History, History Column

Women’s Equality Day 2023

By Sarah Becker ©2023

August 26 is Women’s Equality Day. To what extent is today’s woman equal to today’s man? The woman’s Equal Rights Amendment—first introduced by Quaker Alice Paul 100 years ago—remains unresolved; passed by the 117th U.S. House of Representatives in 2021, then tabled in the Senate.

Paul’s proposed Equal Rights Amendment: “Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction.”

“Two great early 19th century social movements sought to end slavery and secure equal rights for women,” The National Park Service explained. “The anti-slavery movement grew from peaceful origins after the American Revolution to a Civil War, a War Between the States that effectively ended slavery while severely damaging the women’s rights movement.”

In the colonial era when only single, unmarried women—Feme Soles—owned land, lawyer Margaret Brent [1601-1671] acquired land patents first in St. Mary’s City, Maryland, and, later, in Virginia [1651-1671].

“The acquiring of patents of land, (usually but not always, resulting from the importing of new settlers) was a fine way to expand one’s estate,” William Francis Smith wrote in 1996. “It was this that caused her to receive a patent in 1654 for 700 acres (north of Hunting Creek to a line approximating Alexandria’s Queen Street).”

“Brent was truly ahead of her time,” Smith continued. She was it seems, the first woman to request a vote in the Maryland Assembly: two votes in fact, one for herself as a Maryland landowner and the other as Lord Baltimore’s legal representative. Not until 1920 did America’s women add the vote “to their arsenal of political tools.”

According to Harper’s Magazine lawyer Brent was “the prototype of what the nineteenth century calls the new woman.”

British author Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman was first published in 1792. One hundred years before Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a woman’s right activist addressed the U.S. Congress Committee on the Judiciary. Wollstonecraft argued for “the empowerment of women—in education, politics, society, and marriage.”

“By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law,” Sir William Blackstone’s 1765 Commentaries of the Laws of England confirmed. “That is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband: under whose wing, protection and cover, she performs everything.” Unlike Feme Soles, married women—Feme Coverts—were property.

“In discussing the rights of woman, we are to consider, first, what belongs to her as an individual,” Stanton said in 1892. “If we consider her as a citizen, as a member of a great nation, she must have the same rights as all other members.”

Equal, as defined by the American Heritage dictionary: “having the same capability, quantity, effect, measure, or value as another.”

“From the inauguration of the movement for woman’s emancipation…canon and civil law; church and state; priests and legislators; all political parties and religious denominations have alike taught that woman was made after man, of man, and for man, an inferior being, subject to man,” Stanton author of The Woman’s Bible [1895] wrote.

“There is something wrong with a government that makes women the legal property of their husbands,” Vanderbilt protégé, first female Wall Street stockbroker, and divorcee Victoria Woodhull [1838-1927] agreed. “The whole system needs changing, but men will never make changes. They have too much to lose.” Woodhull, an early member of the woman’s Equal Rights Party, equated the “marriage theory” of the period “to slavery, not freedom.”

Free, as defined by the American Heritage dictionary: “1. Not bound or constrained: at liberty. 2. Not under obligation or necessity. 3a. Having political independence. 3b. Governed by consent and possessing civil liberties.”

In 1848 Elizabeth Cady Stanton, together with Quaker Lucretia Mott assembled 300 men and women in Seneca Falls, New York, to discuss the woman’s Declaration of Rights and Sentiments. Among the Sentiments listed:

[1] “He has usurped the prerogative of Jehovah himself, claiming it as his right to assign for her a sphere of action, when that belongs to her conscience and her God.”

[2] “He allows her in Church as well as State, but a subordinate position, claiming Apostolic authority for her exclusion from the ministry, and with some exceptions, from any public participation in the affairs of the Church.”

Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to address the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education [1871], was also the first woman to run for U.S. President [1872]. “Woodhull’s candidacy was designed to highlight the argument made by suffragists that women already had the right to cast a ballot thanks to the recent passage of the 14th [1866] and 15th [1869] Amendments,” The Harvard Gazette made clear.

The two Amendments, Amendment 15 especially, suffragists incorrectly supposed “affirmed that everyone born in the country was a citizen and that no citizen should be denied the right to vote.” Said Woodhull in 1872, “denying and abridging the Right of Citizens to Vote on account of sex [for reason of] the continuance of the enforcement of…local election laws is a grievance.”

