On this day, the Seneca Falls Convention, which launched the woman suffrage movement in the United States, was held in 1848 at Seneca Falls, New York.
The road to enfranchisement of women has been long. By the early twentieth century, women had won the right to vote in New Zealand, Australia, Finland, and Norway. WWI sped up the process. Full suffrage for women was introduced in India only by 1949.
The road to woman suffrage began with a book called A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) by Mary Wollstonecraft, an enlightened philosopher of the eighteenth century.
Her ideals were shaped in the home- she was born into wealth but her father squandered it and this eroded his character. Her brother’s needs and education were always taken care of and this troubled Mary as she had a keen mind, designed for intellectual pursuit. This is perhaps why the idea of fraternity that was the battle cry of the French Revolution appealed so much to her.
She believed that equality bred virtue and education was the foundation of self-reliance. She was heavily influenced by Lockean ideals and Unitarianism. She transformed from a dissatisfied governess to a writer who clashed pens with Edmund Burke, a thinker who disapproved of the French Revolution. Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Men in response to Burke and A Vindication of the Rights of Women followed.
This treatise deals primarily with the need for women’s education not just in domesticity but in rational thought. Since a woman like a man would face hardships, she could not live her life as the weaker sex, dependent on conduct manuals. Nowhere in the treatise did she mention suffrage although her ideas became the bedrock of feminist movements later on.