Struggle Continues for Equality

Looking Back with Mathews, originally printed July 4, 1980

“RESOLVED, that woman is man’s equal-was intended to be by the Creator, and the highest good of the race demands that she should be recognized as such.” That, and the statement, “that all men and women are created equal,” came out of a women’s rights meeting held in Seneca Falls New York in the year 1848. Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton had looked forward to this meeting for a long time, and it was through their efforts that a “Declaration of Sentiments” was drafted and approved. Seventy-two years earlier their forefathers had met in Philadelphia and made the declaration that would lead to America’s break from the domination of England. Neither that declaration, nor the Constitution that followed included enough about women’s rights, so far all of the years that have followed American women have had to fight to be recognized as being equal to men. Actually even though their bodies may average a bit smaller, their brains weigh about the same, and studies have revealed that they are slightly more intelligent than men.

The first women were brought to the Virginia Colony in that historic red-letter year, 1619, so that the lonely men might have female companionship, and I am sure it was also so they could have cleaning women, cooks, housekeepers and extra servants. These, and childbearing pretty well describes the 1619 package. The fact that there was not someone there at the dock waiting to be paid when they disembarked, put these creatures a notch above indentured servants and slaves. I don’t know just how they went about distributing these women, but it didn’t take men long to get the idea that women were their property. The idea has been carefully passed on down to succeeding generations until in this modern day the old mountaineer means just what he says when he refers to his wife as “my woman.”

American women have been forced to overcome giant obstacles in their quest for equality. Twelve hour work days in sweatshops at five cents an hour wasn’t much, but it gave them enough freedom to make them want more. The factories had little ventilation, and air conditioning was unheard of, and higher pay for men who were doing the same work were the rule, and not the exception. In 1932 women factory workers were working 55 hours a week, and at the end of the week were handed an envelope containing $1.10, and that was even after they had gained the right to vote. How did they ever get the strength to stand up in the faces of all those big brave American males and demand that right. Maybe it was because of some of the super strong women who rose up from the weaker sex.

In the 1830s Harriet Hunt applied for admission to the Harvard Medical School, and was refused because she was not a man. In the 1850s Antoinette Brown was graduated from Oberlin College with a degree in theology, but because she was not a man her name was deleted from the published class list. In the middle 1800s a woman could not keep her earned wages as her own. The era had a number of strong reformers. Among them was Amelia Bloomer, a fashion reformer, who introduced the garment which bore her name. It was designed to aid working women in keeping their limbs well-covered. Sarah Josepha Hale crusaded for women’s education for more than 50 years.

It looks like American men have done a pretty good job of keeping women “in their place.” Restricting wages, limiting educational opportunities, and disallowing the vote for so many years, have presented quite an obstacle, but even with all that to overcome women haven’t given up hope of someday being recognized as equal to men. It’s beginning to look like the big strong American male is about to give up one of his last manifestations of power, but not without a fight. They put his Indians on reservations, freed his slaves, replaced his mules with machines, and finagled around and got women the right to vote. Now some radical group is trying to get an amendment to the Constitution guaranteeing equal rights to the “weaker sex.” What’s the world coming to.

Every time something comes up that seems to be threatening the position of the male everybody on that side starts yelling communism, so it is not surprising that there are those who preach that the Equal Rights Amendment is communist-inspired. Others equate ERA with homosexuality and integrated restrooms. Politicians have batted it around for years. In one breath MR. Reagan announces that his list of possible vice-presidential candidates has the name of a woman, and in the next breath he tells the world that he is opposed to passage of the ERA.

You’ve come along way girls, but you ain’t there yet. It’s like a friend reminded me just recently, “When I see a legal paper with my husband listed by name and me stuck on the end in Latin, it makes me furious. Next time I think I’ll just sign my name ‘et ux.’”

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