Amendment 15: Section 1. “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” [Italics added]

The American Equal Rights Association [1866-1869], an organization founded by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony—the daughter of a Quaker—and Frederick Douglass, worked to “secure Equal Rights to all American citizens, especially the right of suffrage, irrespective of race, color, or sex.” The AERA won the black man’s bondage battle, his right to vote, only to lose the war for woman’s equality. [Italics added]

On November 5, 1872, Susan B. Anthony, after having been permitted to register, “cast her vote in Rochester, New York, for Grant,” The Harvard Gazette continued. “She was arrested [two months later in Albany, New York]; tried [in June 1873], found guilty and issued a [$100] fine that she refused to pay.”

In perhaps the most famous woman’s speech of the time, Anthony aggressively defended a citizen’s right to vote. “Anthony wrote in her 1873 diary that her trial for voting was ‘The greatest outrage History ever witnessed,’” SBA Museum Director Deborah L. Hughes avowed “She proclaimed, ‘I shall never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty.’”

Amendment 19, as certified by U.S. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby on August 26, 1920: upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1922 [Leser v. Garnett, 258 U.S. 130]: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

Moving forward Alice Paul revised the text of her 1923 Equal Rights Amendment. The 1943 version, as approved by Congress in 1972: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

Quaker and Republican President Richard Nixon [1969-1974] supported passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. From the time he entered Congress in 1947. His 1969 Task Force on Women’s Rights and Responsibilities report, A Matter of Simple Justice confirms it.

“What this Task Force recommends is a national commitment to basic changes that will bring women into the mainstream of American life,” Task Force Chairman Virginia R. Allen wrote. “Without such leadership there is danger of accelerating militancy or the kind of deadening apathy that stills progress and inhibits creativity.” [Italics added]

Yes, women were beneficiaries of the 1961 Equal Pay Act, and “an 11th hour addition to Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.” That said the winning U.S. women’s national soccer team did not resolve its equal pay dilemma until September 2022. The Civil Rights Act for the most part addresses problems associated with race, color, religion and national origins.

Race is a subset of Gender, as is ethnicity. Those who argue otherwise do so in an effort to divide: emotionally, statistically, and or politically. For example:

The U.S. maternal mortality rate, the highest in the developed world, more than doubled between 1999 and 2019. In fact the number of female deaths per 100,000 live births rose from 12.7 to 32.2 overall. Hispanic women from 9.6 to 19.1; Asians, Native Hawaiians, and other from 9.6 to 20.9; white women from 9.4 to 26.3; American Indian and Alaskan natives from 14 to 49.2, and black women from 26.7 to 55.4. The latter is described now as a hemispheric problem.

A 2020 poll found that the women’s Equal Rights Amendment continues to have significant majority support. To what extent does the 1972 ERA, the U.S. House of Representatives 2021 passage of H.J. Res. 17 have your support? It does not have the whole of the religious community’s support.

In June, 2023, the Southern Baptist Convention resolved “to further expand restrictions on women in church leadership.” Two Baptist churches with female pastors were expelled.  Restrictions on women in church leadership were increased. Moreover the Catholic Medical Association opposes the over-the-counter sale of Opill, a 50 year-old prescription birth control pill.

“I will never consent to have our sex considered in an inferior point of light,” Abigail Adams, daughter of North Parish Congregational Church minister William Smith wrote her sister in 1799. “Let each planet shine in their own orbit, God and nature designed it so—if man is Lord, woman is Lordess—that is what I contend for—and if a woman does not hold the Reigns of Government, I see no reason for her not judging how they are conducted.”

Sarah Becker started writing for The Economist while a graduate student in England. Similar publications followed. She joined the Crier in 1996 while serving on the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association Board. Her interest in antiquities began as a World Bank hire, with Indonesia’s need to generate hard currency. Balinese history, i.e. tourism provided the means. The New York Times describes Becker’s book, Off Your Duffs & Up the Assets, as “a blueprint for thousands of nonprofit managers.” A former museum director, SLAM’s saving grace Sarah received Alexandria’s Salute to Women Award in 2007. Email: abitofhistory53@gmail.com

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