Women in History

Where did the feminist movement start?

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August 14, 2013 6:32AM

First, it should be noted that the word "feminism" did not begin to mean "a movement about equality for women" until the 1890s. What came to be called feminism did not start in just one place. There were individual women (and some forward-looking men) in a number of countries who tried to improve the way women were treated. One good example was New Zealand: it was one of the first countries in the world to give women the right to vote (in 1893), and one of the few countries to begin giving married women property rights under the law, as early as the 1860s (most countries regarded the married woman herself as property-- she belonged to her husband, who could treat her as he wished).

Another country where there were advocates for equality for women was the United States. The beginnings of a movement for equal rights for women began in 1848 with a convention at Seneca Falls NY, which was attended by about 100 women (and a few men). The attendees also wanted married women to have rights (if a married woman had any money, for example, under the law, it belonged to her husband and she had no say in how it was spent); some of the women at the convention, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, went on to change a number of state laws-- in New York, the Married Women's Property Act was passed in 1848. Also important were a small but influential group of women lawyers who began practicing in the late 1800s. But getting the federal government to move forward on equal rights for women took a lot longer however-- women in the USA did not achieve full voting rights until 1920, and other inequalities took even more time to remedy.