Skip to Main Content

Suffs vs Antis: The Long History of the Nineteenth Amendment (June 2020): Forerunners

by Duncan R. Jamieson


In his biography of Abigail Adams (1744–1818), Woody Holton examines her personal and political lives. She had a significant impact on the formation of the US, even if the founders did not seem to “remember the ladies,” at the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Across the Atlantic, her contemporary Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797) authored the early feminist manifesto A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, arguing that women were entitled to the same religious and civil liberties afforded to men. Jane Moore’s edited collection Mary Wollstonecraft explores Wollstonecraft’s treatise through essays from contemporaries (e.g., George Eliot), radicals (e.g., Emma Goldman), and scholars (e.g., Barbara Taylor), who reflect on the Vindication and treat its author as a pioneering feminist. Both Abigail and Mary died before the beginnings of a movement for suffrage and equal rights really took shape, but their lives and their beliefs laid the philosophical groundwork.

It is notable that the American suffrage movement grew out of the antislavery crusade, which involved a significant number of courageous women who would come to join the movement for women’s right to vote. Among them, Sarah Grimke (1792–1873) is described by Gerda Lerner in The Feminist Thought of Sarah Grimkė as one of the nineteenth century’s leading feminist thinkers. Sarah joined the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1836, where she developed a coherent feminist argument, later leading to her status as the mother of the woman’s suffrage movement. Lerner’s book is based on Grimke’s writings, especially her “Letters on the Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Women,” published in 1833.

Works Cited