The material this week covered a wide variety of content that proved to be instrumental in shaping the history of women in America. Naturally due to the fact that this is a class based on the historical impact of women in America, this only makes sense. However, I personally feel that issues such as Abortion and Suffrage are at the very heart of the struggles that women faced – and in some cases still face today. Delving into the connections between women’s petitions to end slavery and the subsequent movement to gain the right to vote help to paint a larger picture of how our society has evolved, and how women helped shape that evolution.
Women have been a historically oppressed group insofar as America is concerned, so to me it’s not much of a stretch to see women coming out in favor of ending slavery for a number of reasons. With the inception of the Comstock act and the various other measures against abortion, women were not only tied directly to their husbands in regards to social status and prosperity, but their own bodies were not 100 percent in their own control.While women weren’t punished for having abortions, physicians who aided in such a task were, so it became common practice to deny women any concoctions that could abort a fetus in an obviously pregnant woman – specifically one who experienced the quickening, the first time a child moves while inside the womb. These restrictions caused women to try to preempt the quickening by claiming they were suffering from menstrual blockages, which happened to have a remedy that was similar to the concoctions that were typically used in abortions. Other, more desperate measures included strenuous activity and self harm to induce premature births, usually lead to death or still-birth. Sadly, for many women these were the only options available to them to avoid the social stigma of having a child out of wedlock, or avoiding financial or emotional strain that can accompany the birth of a child.
Given these restrictions placed on women, it seems only natural that if anyone would be sensitive to the plight of the enslaved, it would be those who are also systemically oppressed.Women exercised their ability to write to their respective local government branches to entreat them to ban slavery, which is quite a bold move when you consider the fact that previously it was typically assumed that women would write to air out personal grievances instead of attempting to spark widespread change.
Considering the oppression created by the Comstock act, and the anti-slavery petitions, it seems clear to me that women were unsatisfied with their position within American society, and they wanted desperately to make their voices heard. These instances of “flexing their muscles” so to speak tested the waters for something down the line that is undoubtedly important, the suffrage movement, or the right for women to vote. Naturally, this is a crucial step because if given the right to vote, it would help bridge the massive gap in power between men and women by giving them a platform to make their voices heard and help shape the path of America, something which wasn’t afforded them previously. All in all, I feel that the anti-slavery petitions served as a catalyst which sparked the desire in women to make their voices heard.
Kerber, Linda, et.al. Women’s America. 8th edition, New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.