Timeline of Women’s Rights in the United States

America is a new country. It is only about 400 years old. In that time period, women have gone from being chattels to being the candidate of a major party for the presidency. It had been a long and rocky road and the journey was never easy. The history of women’s rights in the United States is one that all women should be aware of.


New England had a patriarchal society dominated by the strong hand of John Winthrop. His  journal gives evidence that proves that women, at least in the early days were encouraged to discourse on religious topics. It all started to go terribly wrong at least in the Massachusetts Colony after Anne Hutchinson showed that she had a mind of her own when it came to religion. She was not averse to expressing her views. She ended up being banished from the colony and founding her own colony. She had shaken the men to their very bones, especially since not all of her followers were women. This was just one small step for women but the door had been opened, even if it was only a crack.


One of the most important women of the eighteenth century is Abigail Adams. The fact that she became the First Lady of the United States is only a small part of what makes her so historically significant to the woman’s rights movement. She was the daughter of a prominent minister and from good New England stock. She was a voracious reader even as a child. Her education was typical of women of her time which meant it was concerned more with making sure that she could run a house then that she could think for herself. Luckily for her, her father was open and willing to let her educate herself in his library.  Abigail_Adams

Many of her letters survive and she speaks quite clearly about the rights that she thought women should have. She also felt that with the birth a new nation it was time to extend the rights that men enjoyed to women as well. She raised her children, ran her farm, supported her husband and had a head full of radical ideas. She was a modern woman born before her time. She expressed the hope “that our new constitution may be distinguished for learning and Virtue…. If we mean to have Heroes, Statesmen, and philosophers, we should have learned women”.


The nineteenth century dawned with change in the air. Equality laws allowed a woman to sue her husband and by mid-century, some states had passed laws that gave women the right to own property in their own right. Women were beginning to leave their homes and work in the mills. It was mid-century when discrimination began to occur against woman as they tried to enter predominantly male fields. Women were barred from the AMA and were not allowed to attend male colleges. In spite of that, by 1890 five percent of doctors were women.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton was one of the main movers and shakers of the women’s movement in the nineteenth century. Seneca Falls New York was the site of the first women’s right convention in 1848. By the end of the century, several states and territories had granted women the right to vote though the federal law granting suffrage was many years away.


The nineteenth amendment to the Constitution gave women the right to vote. The year was 1920. It would be many years until that vote would translate into women having any political positions in the United States. The first woman to be nominated to be the vice president was Geraldine Ferraro in 1984. In 1917 a woman was elected to represent Montana in the House of Representatives. Hattie Caraway became the first female senator in 1933. There have only been a handful of senators but Margaret Chase Smith served from the State of Maine for 24 years.

amazonWomen have been governors, mayors, members of the cabinet, Supreme Court justices and ambassadors. We can only hope that the twenty-first century will see a woman president.

Mid-century saw women fighting for equality in the workplace, burning their bras in protest and embracing the feminist movement. As the century ended women had received the right to have maternity leave and not lose their job.


In the twenty-first century, women have the right to go to work or be stay-at-home moms. Most significantly they have the right to choose whatever “they” would like to do. Mothers can feel confident telling their daughters that they can be anything that they want to be.

While the struggle for women’s rights in the United States is not over, inequality still exists in the amount of money that women are paid compared to their male counterparts, there has been monumental growth over the last 400 years. Within this generation, it is possible that a woman may be elected president, anything is now possible.

“Abigail Adams” by Benjamin Blythe –  Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/

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