For the first six years of my life, women could be arrested for trying
to vote. By the time I cast my first presidential ballot at 22, women
were barely starting their long, hard road to political power. And
that road still isn't paved.
A big part of the credit for woman suffrage -- this major 20th century
phenomenon-- goes to a hell raiser named Susan B. Anthony. She and
her soul sister Elizabeth Cady Stanton invented the term, "the odd
couple" In 1852 these two firebrands met, and the world was never the
same again Stanton was the leading voice and philosopher of the
women's rights and suffrage movements. She wrote the words at home
while raising 7 children. Anthony was the powerhouse who spoke them.
She traveled the country and commandeered the women who struggled to win
the vote for American women.
They both lived past their mid-eighties, but did not live to see their
cause become a reality. Anthony died in 1906 saying, "Failure is
The first wave of the revolution started with the "Seneca Falls
Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions," called by Stanton in 1848
and signed by some 70 women and 30 men. Recognize these words? ". . .
.We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are
Women and men across the country were alerted to the issues and the
revolution began. But it took 72 years to win the battle. Woman
suffrage finally became a reality in 1920 with the 19th amendment.
The second wave of the women's movement started in the sixties and moved
fast. Betty Friedan's book, "The Feminine Mystique" came out in 1963
and thousands of women suddenly said, "Hey, there's more."
In 1966 at a Washington conference of Commissions On The Status Of Women
Betty Friedan invited a dozen women to her hotel room to discuss
strategies. By the end of the last day of the conference, 28 "members"
were recruited, tossed $5 each into the war chest and drafted a
statement of purpose. NOW was born and the battle really began.
For the record, no bras were burned, The story is that those who
didn't need them didn't have any to burn, and those who did couldn't
In 1971 Ms. Magazine was first published and is the major forum for
feminist voices. Co-founder and editor, Gloria Steinem is still an icon
for the modern feminist movement. She is now 70 but I will always see
her as young and blonde and full of energy. When I heard her speak in
Denver years ago, she ended her talk with, "Every one of you, go home
and do something outrageous." We did.
Social change comes very slowly. When I was a little girl Dr. Alice
Paul, a suffragist leader, proposed a constitutional amendment to
guarantee full legal equality to women. The Equal Rights Amendment was
proposed in every congress for 49 years. When it was finally passed and
sent to the states I was nearly 60. We fought hard, but we lost this
one. Colorado was one of the first to ratify it. Three states had not
ratified it when the time ran out in 1983.
The Grand Junction NOW chapter held a wake.
But although the road still isn't paved we have made tremendous
strides, Title IX of the Civil Rights Act opened the door for women's
sports. Women are entering all fields of work in great numbers.
Politically, they are becoming mayors, state legislators, occasional
governors and members of Congress.
It's not over, though. It is interesting to note that 14% of the
members of Congress are women, while the new Iraq constitution requires
that 25% of that country's elected legislators be women.
I have been lucky enough to live through a century of exciting women's
history. It has been a real adventure.,