174 Years of Work for Women's Equality in the United States
The convention was organized by five brave women who were active in the fight for civil rights. This included activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, abolitionists Lucretia Mott and Mary M’Clintock, Martha Coffin Wright (the sister to Lucretia Mott) and Quaker Jane Hunt.
Quaker abolitionist & suffragist Lucretia Mott, painted by Melanie Humble
Stanton began the convention with these powerful words:
“We are assembled to protest against a form of government, existing without the consent of the governed—to declare our right to be free as man is free, to be represented in the government which we are taxed to support, to have such disgraceful laws as give man the power to chastise and imprison his wife, to take the wages which she earns, the property which she inherits, and, in case of separation, the children of her love.”
What exactly took place on this day, 174 years ago? Stanton, who had grown tired and frustrated of being subjected to laws in which she had no say, as women did not yet have the right to vote, unveiled the Declaration of Sentiments which she, Mott, M’Clintock, and Wright drafted together. This declaration was modeled off the Declaration of Independence, though a significant distinction was made to affirm women’s equality: “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men and women are created equal.”
On the second day of the convention, the attendees, mostly women but also some men, voted on a series of 11 resolutions within the Declaration of Sentiments. The most controversial of these was the ninth resolution that encouraged women to take the initiative to establish the right to vote for themselves. This resolution sparked debate amongst the entire convention. It wasn’t until abolitionist Fredrick Douglass gave a powerful speech, expressing his support for women’s suffrage, that they were able to get enough votes to pass the resolution. In his newspaper entitled The North Star, Douglass later wrote about the intersection between the women’s rights and abolitionist movements:
“In respect to political rights, we hold women to be justly entitled to all we claim for man…All that distinguishes man as an intelligent and accountable being, is equally true of woman...There can be no reason in the world for denying to woman the exercise of the elective franchise, or a hand in making and administering the laws of the land. Our doctrine is, that ‘Right is of no sex.’”
Timeline of Voting Rights for Women
Douglass’s presence at this first women’s convention was a significant act of solidarity. Indeed, the antislavery movement as a whole was integral to establishing the women’s rights movement. Without the push for the abolition of slavery, women would not have had the framework to be successful to push for their own rights. Though there was a wide array of opinions on slavery from women, the issue was nonetheless pushed to the forefront of peoples’ lives leading up to the Civil War.
"Reflecting on Feminist Firebrand Emmeline Pankhurst"
IGNITE members on the Capitol steps
paved the way for women’s suffrage in the UK, helping women there win the right to vote in 1918 – two years before women in the US were granted that right. She is also credited with inspiring a new breed of suffragettes here in the years following Susan B Anthony’s activism, notably Alice Paul and Lucy Burns. Pankhurst was a controversial firebrand and the very embodiment of the famous quote “well-behaved women rarely make history.”
Ms. Pankhurst’s role in reshaping global political culture to foster women’s involvement cannot be underestimated. I lead IGNITE, America’s largest, most diverse organization devoted to young women’s political leadership, so I have a few insights into the current need for more of Pankhurst’s passion for uplifting women.
I was thinking recently about what Pankhurst can teach us as I gathered in Washington, D.C. with young women from across the country for our annual conference. It nearly coincided with the recent Supreme Court ruling denying many women another basic right - autonomy over their own bodies. It was a painful juxtaposition. What I saw in these driven and confident women was the future of our country. A better future. It will happen if we can help get them where they deserve to be: the halls of power. This will not be easy and there’s no chance it will happen on its own if we don’t fight for it. If Pankhurst taught us anything, it’s that the work of moving women forward is difficult and complex, but it is essential.
A 1963 procession for equal rights, integrated schools, fair housing, and an end to discrimination. (Warren K. Leffler / Picryl)
So how do we move forward? We look towards history and recognize the need to do so as a collective—a coalition—of diverse and sometimes seemingly competing interests, to work towards the shared goal of more women in elected and appointed office. This isn’t a goal we can achieve in silos or one that can be only looked at through a Democrat or Republican women-only lens. We need to come together to look at increasing the pipeline of women interested and ready to serve, then work together to break down structural and cultural barriers that stand in their way.
The Brookings Institute recently published an article where they pointed to “a new push toward gender equality requires changes in both institutional policies (by employers or government) and culture (values, beliefs and preferences).” Right now there are many groups working in this space and making amazing progress; whether it’s training thousands of women how to run for office or working to break down barriers like getting campaign funds to cover childcare, but the power to effectuate faster, larger scale change comes when we work together as a collective. In working together, we can multiply our impact, share resources and play to our relative strengths so that all of our individual organizations are working together in unison towards our shared goal instead of competing for resources or duplicating efforts.
At this critical juncture, I hope you’ll join me in moving beyond partisan politics and individual missions to achieve our collective goal of increasing the number of women in elected and appointed positions across the country, and bringing our country closer to a representative democracy. We can only do this if we work together.
