Woman's Rights, a question involving the political, industrial, educational, and general social status of women, and their legal rights and disabilities. It embraces topics treated under Alimony, Divorce, Husband and Wife, Marriage, and Marriage Settlements, and a popular movement which demands for women the same public rights and opportunities that are enjoyed by male citizens. This movement began in the United States in the middle of the present century, in connection with the anti-slavery agitation, with which it at first identified itself. The first conventions were held at Seneca Falls and Rochester in 1848, under the auspices of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Amelia Bloomer, Mrs. Stebbins, and Frederick Douglass. Among other early advocates of the cause were Lucretia Mott, Paulina Wright Davis, Ernestine L. Rose, Frances D. Gage, and Sarah Tyndale. In 1851 Susan B. Anthony presided at a convention in Syracuse, with the cooperation of Lucy Stone and Antoinette L. Brown. Annual conventions assembled at New York from 1852 till the outbreak of the civil war. In 1863 Miss Anthony organized the "Loyal Women's League." Among other subsequent bodies was the " American Suffrage Association," chiefly in the New England states, of which Mary A. Livermore and Julia Ward Howe were the principal founders.
The " National Woman's Suffrage Association " opened its ninth annual meeting in New York, May 10, 1876. Mrs. Matilda Joslyn Gage proposed a woman's declaration of independence for July 4, 1876. Mrs. Stanton was elected president for the ensuing year, and Lucretia Mott and others vice presidents, representing every state in the Union. The other officers were Miss Anthony, Laura Curtis Bullard, Lillie Devereux Blake, Ellen C. Sargent, and Jane Graham Jones. The elective franchise and the right to sit on juries were granted to women in Wyoming territory, Dec. 10, 1869, and the former in Utah in 1870. The constitutional amendment for female suffrage was adopted in Iowa in 1876 by the house, and was barely defeated in the senate. In that state women have been for several years appointed notaries public, and chosen directors in school districts and county superintendents of common schools. The legality of their tenure of the last office, being contested, was finally confirmed in 1876 by both branches of the legislature, with but few dissenting votes.
The discussion of female political rights was recently revived in the legislature of New York. The many petitions lately presented to various legislative bodies included one by the women of the District of Columbia to the house of representatives on March 31, 1876, the centennial anniversary of an application said to have been made by Mrs. Abigail Adams to her husband, John Adams, urging him to shape the organic laws so as to enable women to protect their own rights. In several states women who pay school taxes are allowed to vote at school meetings. Illinois admits them by statute to the legal profession, and it is open to them in some other states. The state librarian of Michigan is now (1876) a woman, and in New York one was recently appointed commissioner of the state charities. Women were first appointed to clerkships in the public departments at Washington under President Lincoln; hundreds have since been employed there, and are found to be especially expert and accurate in handling money in the treasury. At several universities they are admitted as students and receive academical degrees.
Elizabeth Blackwell was in 1849 the first to receive the degree of M. D., conferred upon her by the medical school at Geneva, N. Y. In 1854 she and her sister Emily opened the New York infirmary for women and children, greatly assisted by Mary Elizabeth Zakrzewska, the originator of the scheme; the latter graduated at the medical school of Cleveland, and in 1863 founded a great institution at Boston, serving under her direction both as a hospital and a school. Antoinette L. Brown (Blackwell) was among the first to be ordained as a minister of religion, at Henrietta, N. Y.; and many other women have chosen the clerical, medical, and legal professions, or excelled as lecturers. - The American machinery of conventions for the promotion of reforms does not prevail in England; but owing to the larger preponderance of women employed there in hard labor and under adverse circumstances as governesses and in other callings, the movement is gaining ground in London and other cities. Mary Wollstonecraft, wife of William Godwin, was among the pioneers. Her "Vindication of the Rights of Women" (London, 1791) led Frances Wright to disseminate the same views in the United States. John Stuart Mill and his wife gave a powerful impulse to the cause in both hemispheres.
On May 2, 1867, he moved an amendment to the reform bill in favor of female suffrage, on the ground that the constitution made taxation and representation coexistent, and that it had been granted in counties and boroughs in previous eras. The amendment was rejected by 196 votes; but 76 favored it, including Sir G. Bowyer and Prof. Fawcett. In 1869 Russell Gurney, the recorder of London, put forward a bill, originally proposed by Mr. Locke King, for protecting the 800,000 wage-earning and other married women in their property. In 1870 it was adopted, but so much modified in the house of lords that women still remain incompetent to use, bequeath, or hold their own money. The elementary education act of 1870 made women eligible to school boards; and at the first election, toward the close of that year, Dr. Elizabeth Anderson-Garrett, a well known advocate of woman's rights, received in Marylebone over 45,000 votes, being 20,000 more than any other candidate in any metropolitan ward. Emily Davis was returned at the same time, and in Manchester Lydia Baker. Dr. Garrett and her sister, Mary Carpenter, Mrs. Fawcett, and Frances Power Cobbe are among the more prominent advocates, as well as Mrs. Frank Hill, wife of the editor of the London "Daily News," which favors the movement.
