Women's Rights After the Civil War Term Paper

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Women's Rights After The Civil War

Given the overlap between the abolitionist and women's rights movements, one might have expected to see a significant change in women's rights at the end of the Civil War, following the end of slavery. After all, the two movements had been so closely intertwined, with advocates in both movements comparing their plights to one another's, that an increase in rights for those who had previously been slaves would have seemed to be naturally linked to an increase in rights for those who were treated as subordinate because of their gender. However, the reality was that abolition did not lead to an increase in women's rights. On the contrary, the women's rights movement seemed to lose some steam after the Civil War, so that it was almost another half a century before women actually got the right to vote.

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In order to understand why the women's rights movement lost steam after the Civil War, one has to understand that the people who advocated most strongly for an increase in women's rights were also those most likely to speak out against slavery and for equal rights for African-Americans. With the abolition that came as the result of the Civil War and the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, it soon became clear that there had been a victory on one front. In fact, there had historically been stronger public support for abolition and for civil rights for blacks than there had been for women's rights, particularly the right to vote. Therefore, because of the momentum that existed in favor of pushing greater rights for African-Americans, many people in both the abolitionist and the women's rights movements advocated shelving the issue of women's suffrage and concentrating on getting the franchise for African-American males. In fact, they felt that it was "unfair to endanger black enfranchisement by tying it to the markedly less popular campaign for female suffrage. This pro-15th-Amendment faction formed a group called the American Woman Suffrage Association and fought for the franchise on a state-by-state basis" (a&E Television).

TOPIC: Term Paper on Women's Rights After the Civil War Assignment

It is critical to understand that this approach was not universally supported by those in the women's suffrage movement. "Some woman-suffrage advocates, among them [Elizabeth Cady] Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, believed that this was their chance to push lawmakers for truly universal suffrage" (a&E Television). Therefore, they did not support the 15th Amendment. On the contrary, they "even allied with racist Southerners who argued that white women's votes could be used to neutralize those cast by African-Americans" (a&E Television). In 1869, this group of women created the National Woman Suffrage Association, and its goal was a universal suffrage amendment to the federal Constitution, which would ensure that women had the right to vote.

Of course, the right to vote is only one of the civil rights that impact women, and the Civil War had very little impact on the right enjoyed or denied to women on a daily basis in the United States. The period just before the Civil War was one marked by increasing restrictions on the lives of women. For example, while abortion is seen as a modern political issue, it was not really an issue in early America. Instead, opposition to abortion seemed to follow in the wake of the development of the women's rights movement; a movement which began less than 15 years before the beginning of the Civil War. It was only in 1859 that the American Medical Association, composed solely of men, announced an opposition to abortion (the Prism). By 1960, a state already prohibited all abortions, and this trend continued well past the Civil War. By 1900, most abortions in the United States had been outlawed and by 1965 every state banned abortion, though some made exceptions to those laws. Therefore, one could argue that the conservative backlash that followed Reconstruction helped usher in greater restrictions on women's rights in regard to abortion, than had existed prior to the Civil War.

However, it was around the same time that reliable birth control first became a real possibility. Condoms became widely available around the same time as the Civil War and most states did not initially restrict their sale or use. However, just a few years after the Civil War, right of access to birth control changed dramatically. In 1873 Congress passed… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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