The most tangible positive results related to these reforms are the introduction of gender quotas in elections in all three countries, a shift to full proportional representation in the electoral system that resulted in a rapid increase in the proportion of women in parliament in Moldova, and the introduction of a rule mandating the replacement of elected women by other women in case of leaving their seat early in Georgia at the local and national level.
Women politicians continue to face many gender-related challenges. Non-transparent recruitment in political parties, loopholes in legislation that allow parties to circumvent gender quotas, and the weakness and ineffectiveness of formal institutions intended to mainstream gender equality are key obstacles for women in starting and developing a political career. At the societal level, much of the public still holds deep-seated gender stereotypes that act as barriers to women taking more active part in the political decision-making process. The numerous persistent factors that hamper women’s political participation prove that Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine still have much to do to create a level playing field for men and women in politics.
All women candidates for the U.S. Senate were unsuccessful.
Former State Delegate Heather Mizeur (D) won the Democratic nomination to challenge incumbent Representative Andy Harris (R) in MD-01, a contest currently rated as “Solid Republican” by Cook Political Report. Two (2R) more women are currently leading in Republican primary contests still too close to call in MD-02 and MD-03. If successful in the primary, both women will challenge Democratic incumbents in contests currently rated as “Solid Democrat” by Cook Political Report.
State Delegate Brooke Lierman (D) won the Democratic nomination for comptroller. If elected, she would be the first woman to serve as comptroller in Maryland.
Gordana Schifanelli (R) won the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor as the running mate of Republican gubernatorial nominee Dan Cox. Women are currently leading in the Democratic contest for lieutenant governor, which remains too close to call. Of the top 3 (3D) candidates, 2 (2D) women – former Baltimore City Councilwoman Sharon Sneed and Prince George’s County Councilwoman Monique Anderson-Walker – are Black and 1 (1D) woman – former State Delegate Aruna Miller – is Asian American. No Black or Asian American woman has ever been elected statewide in Maryland.
It’s not Larryland or Harryland. It’s Maryland.
But the state named for a queen is not going to elevate a woman to its highest office anytime soon.
From Harriet Tubman to Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D), Maryland’s women have shaped our nation. On Tuesday, its voters once again stubbornly denied women the power to lead us into the future. “I always said that though I was the first, I wanted to be the first of many,” Mikulski said in a 2010 interview, when she recalled her 1986 fundraiser, “Bebop for Barb.”
Maryland let her down.
Democrats didn’t even consider a woman for governor — although nearly every candidate picked one for a running mate, citing impressive resumes. They didn’t return Rep. Donna F. Edwards (D) to her House seat. No Maryland woman will get a shot at trying to fill Mikulski’s wish for the Senate.
Maryland is one of 19 states, according to the Center for American Women and Politics, that haven’t had the ovaries to put a woman in the governor’s chair, and voters blew it in spectacular fashion, not only rejecting Schulz, but elevating a Jan. 6, 2021 skeptic and acolyte of former president Donald Trump who wants to curtail abortion rights.
Promoting “greater knowledge and understanding about the role of women in American politics” is one of the three pillars of CAWP’s self-described mission, which also includes enhancing “women’s influence in public life” and expanding “the diversity of women in politics and government.”
CAWP’s database of women officeholders is foundational to these efforts and is widely known among academic researchers and journalists for its comprehensive historic data on women’s roles in state legislatures, as state executives and governors, and in the U.S. House and Senate. Tracing trends in women’s representation by position, race/ethnicity, party and location is an essential first step to understanding the implications of women’s representation and even, Walsh notes, in helping aspiring office holders to figure out a strategy for their own bids for office going forward.
The data, augmented by interviews, Walsh said, “is critically important and very time-consuming and tedious to collect.” A point of pride for Walsh, CAWP has made that data accessible online in “a searchable database that anyone can have access to. It’s downloadable into Excel files, so you can sort it in all kinds of ways … pull up what you need, and we’re talking about every woman state legislator who’s ever served, going back to the late 1800s.”
Millennial women are more educated than any previous cohort of American women or men, by a substantial margin, and are more educated than millennial men. And they are beginning to personally experience the gap between how much progress women have made in some respects and the fact that only a lucky few of us still have access to paid maternity leave policies, childcare support or flexible workplaces. On top of that, the children of millennials are increasingly getting a raw deal on K-12 education, federal debt and early childhood investment as resources increasingly flow to older people.
Millennial mothers look up and see a lot of older Republican men in leadership talking about very few of these things. Few Republican-oriented organizations are focused on such concerns. Popular conservative talking heads spend the day in Twitter battles, deriding dads who take paid parental leave and calling paid maternity leave “another predictable click of government’s leftward-moving ratchet.”
Democrats are discussing these issues, which likely contributes to more millennial women leaning left. Others, like me, believe in what the GOP can stand for but wonder when it will change. So far, the message seems clear: As long as mothers remain in the party, we are on our own.