Think of this. From the origins of civilization roughly 5000 years ago to around 1900 AD, the condition of women did not fundamentally change. They weren’t “second class citizens.” Rather, they weren’t citizens at all. They were under the nearly complete control of, first, their fathers and, after marriage, their husbands. By and large they could not participate–at least alone–in civic life. That all changed suddenly in the nineteenth century, especially in the United States. The reason it did is complex, but it most directly had to do with a group of women’s rights advocates who met at Seneca Falls, NY, in 1848 and there created the modern women’s movement. Sally McMillen has told their story in her readable new book Seneca Falls and the Origins of the Women’s Rights Movement (Oxford University Press, 2008). And quite a story it is. To say that these women met resistance would be an understatement. They were, as we’ve seen, promoting an idea–gender equality–that had never really been broached, let alone realized, in the history of humankind. But that idea, as they say, had legs in our time. The movement they started succeeded in a fashion they could hardly have imagined. We live in the world they created. Thanks to Sally for bringing them and their tale to our attention.
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