Political and Social Movements

Suffragist Movement

How old is feminism?

Feminists—people who believe that women should have economic, political, and social equality with men—have existed throughout history; such women are often described in literature and by history as being “women before their time.” But as a movement, feminism, which is synonymous with the women’s rights movement, did not get under way until the mid-1800s, when women in the United States and Great Britain began organizing and campaigning to win the vote. Early feminists (and feminists today) were likely influenced by the revolutionary work titled A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, published in 1792 by British author and educator Mary Woll-stonecraft (1759–1797; her daughter was writer Mary Shelley of Frankenstein fame). Wollstonecraft attacked the convention of the day, charging that it kept middle-class and upper-class women in a state of ignorance, training them to be useless. A staunch promoter of education (she was self-educated), Wollstonecraft is credited with being the first major philosophical feminist.


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