Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Women's rights in the 1800s' America

Black women suffered the most in this period. Half of our nation believed in slavery. Its cruelty led frightened mothers to committ acts of bestiality. Fratricide and infanticide rose high among Negro mothers. Some killed their children to save them from lives of bondage. One such act occurred in Missouri (1830s). Slave catchers cornered the woman on her northern flight to freedom. She stabbed her two sons before her pursuers

shot her dead. Women joined slave rebellions at the risk of hanging. Like black men, black women preferred to die fighting than to live in slavery.

In 1855, in Missouri vs. Celia, a slave was declared as property and couldn't defend herself from rape by her master. Biracial children born out of rape were either sold to Indians or killed to conceal the affairs. By the Constitution, African slaves "were 3/5 property" like cattle. They were constantly beaten, tortured, raped or murdered. Very few masters treated their African women kindly. The ones they treated special became mistresses. This gave black women another derogative, job title. They were also chosen as "whores".

White women climbed a little more on society's ladder. In 1839, Mississippi granted women the right to hold property. Women had to have their husbands' permission first.

In 1848, 300 women and men signed a "Declaration of Sentiments". This was a plea to end gender discrimination in all "spheres of society". Before, women's roles in American society were only inside the family home. It took the bravery of black women to give white women their voice.

Abolitionists, Harriett Tubman and Sojourner Truth, put their gender into the forefront. Tubman earned a reputation as freedom fighter in the Norther press. She received scorn from Southern newspapers. Tubman led hundreds of slaves to freedom. In the Civil War, she distinguished herself as a nurse and a spy for the Union army. Truth composed the piece "Ain't I a Woman". She wrote about the ills of slavery, the cruelty done to her African race and the disrespect done to her gender. It was a composition that attacked the hypocrisy of America's so-called freedom.

In 1869, the Wyoming territory passed the first women's suffrage law. In the following year, a sexually integrated, grand jury heard cases in the territory's capital of Cheyenne. Territories and Northern states offered more for women than Southern states.

In 1879, a special Congressional legislation allowed a woman to try a case before the Supreme Court. Her name was Belva Lockwood. Over a decade later, Wyoming showed it was more socially advanced than the South. The state granted women their right to vote in all elections. The rest of the country granted that right in 1920.

America in the 1800s was about war, slavery, Tammany Hall corruption and Indian extermination. White women took their concessions and slowly moved forward. Black women suffered through years of slavery, racism and discrimination. Their fight for freedom has yet to end.