Women's Struggle for Equality: The First Phase, 1828-1876


Jean Matthew’s new study of the early years of the women’s rights movement outlines the period from 1828 to 1976 as a distinct “first phase.” Ms. Matthews situates this early feminist activity within the lively nineteenth-century debate over the Woman Question and pays attention to the opponents as well as the advocates of equal rights for women. Her book demonstrates that the intense conflict generated by the movement was due less to any specific reform proposals than to the realization—among men and women—that ...

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Jean Matthew’s new study of the early years of the women’s rights movement outlines the period from 1828 to 1976 as a distinct “first phase.” Ms. Matthews situates this early feminist activity within the lively nineteenth-century debate over the Woman Question and pays attention to the opponents as well as the advocates of equal rights for women. Her book demonstrates that the intense conflict generated by the movement was due less to any specific reform proposals than to the realization—among men and women—that the early feminists were aiming at a complete rethinking of what womanhood meant and of the relationship between the sexes. In many ways, as Ms. Matthews shows, the early nineteenth-century movement—in its origins, individualism, hostility to tight organization, dedication to self-discovery, and concern for health issues—strongly resembled the revived feminism of the 1970s. Like the late-twentieth-century movement, its nineteenth-century precursor fostered an initial yearning for personal “liberation” and opportunity, and was later riven by issues of race and sexuality, and confused over the perennial question of “difference.” Women’s Struggle for Equality builds upon recent scholarship to present a concise synthesis of what was probably the most exciting period of early American feminism.

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Editorial Reviews

The Historian
A wonderful synthesis of the women's rights movement...remarkable.
— Wendy Hamand Venet
Civil War History
Highly readable...can introduce women's rights and suffrage movements to the reading public...a vital strand of nineteenth-century history.
— Ann D. Gordon
Civil War History - Ann D. Gordon
Highly readable. . . .Can introduce women's rights and suffrage movements to the reading public. . . .[A] vital strand of nineteenth-century history.
The Historian - Wendy Hamand Venet
A wonderful synthesis of the women's rights movement. . . .[R]emarkable.
Basing her work on printed sources and monographs, Matthews reviews the 19th-century women's movement during what she terms its first phase: from Fanny Wright to the Centennial Exhibition protest. This phase, she writes, was more like the 1960s and the 1970s than the 1890s. She find the period distinguished by advocates' insistence on equality (transformation rather than reform), their language of natural rights, and repudiation of gender boundaries. Focusing resolutely on the women's movement—rather than domesticity of women's benevolence—Matthews moves briskl . . . .Informed synthesis, sensible readings, and clear prose make this a good overall introduction for undergraduates and general readers. . . .Helpful bibliographic essay. Upper-division undergraduates and above.
Journal of the Early Republic
Jean Matthews brings to life the women and men who sought gender equality of rights, opportunities, and respect from the earliest years of the crusade through the 1870s. . . .As she examines the work of America's earliest women's advocates, Matthews not only enumerates their contributions to the movement but also provides richly-detailed views of their private lives. . . .Those who believe that they already know the story will discover that they have broadened their understanding of one of the most important forces in the nineteenth-century American history.
H-Net: Humanities and Social Science Reviews Online
In Women's Struggle for Equality: The First Phase, 1828-1876, Jean V. Matthews has crafted a concise and highly readable synthesis of recent suffrage scholarship. . . .Matthews herself, like the women she writes about, has bravely ventured into uncharted territory. A narrative history of the early years of the women's movement was sorely needed, and she has provided an excellent example of what a well-written synthesis should be. . . .In Women's Struggle for Equality, Jean V. Matthews has written a skillful introduction to and examination of the early years of a revolutionary movement.
Inc. Book News
Matthews narrates a phrase of women's struggle that shared more conceptions, goals, and methods with the struggles of the 1960s and 1970s than with the more refined movements and disciplined organizations of the later 19th century. The Woman Question, roles and rights, launching the movement, diagnosing the problem, and sex and suffrage are among her topics.
Jean Matthew's Women Struggle for Equality provides an easily-absorbed history of the first phases of the women's movement from 1828-76. These were pivotal early years, marking the birth of one of the most important social movements of the 19th century: opponents as well as advocates of the movement are revealed, placing this a step above the usual biographical or historical focus on advocates alone.
Wendy Hamand Venet
A wonderful synthesis of the women’s rights movement...remarkable.
The Historian
Ann D. Gordon
Highly readable...can introduce women’s rights and suffrage movements to the reading public...a vital strand of nineteenth-century history.
Civil War History
Library Journal
Both of these new titles provide a biographical and political base for dealing with the feminist and political aspects of the women's suffrage movement in the United States, but they examine different time periods and regions. Matthews (Toward a New Society; American Thought and Culture 1800-1830, Macmillan, 1990) looks at the roots of the Northern women's suffrage crusade in the reform movements of the liberal, religious middle class. Her focus is the feminist activity of the movement rather than the social history of women's lives. She covers no new ground, and her decision to list sources at the end, rather than to provide notes, makes tracing her ideas difficult. Still, she provides a good summary for the casual reader and a textbook for history students. In contrast, Green (history, Sweet Briar Coll.) concentrates on the feminist politics of the Southern suffragist (primarily antisuffragist) movement of the postbellum South. Through her examination of over 800 middle-class women, both from the rank-and-file as well as those in leadership roles, Green presents a more holistic picture of women's rights in the region. She looks at the effects of urbanization, race, and states rights on the organization and activities on both sides of the suffrage question. The result is a fresh look at the Southern women's suffrage question, which had previously been considered only on a state-by-state basis and through the eyes of movement leaders. Highly recommended.Jenny Presnell, Miami Univ. Libs., Oxford, Ohio
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781566631464
  • Publisher: Dee, Ivan R. Publisher
  • Publication date: 2/28/1998
  • Series: American Ways Series
  • Pages: 223
  • Sales rank: 1,083,040
  • Product dimensions: 5.42 (w) x 8.28 (h) x 0.66 (d)

