Freedom: A History of US

Webisode 4. Segment 6
Liberty For All?

Rebecca Harding, who wrote that article about mill workers, was valedictorian of her class. She wanted to go to college, like her brother, but she was a girl, so it didn't happen. "Women's brains are smaller than men's," said nineteenth century experts. Who were those experts? Why, men, of course! Judith Sargent Murray saw clearly, even in 1790, how men maintained their dominance over women. She wrote: "From what does this superiority of men proceed? The one is taught to aspire, the other is early confined and limited."

In 1837, Mary LyonSee It Now - Mary Lyon founded Mount Holyoke College for women in Massachusetts. It was a fine school, but a small one, and it didn't receive accreditation until after the Civil War. For most women who wanted to become doctors or lawyers or just educated citizens, there was no place to go and learn. Elizabeth Blackwell applied to twenty-nine medical schools. Then the administration at Geneva College in upstate New York asked its male students if it should admit a woman. The students thought the question a joke and said yes. They were surprised when Blackwell appeared and made it through medical school. She was the first American woman to do so.

School wasn't the only problem for women. If a woman got a job, her pay would be about half that of a man doing the same work. Her salary, and all her possessions, belonged to her husband. And women couldn't vote, so they couldn't change the laws.

Sarah and Angelina GrimkeSee It Now - Angelina Grimke were Southern women who hated slavery and could no longer live in their slave-owning families. They came North and told about black children being sold away from their parents; they spoke of whippings and other horrors. Their audiences were astonished, for they had not known of these things. Angelina went before the Massachusetts legislature and presented tens of thousands of antislavery petitions that had been collected by women. She became the first American woman to address a legislative body Check The Source - Angelina Grimke: "Why should not all this be done immediately?". "What kind of woman would speak in front of men?" people asked. "A monster woman!" was the answer. Massachusetts ministers were angry. A letter was read in every Congregational church in the state. It said: "[Woman] depends on the weakness which God has given her for her protection. But when she assumes the place and tone of a man as a public performer, our care and protection of her seem unnecessary. If the vine thinks to assume the independence of the elm, [the vine] will fall in shame and dishonor into the dust."

Some women didn't want to be vines. They thought they could stand without support. They believed they could think and act for themselves as the equal of any man Check The Source - Sarah Grimke: "The Equality of the Sexes". Elizabeth Cady Stanton See It Now - Elizabeth Cady Stanton was one of those women. When she read the nation's great Declaration of Independence, it bothered her. "All men are created equal," it said. But what about all women? Elizabeth's father, Daniel Cady, was a judge; she spent hours in his office listening and learning law. "If only you had been born a boy," he told her, "you could have been a lawyer." Elizabeth didn't want to be a boy. But she wanted to use her mind—and she did. At school she became a top student. Soon she would be using her intelligence to help women everywhere.

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