Harriet, Martineau, Florence Nightingale, Emily Faithfull, and other distinguished persons of both sexes, contribute in various degrees to give moral force to the English movement; but the death of Mr. Mill in 1873 deprived it of its most influential champion. The granting of the elective franchise to women continues to be urged in parliament. In 1870 Jacob Bright, brother of John Bright, brought forward a bill in its favor, which passed to a second reading May 4 by a majority of 124 to 91 votes. It was opposed by the government and thrown out, May 12. His motion was again rejected by 220 to 157 votes, May 3, 1871; by 222 to 143, May 1, 1872, Mr. Disraeli giving a silent vote with the minority; and by 222 to 155, April 30, 1873. The motion is made annually, and with about the same results. In 1876 it was brought forward by Mr. Forsyth, and strongly opposed by John Bright, on the ground that the franchise would be detrimental to the interests of the women themselves, and that the principle is untenable and inconsistent with universal experience; and though supported by his brother, by Fawcett, and other liberals, it was rejected on April 26 by 239 against 152. Women are now employed in various public offices in England, but most extensively in the postal service. - French women evince little or no interest in this question.
Even during the period when society had been revolutionized by innovators like Rousseau, an attempt made by Rosa Lacombe (1792) to enlist in its favor the council of Paris proved altogether abortive. Nor have the views of Fourier, Saint-Simon, Michelet, Auguste Comte, Mme. Dudevant (George Sand), Laboulaye, and Legouve produced any impression beyond the realms of thought. Jenny d'Héricourt's La femme affranchie (1860), Léon Richer's Le droit des femmes, a periodical (1868-'70), and Olympe Audouard's and André Leo's (Léonie Champseix's) lectures fell dead. On the other hand, there are more women engaged in mercantile life and in government tobacco shops and similar occupations in France than in any other country. Public opinion is favorable to their employment in every occupation excepting in the special spheres of men. In Germany many thoughtful works have appeared in the last and the present century, advocating a wider scope for female activity. The revolution of 1848 produced organs and associations in Leipsic and Berlin. In 1865 the first public meeting was held in the former city. Saxony abrogated in 1866 the laws excluding women from postal, telegraph, and kindred offices.
In 1865 Lette founded in Berlin the association still known under his name, for promoting the industrial progress of women; since his death (Dec. 3, 1868) it has been directed by Prof. Holtzendorff, and it became the model of numerous similar organizations in the German and Austrian empires. Among the most active advocates at the present day is Jenny Hirsch at Berlin. Fanny Lewald joined her in 1869 in editing Die Frauenwelt, and in 1870 she established another journal, Der Frauenanwalt. Conspicuous among novelists interested in the movement was Luise Mühlbach, who died in 1873. In Switzerland, the university of Zurich has many Russian and American female medical students, to whom it awards degrees; and Mrs. Mary Goegg has founded at Geneva an international women's association. In Italy, where not a few women excel in science and literature, there are several organs specially devoted to their interests, and prominent writers like Dora d'Istria favor the cause. But the traditions and institutions of Europe militate against the movement, especially among the Latin races. - See "Woman in the Nineteenth Century," by Margaret Fuller Ossoli (New York, 1845; edited by A. B. Fuller, 1855); "History of the Condition of Women in all Ages and Nations," by Lydia Maria Child (2 vols., New York, 1845; 5th ed., 1854); " Woman in America," by Maria J. Mcintosh (New York, 1850); " Woman and her Needs," by Mrs. Elizabeth Oakes Smith (New York, 1851); Die Frauen und ihr Beruf by Luisa Büchner (Frankfort, 1855; 3d ed., 1860; translated into English, Russian, and Dutch); "Woman's Rights under the Law," by Mrs. C. H. Dall (Boston, 1862); " The Employment of Women: a Cyclopaedia of Woman's Work," by Virginia Penny (Boston, 1863); "Woman and her Era," by Mrs. E. W. Farnham (2 vols., New York, 1864); Des femmes par une femme, by Dora d'Istria (Paris and Brussels, 1864; translated into English, Russian, and Italian); " The College, the Market, and the Court; or Woman's Relation to Education, Labor, and Law," by Mrs. C. H. Dall (Boston, 1867); "Woman's Rights," by the Rev. John Todd (New York, 1868); "The Subjection of Women," by J. S. Mill (London, 1869); and "The Rights of Women: a Comparison of the relative legal Status of the Sexes in the chief Countries of Western Civilization" (London, 1875).