Content approved by Jerry Parker
When speaking about feminism and its history in the United States, it’s common to break it up into different waves or phases. Each wave of feminism involved significant movements and ideas as society evolved. Legal battles were an important part of the first wave because women were working to gain voting rights. Legal issues also surfaced in other waves as gender inequalities and harassment have continued to face women in the workforce.
The Women’s Suffrage Movement: The Seneca Falls Convention
The Seneca Falls Convention occurred in July 1848, in Seneca Falls, New York. Historians consider the Seneca Falls Convention to be the official launching point of the women’s suffrage movement. This convention was held to begin the fight for women’s civil, social, and religious rights. Elizabeth Cady Stanton was an organizer of the convention, and she opened up the meeting with a speech that summed up the goals and purpose of the convention. Other convention organizers included Lucretia Mott, Mary M’Clintock, Martha Coffin Wright, and Jane Hunt. Susan B. Anthony was not in attendance at the convention, and Anthony and Stanton did not meet each other until 1851. Once the two women met, however, they spent the next five decades fighting together for women’s rights. The attendees at the Seneca Falls Convention produced the Declaration of Sentiments, which was a manifesto that outlined the grievances and demands for women’s rights. It took 72 years from the time the Seneca Falls Convention was held in 1848 until the 19th Amendment was finally ratified in 1920, giving women the right to vote.
- Call for Suffrage at Seneca Falls
- The Seneca Falls Convention
- The Seneca Falls Convention: Setting the National Stage for Women’s Suffrage
- 1848 Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls and Rochester
- The Seneca Falls Convention
- The 1848 Seneca Falls Convention
- Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, NY
Post-War Feminism (World War II)
During World War II, women were faced with new responsibilities because many men were away fighting. This situation enabled women to finally prove that they were able to perform work that had been stereotypically considered men’s work. Women worked in manufacturing jobs to meet the demand for military equipment and domestic goods. After the war was over, women who had been working in the men’s absence were replaced by the men who returned from war.
Rigid gender roles and expectations during the remaining years of the 1940s and the 1950s placed women in the home to cook, clean, and care for children. Men worked outside of the home during the day and were expected to manage more masculine work at home, such as lawn care. However, some women refused to be relegated to the home, and instead, they found other types of work, usually for less pay than men would be given. This was actually a time of identity crisis for many American housewives, who wanted to take on new roles in American society. The ability to pursue roles that had been strictly forbidden opened up a period of self-actualization and individuality for many women.
- Women and Work After World War II
- How World War II Empowered Women
- From Empowerment to Domesticity: The Case of Rosie the Riveter and the World War II Campaign
- Gender on the Home Front
- Achieving Gender Equality, Women’s Empowerment and Strengthening Development Cooperation
- The 1950s and 1960s and the American Woman: The Transition From the Housewife to the Feminist
Second- and Third-Wave Feminism: 1960s-2000s
The second wave of feminism is generally considered to be between 1960 and 1990, and the third wave of feminism began around 1990. During the 1990s, there was a movement afoot to empower women and enable them to control their voices and methods of expression. Feminism during the 1960s was, in part, fueled by economic changes that brought about a surplus of jobs. It was necessary for women to join the workforce to fill the many new job openings.
The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s was a huge influence on women, inspiring them to fight for a larger role in society. President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law in 1963. This was one of the first federal laws to address wage discrimination on the basis of gender. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was an important milestone as well because it prohibited gender discrimination in employment. The National Organization for Women formed in 1966, working as a group to assert equal rights for women.
- Second-Wave Feminism
- The 1960s-70s American Feminist Movement: Breaking Down Barriers for Women
- Attitudes Toward Feminism Have Evolved Since the 1960s
- Feminism and Intersectionality
- Betty Friedan: The Three Waves of Feminism
- Equal Pay Act of 1963
Fourth-Wave Feminism: Present Day
The fourth wave of feminism is still occurring today, having begun roughly around 2008. This was the time when feminist blogs began gaining traction on the Internet and social media also took a firm hold. People involved in the fourth wave of feminism see this movement in various ways, but one predominant aspect has been holding powerful men accountable for their actions. The whistleblower movement is seeking to dismantle systems of power that have enabled some predatory men to target women without repercussions. As the #MeToo movement gained momentum, women came forward to share details about harassment and assault they had experienced. Diversity is another hallmark of the fourth wave of feminism: Intersectional feminism acknowledges that every group of women faces unique challenges and aims to work toward improving all women’s lives.