Domestic Goddesses to Suffragists: The Story of Women Told
on Bookbindings, 1820-1920
Oh! Well! You Know How Women Are!
(George H. Doran, 1919)
By the end of the 19th century, women
broke from the mold ascribed to them by the Cult
of Domesticity. Women no longer were confined to
the home or the job of motherhood. Thanks largely
to the Women's
Rights Movement, women were able
to do just about anything men could.
Women's Rights Movement
The fight for women’s rights officially
began after two women–Elizabeth
Cady Stanton and Lucretia
to serve as delegates to an anti-slavery convention
in 1840. The pair joined with a handful of other
activists to plan the first Women’s Rights
Convention, which took place in Seneca Falls, New
The Women’s Rights movement gained momentum
after the Civil War, when women’s involvement
in war work gave them leadership, organizational,
and occupational skills. In 1866, Stanton and Susan
B. Anthony formed the American
Equal Rights Association,
dedicated to universal suffrage for men and women
of all races.
Mary Ware in Texas
(L. C. Page and Co., 1910)
Disagreement over the 15th
suffrage to black men, split the women’s
rights movement in two. Stanton and Anthony’s
group became the National
Association, which used radical means in an effort
to achieve their goal. A conservative group led
Stone and Julia
Ward Howe became the American
Women’s Suffrage Association.
The main purpose of both groups was to gain a
place for women in the political sphere. By the
time the Women’s Suffrage Amendment first
was introduced to Congress in 1878, women’s
place in society was changing. Women were becoming
better educated, thanks to a number of women’s
colleges founded in the 1860s and ‘70s. Dress
reform led by Amelia
Bloomer in the 1850s dramatically
changed women’s fashions. Improvements to
birth control in the 1850s reduced the number of
children women had, and their newfound skills gleaned
during the Civil War allowed them to secure occupations
outside the home.
Fighting for Suffrage
Women also learned techniques that allowed them
to lobby for reform. A major target of these newly
empowered women was the sale of liquor. Their prohibition
crusade in the 1870s led to the formation of the
Women’s Christian Temperance Union, which
also promoted women’s suffrage. The temperance
movement spurred distillers, brewers, and saloon
owners to campaign against suffrage, fearing that
the female vote would spell their doom.
Woman and Temperance
(James Betts & Co., 1883)
Opposition from the liquor lobby and others contributed
to Congress’s initial failure to ratify the
Women’s Suffrage Amendment. The two main
suffrage organizations soon merged into the National
American Women’s Suffrage Association, under
Stanton’s leadership. Suffragists lobbied
for voting rights for more than 70 years before
amendment finally took effect in 1920.
In the mean time, state and territorial suffrage
measures fully enfranchised women in Wyoming (1869),
Colorado (1893), Utah (1896), Idaho (1896), Washington (1910), California (1911), Oregon (1912), Arizona (1912), Kansas (1912), Alaska (1913), Nevada (1914),
Montana (1914), New
York (1917), Michigan (1918),
Oklahoma (1918), and South
Dakota (1918). Several
other states passed partial suffrage measures.
Rankin of Montana became the first woman
elected to serve on the U.S. House of Representatives
That same year, the Congressional Union, led by
Paul, became the National
CU emerged in 1913 as a militant branch of the
NAWSA, seeking suffrage by radical means such as
strikes and picketing. After the 19th amendment
passed, the NAWSA became the League
of Women Voters.
The NWP turned its attention to the Equal
Rights Amendment. Introduced in 1923, the measure aimed
to eliminate all discrimination on the basis of
gender. It never has been ratified.
Women Writers Take a Stand
Ruth Hall by Fanny Fern
Like the Cult of Domesticity, the Women’s
Rights Movement produced a number of female writers.
This occurred directly, as activists including
Amelia Bloomer and Susan B. Anthony founded publications
for the purpose of advocating their causes. The
movement also produced writers indirectly. As women
entered the workforce, journalism became a popular
profession for women. Some newspaperwomen, such
Fern, and Anne
Several prominent female magazinists emerged during
the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Rebecca
Harding Davis contributed to a number of magazines,
including Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, and
Scribner’s, in the 1860s, ‘70s, and ‘80s.
Ida Tarbell is best known for her expose “The
History of Standard Oil,” published in McClure’s Magazine in 1904. She also edited American
Magazine and was the author of several biographies.
Female fiction writers of the time included Frances
Hodgson Burnett, author of romance novels and children’s
books in the 1880s, ‘90s, and early 1900s;
Cather, whose novels were popular in the
1910s and ‘20s; and Zora
Neale Hurston, a
product of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s.
Return to Cult of Domesticity
Searching the Collection
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Women's History Teaching
Resources based on Publishers' Bindings Online
History K-5 lesson plan: Word
document or PDF
Women's History 6-12 lesson
document or PDF
Women Writers of the 19th
Century lesson plan: Word
document or PDF
Related Online Resources
American Women's History:
A Research Guide, Middle Tennessee State University:
Cairns Collection of American
Women Writers, University of Wisconsin-Madison:
National Women's History
Women of the Century, Discovery
Women's History Month, The
Bald, Marjory A. Women
Writers of the Nineteenth Century. New York: Russell & Russell,
Beddoe, Deirdre. Discovering
A Practical Manual. Boston: Pandora Press, 1983.
Catherine. The Other Civil War: American Women in
the Nineteenth Century. New York: Hill and Wang, 1984.
Jane. Before the Vote was Won: Arguments for and Against
Women’s Suffrage. New York : Routledge & K.
Matthews, Glenna. “Just a Housewife”:
The Rise and Fall of Domesticity in America. New York:
University Press, 1987.
Norquay, Glenda, ed. Voices
and Votes: A Literary Anthology of the Women’s Suffrage Campaign. New York: St. Martin’s
Scott, Joan Wallach. Gender
and the Politics of History. New York: Columbia University
Warren, Joyce W., ed. The
(Other) American Traditions: Nineteenth-century Women Writers.
Rutgers University Press, 1993.
Women and Literature:
An Annotated Bibliography of Women Writers. Cambridge, Mass.: Women and Literature Collective,