Influence of the First Wave of 19th Century Feminism on the 21st

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It is no surprise that Elizabeth Cady Stanton is one of the first of many women that come to mind when discussing the feminist chronicle of the 19th century and the early advocacy of women’s inclusion within politics. However, we often neglect to see the “betrayal of trust” towards black feminists along with the white supremacy narrative that was unveiled when politically convenient for Stanton. This is primarily due to the admiration of symbolism of what Elizabeth Cady Stanton was thought to have done versus understanding that the same white supremacy account continues to be entrenched within modern-day feminism due to her same campaign. This essay will examine Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s role in shaping what is presently known as ‘first wave feminism’ of the 19th century, how it has manifested over the years, and the effects it continues to have in the 21st century.

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In “The myth of Seneca Falls,” Lisa Tetrault explains that the “contentious” demand for women suffrage might have been a fluke if it were not for her fellow Black campaign organizer Frederick Douglass who mastered the art of eloquence when advocating for true “universal suffrage.” However, there was a massive shift in energy and unity following the civil war and the lead-in the 15th amendment. The power of being granted the right to vote for white women symbolized a sense of equality to their white male counterparts, for black women, however, the right to vote instilled a sense of “empowerment” and “motivation” within the WHOLE African American community which was of great importance given it was followed by the racial tension caused by the Emancipation. The essence of the divide primarily focused on who should be given the right to vote; Black men or women? Stanton’s campaign was now at risk, thus amplifying her sense of elitism (primarily influenced my her upbringing), and her animosity with the racial group in which her previous campaign partners Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass pertained to (in which she later described as “Sambos.”) Elizabeth Cady Stanton also went on a rampage on the Newspaper she curated,

The Suffragist, to elaborate and warn the public that passing the 15th amendment soley meant “degradation for [white] women at the hands of Negro men.” Tetrault mentions Fredrick Douglas’ rejection to respond to slander with slander, but to bring to light the delusion white women would force which was that black women could remove their sense of intersectionality and separate the importance of their sex with their race which just continued to fuel the fire within white suffragist. Eventually, as the 15th amendment was formalized, the segregation between white female suffragists and black female suffragists continues and intensifies with the implementation of things such as the Jim Crow laws in later years. The Jim Crow laws of the late 19th century and late 20th century continued to be a mask for the continuous mistreatment and sense of bigotry white women had towards black women in southern states and northern states. The excuse for northern states?

They did not want to “upset” southerners. Women continue to lack a sense of being all-inclusive, and although women were given the right to vote in 1920, the great divide manifested from white suffragists and black suffragists to white feminism and feminism within Women of color (WOC). What is feminism? According to Chapman ‘The Truth of Modern Day Feminism,’ “The definition of feminism as someone who champions equal rights for all people regardless of gender, race, sexuality, education, income, whatever, [is] somebody who not only believes but is actively working towards a world where everybody is equal.” Today, WOC continue to struggle to find accommodationism from a white woman and their white feminism narrative. At the end of the day, white feminism is fake feminism. If the feminism an individual identifies with is not intersectional and avoids the inclusion of WOC, LGBT+, workers within the sex industry, etc., while striving to bring awareness to individuals within this umbrella, then it is not an accurate representation of feminism. The largest part of feminism is to learn and understand from women who do not represent you entirely but represent you in the sense that they too identify as a woman.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton is the cosmic nexus of first-wave feminism and the great divide between women that we continue to see today. This is what makes her so fascinating yet so horrendous. Stanton used her privilege as a white educated middle-class woman to bring forth an issue she felt passionate about. She was narcissistic, manipulative, and unapologetically took credit for efforts made by the black community as a white feminist.

In conclusion, the simple reality is to understand our mistakes and progress. Spaces that are feminist-oriented would best benefit from being all-inclusive to the various walks of American society versus solely catering to the white upper-middle class. In addition, dissecting white feminism and it’s faults isn’t about silencing white feminists, it is about providing a safe platform to the most vulnerable and allowing diverse voices to be heard and acknowledged. 

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Influence of the First Wave of 19th Century Feminism on the 21st. (2022, Feb 02). Retrieved November 28, 2022 , from

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