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Women’s Rights in the 19th Century


My newest historical romance, Cassidy’s War, takes place five years after the American Civil War in 1870. My character is fighting for the right to attend formal medical school in order to establish a licensed medical practice, but women all over the United States faced a long, hard road for the rights that every man enjoyed.

The nineteenth century was a tumultuous time for the establishment of women’s rights, as women fought for their freedom at the same time many men sought to hold them back.

In 1870, the 15th Amendment gave voting rights to all men, including blacks, but women were excluded.

In 1845, a female reporter, Margaret Fuller, wrote ‘Women in the Nineteenth Century’. She insisted that “individuals had unlimited capacities and that when people’s roles were defined according to their sex, human development was severely limited”.

During the 19th century, women in the United States both organized and participated in many types of reform movements. They sought to improve education, initiate prison reform and ban alcoholic drinks; and in the pre-Civil War period, rallied to free the slaves.

In this time period, a woman speaking before a mixed audience, was frowned upon. But abolitionist sisters, Sarah and Angelina Grimke from South Carolina, spoke out against slavery in public meetings. A few of the male abolitionists, notably, William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips and Frederick Douglass were supportive of women speaking and participating in antislavery activities.

Women compared their position with that of slaves. Women and slaves were supposed to remain “passive, cooperative and obedient to their master-husbands”. Many feminists were also abolitionists, including Stanton, Lucy Stone, Lucretia Mott, Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth.

Dorothea Dix led a movement for prison reform in the mid 1800s. She also worked to provide mental-hospital care for the needy.

In July 1848 the first women’s rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, N. Y. Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote that “all men and women are created equal” and that “the history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman”.

Women abolitionists were disappointed after the Union victory in the Civil War. They’d hoped the fight for freedom for blacks would also help advance women’s rights. However, the 14th and 15th Amendments granted citizenship and suffrage to black men, but women, whatever their color, were excluded.

Women finally did win the right to vote, but it was long hard struggle. Although women in the western states of Wyoming Territory, Utah Territory, Colorado and Idaho all won the vote by 1896, but eastern states resisted granting that right. Also an amendment to the Federal Constitution granting woman suffrage, failed to pass by the end of the 19th century.

For more info on women’s rights, visit there sites:

For more on my novel, Cassidy’s War, and to read the opening chapters, visit my website



  1. mary hay says:

    Things are much better for women now…but sometimes I think I’d have liked to live back then.

  2. Hi, Mary! While I love my modern conveniences and appliances, it would be fun to live more simply. But then I think of housework and have to say, no way! lol

    I’m also glad women have the rights we enjoy today. Not all women, even in this century, are so blessed.

  3. We take so much for granted now. Although I love reading and writing about books set in earlier times, I’m glad for my modern conveniences and medicines. You write wonderful posts, Susan, just as you write wonderful books.

  4. We sure do, Caroline! And new conveninces keep popping up every day. How could any of us fare without them?

    And thanks! So glad you enjoy my books.

  5. Denise Eagan says:

    Lucy Stone was the first woman ever to get married and keep her maiden name. Pretty cool, ‘cuz she married Henry Blackwell, brother to the first female doc. I think. Okay, I could’ve made it up, but I’m pretty sure!

  6. Hi, Denise! That sounds like a cool story, anyway. I always thought of women keeping their maiden names after marriage as a 1960s thing.

  7. Denise Eagan says:

    I did too before I did some research on Lucy Stone. They also wrote out a marriage “protest” and had it read at thier wedding.

    They were a lot of fun 🙂

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