Civic Literacy Curriculum
This curriculum guide is intended to cover questions 99 and 102.
Q99: Name one leader of the women’s rights movement in the 1800s.
A. Susan B. Anthony
B. Elizabeth Cady Stanton
C. Sojourner Truth
D. All of the above
Q102: When did all female citizens get the right to vote?
A. With the 15th Amendment, in 1870
B. With the 18th Amendment, in 1919
C. With the 19th Amendment, in 1920
D. With the 20th Amendment in 1933
During the 18th and 19th century, women, especially married women, did not have the same legal rights as men. For example, the old common-law legal doctrine of coverture (a woman considered under her husband’s protection and authority) folded women into the legal identity of their husbands, ostensibly under their protection. This meant that in many states, once a woman married, any property or money she had automatically, and legally, passed to the control of her husband, nor could she sue or sign contracts. Whether married or not, women were generally prohibited from practicing many professions and voting.
Many of these restrictions faded between the mid and late 19th century, as reformers convinced states to reform their laws. But not all restrictions, nor in all the states.
Arguably the most best-known activist on behalf of women was Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906). Anthony is best remembered for her efforts to secure women’s suffrage, but her fights for civil rights and women’s right to equality also included her efforts to secure racially integrated schools and women’s access to higher education, as well as abolitionism early in life. She was also a close ally of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who had helped draft the Seneca Falls Declaration arguing for the extension of the promises of the Declaration of Independence to women.
Other leaders in the women’s rights movement in the 19th century and early 20th century were Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Lucretia Mott, and Lucy Stone.
Their dream of women’s suffrage throughout the United States was more slowly achieved than the property reforms had been. States, especially western states, began extending the full franchise to women in the latter half of the 19th century, with the Midwest following suit for presidential elections. But most of the eastern half of the country, whether the South or the Northeast, confined women’s suffrage to school board elections, if they granted it at all. Thus, pressure continued to mount for a national amendment, which was achieved with ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920.
The Seneca Falls Declaration (sometimes called the Declaration of Sentiments) was the product of the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, perhaps the most important gathering on behalf of women’s rights ever held in America. The Convention, primarily organized by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, discussed women’s suffrage as well as the repeal of various legal inequalities between men and women. On the second day of the convention, delegates adopted a declaration primarily drafted by Stanton, with sixty-eight women signing the Declaration, as did thirty-two men (including the former slave turned abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass. (Anthony herself was not present, though her close ally Stanton was.)
Stanton modeled the draft after the Declaration of Independence, repeating its beliefs in the natural rights endowed in humans by their Creator and insisting they be applied to women. Like the Declaration of Independence, which then went on to summarize the oppressions imposed on colonial Americans by the British government, the Seneca Falls Declaration chronicled oppressions imposed on women, including the deprivation of suffrage, exclusion from full economic participation and education, sexual double standards, biased divorced laws, and minimal property and other legal protection via the doctrine of coverture, in which women’s legal status was tied to and thus determined by her husband after marriage.
This exercise will have students read and annotate the Declaration of Sentiments.
- Provide each group with a copy of the Declaration of Sentiments
- Provide each group with a copy of the Declaration of Independence (optional).
- Provide each student with the 3-2-1 worksheet.
- This activity works well as an individual assignment. However, depending on the age and/or skills level of the students, you may want to have them work in pairs.
- If that is the case, divide the class into pairs based on the students’ individual levels. Group A is the group that needs some extra support. Group B is the core group that has the core knowledge to complete the activity. Group C is the enrichment group who have mastered the material and are prepared to extend their knowledge. Pair those who need support (Group A) with those who have core knowledge and/or have mastered the material (Groups B and C).
- Explain to the students that today they are going to read the Declaration of Sentiments, the major writing by the first major women’s rights convention in America.
- After they complete the reading, they will fill out a 3-2-1 Worksheet where they write down three facts that they learned, two questions that they have, and one opinion.
- Circulate throughout the room to help students as needed.
- If you wish, once the students complete the worksheet, use it as a springboard into a class discussion. What goals did the signers of the Declaration of Sentiments hope to achieve? What arguments did they use to defend them? How does the Declaration of Sentiments relate to the Declaration of Independence?
Over the course of the 19th century, women’s right reformers, many of whom had also been abolitionists, achieved important successes in gaining rights for women, such as their efforts to have states eliminate old common law rules regarding property. Securing a right to vote took longer, as many states, even those that agreed to the other reforms, resisted extending suffrage to women. The number of states with women’s suffrage grew slowly over the late 19th and early 20th centuries, until the 19th Amendment was ratified.
There were many voices calling for women’s rights, and especially women’s suffrage, in the late 19th century. Can you name one? When was their goal of women’s suffrage finally achieved?
The ratification of the 19th Amendment, constitutionally guaranteeing the right to vote to female citizens, was not only an acknowledgment of women’s equality, but also a significant modification of how American politics would function. How do you think that women’s suffrage may have impacted American politics? How might women’s involvement in politics have influenced or continue to influence what laws get passed, who gets elected, and how elected officials think, speak, and act? Use past and current events in your answer.