Meet the Author

Jean Matthews is professor emeritus at the University of Western Ontario, and author of Toward a New Society and Women's Struggle for Equality, a history of the women's movement from 1828 to 1876, also in the American Ways Series. She lives in Oakland, California.

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Table of Contents

Part 1 Preface vii Part 2 THE WOMAN QUESTION 3 Chapter 3 A post-Revolutionary settlement: separate spheres. Ambiguous relations of eductation, reform, and feminism. Some activist defenders of woman's sphere: Emma Willard, Catharine Beecher, Sarah J. Hale. A radical stream of equal rights: Frances Wright, Robert Part 4 CHALLENGING ROLES, ASSERTING RIGHTS 28 Chapter 5 Claiming the right to speak: Maria Stuart, the Grimké sisters. Antislavery and feminism. A schoolgirl debate on women's rights. Raising the counsciousness of middle-class women. Margaret Fuller and self-development. Part 6 LAUNCHING A MOVEMENT: SENECA FALLS AND AFTER 53 Chapter 7 Seneca Falls Convention of 1848. Organizational structures of social movements. Susan B. Anthony. Importance of the "public sphere." The conventions. Men in the movement. The press and the movement. Fears of role reversal. Feminist dress and the bloomer c Part 8 DIAGNOSING THE PROBLEM: WHAT DID WOMEN WANT? 84 Chapter 9 Some characteristics of the movement, its leaders and constituency. Sojourner Truth. Attraction to "New Age" movements. Motivation. Goals of the movement. Self-development and independence. Importance of work. Individualism and rights. The right to vote. Part 10 ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS 116 Chapter 11 The women's rights movement, the Civil War, and postwar reconstruction. Disputes over priorities. Women and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. Failed Kansas campaign and founding of the Revolution. Abortive attempts at alliance with labor. New Part 12 SEX AND SUFFRAGE 148 Chapter 13 The divorce question again. Candy Stanton and issues of sexuality, birth control, and abortion. Victoria Woodhull and free love. Constitutionalism and the "New Departure." Facing new opponents. The arguments from science. New rivals for the loyalty of Ame Part 14 CENTENNIAL: THE WOMEN'S MOVEMENT IN 1876 180 Chapter 15 American feminists contemplate how to celebrate 1776. The Women's Declaration of Rights. Part 16 A Note on Sources 187 Part 17 Appendix: Declaration of Sentiments, 1848 199 Part 18 Index 203

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