Monday, March 01, 2021

You Go, Girl! The Women's Rights Movement by Eric Braun


In 1968 a women's activist group with banners saying WOMEN'S LIBERATION invaded the Miss America contest in Atlantic City, New Jersey, some tossing high-heeled shoes and makeup into trash bins as they marched into the hall where young women in bikinis were vying for the prize, asking that women be valued for more than physical beauty. The Miss American Contest had been held every year since 1925, and "Bathing Beauty" contests were common all over the country. But things were about to change. Although high heels and makeup have not disappeared, the Women's Lib protests ushered in a period in which women's education, civil rights, and economic advancement have changed the lives of American women and "bathing beauties" no longer parade for the judges in Atlantic City. But as Eric Braun's The Women's Rights Movement (Movements That Matter (Alternator Books ® )) (Lerner Books, 2019) describes, the campaign for women's rights goes way back, back even to colonial days when the Puritan Anne Hutchinson sought the right of women to speak and preach in church.

As a national movement the political and social rights of women became a national movment in 1868 when Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and later Susan B. Anthony proclaimed that women should have the right to vote and financial independence, founding the National Women's Suffrage Association at the Seneca Falls Convention. And when the Fifteenth Amendment gave the vote to freed male slaves but not to women, female citizens all over the country began to demand the right to vote and hold office at all levels of government. Famous leaders for abolition such as Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth joined the movement, and following World War I, when millions of women came forward to take over the work of soldiers overseas, the Suffragettes obtained the support of President Woodrow Wilson, and the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified in 1920.

But as author Braun points out, social change comes slowly, and even after World War II, when again tens of millions of women followed "Rosy the Riveter" into the defense factories, doing the jobs of men then in the military, changes came slowly as women sought equality in wages, educational opportunity, and civil leadership. The author points out the smaller steps along the way, Title VII of the Civil Rights Acts banned discrimination in the workplace, the National Organization for Women (NOW) was formed, and leaders like Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan led the campaign for equal pay for equal work, and although many significant changes have come, the ERA, the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, still remains unratified by the states.

It's a long way from seeking the right to speak in church to equality in practice as well as in writing, but as author Braun says, "the fight continues." Young girls may find it hard to believe that their great grandmothers had no control even over the own inheritances and earnings and their own children, and that their grandmothers could not get a bank loan or even a credit card in their own names. Education is the key, and during March, Women's Month, books and films about the movement to make all citizens equal participants int national life play a significant part. Braun's book, directed toward readers in upper elementary and middle school levels, has a highly readable text, with short, but pithy paragraphs, plenty of photos, fact boxes, and an appendix with a timeline, glossary, a bibliography with books and on-line sources, and index, useful for preparing research reports duing Women's Month. Women's rights are human rights.



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