Amy Rochier- CDL: France, England, and Women’s Rights in the 1790’s
Before the 1790’s there was little discussion about the rights of women in America. Ideas began coming to light in France about the concept of “the female citizen” between 1789 and 1793. The wave of French feminism was effective in creating some significant social changes which allowed women to gain some of the rights to which they had previously been denied. One example was the change to inheritance laws, which made it so that daughters were as equally entitled to a patriarch’s divided estate as sons were. Women in France spoke about equality between men and women, like Olympe de Gouges, who stated that, “all women are born free and remain equal to men in rights.” These groundbreaking feminist ideas made their way to England. Mary Wollstonecraft was an English woman who supported women’s rights and continued the growing trend in her own country, by publishing a book, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, which sparked quite the reaction in America. The book provoked many responses and debates, and inspired other women to begin thinking about the potential for their own social equality. Male responses in America were mixed, as some men supported the movement towards female equality while others had a difficult time taking it seriously and accepting it. For a period in America, the discussion of women’s rights was quieted down by the controversy surrounding the radicalism of French feminism and the “unconventional” personal life of Mary Wollstonecraft. The discussion resurfaced, however, in the 1830s and 1840s, but the movement during the 1790s had resulted in a sort of victory, as it allowed for progress towards the concept of women’s formal education.
What were the main causes for the “long incubation period” of the discussion of women’s rights in the US?
Why was the idea of having rights to a formal education so important to women who supported feminist ideas? How could having a formal education give women a better sense of equality?