The first wave of feminism laid the foundation of feminism for decades to come by securing the right for women to vote. However, the first wave was unsuccessful in granting all women the right to vote, as both poor white women and black women, as well as women from other minorities, were excluding from suffrage groups and did not acquire the same rights. The exclusionary nature of the first wave laid a foundation of racism and classism that seeped into the second wave of feminism, and persists as an obstacle for feminist groups even today. This writing will seek to explore the nature of the racist and classist exclusions within the first wave and their effect upon the second wave.
The first wave of feminism is defined by women’s and gender studies scholar Rory Dicker as 1848 to 1920, when women achieved suffrage. During this wave, many female figures, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, rose to prominence with their outspoken views and support for women’s suffrage. Both women are remembered for being key reasons why women achieved the right to vote, but less remembered is their work to exclude black women and other minority women from both the vote and suffrage votes. Stanton in particular stated that giving the vote to uneducated immigrant and black men was “to exalt ignorance above education, vice above virtue, brutality and barbarism above refinement and religion.” This comment also shows the disenfranchisement of poor white women, as they would have too been “ignorant” due to lack of a proper education. Stanton and Anthony were the founders of the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), one of the first women’s suffrage groups, formed in 1869. The group active...
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...re). The popular, white feminist movement had yet again failed to relate to all women, simply because they had few black or other minority women among their ranks. Instead, black and minority women passionate about their own rights as black women formed their own groups that represented their interests.
Even now we struggle to include every women in feminism. Even in the US, there are women much more concerned with feeding themselves or their children than reproductive rights or social equality. The struggle feminism has faced since it’s first wave has been how it can represent all concerns of all women without abandoning hope of achieving measurable goals, such as suffrage and divorce laws. This struggle is rooted in the willingness of the prominent first wave groups to project racist and classist views as a compromise to both other suffragists and men in power.
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