March 8th, 2018 – March with Us
The United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace. International Women’s Day celebrating accomplishments of women throughout history and across nations is annually held on March 8.
A Woman’s Right to Vote
Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, and many others
The right to vote hasn’t come easy for women in America. In the 1800’s women were expected to be pious, quiet, submissive to their husbands and focused only on their homes and families. You can imagine how startling and unconventional it must have been to see women in that time period appear in public wearing long dresses and bonnets advocating for equal voting rights. It is fair to say, they probably were not well received.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton was one of the earliest American suffragists. She became a noted social activist, abolitionist, and leading figure of the early women’s rights movement. Ms. Stanton is credited for helping organize the world’s first women’s rights convention in 1848 Seneca Falls, NY. The group of delegates who attended the convention agreed women deserved their own political identities.
Just as the women’s rights movement started gaining momentum, the Civil War broke out, slowing the women’s efforts. In 1863, two years into the war and still committed to their mission, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony joined forces to form the National Women’s Loyal League. Seven years later, they established the National Woman Suffrage Association.
Women marched with signs, staged sit-ins and hunger-strikes to gain support for their cause. We have these women and thousands of others to thank for our right to vote. After nearly 100 years of the Women’s Suffrage Movement, the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920.
The 19th Amendment guaranteed all American women the right to vote.
A Woman’s Right to Sex Education and Contraception
Women have always faced an uphill battle to gain equality, the right to vote, the right to use contraceptives, and the right to be paid the same as men when performing equal work. The struggle continues today.
Margaret Sanger was a women’s rights advocate, contraceptive crusader, wife, nurse and mother. She was born in 1883, the sixth of eleven living children. Her mother, a devout Irish Catholic, had eighteen pregnancies. Margaret witnessed the plight of her mother enduring multiple pregnancies and nearly dying from complications and bleeding from many miscarriages.
Her father was a church-hating freethinker who stimulated Sanger’s nonconformist behavior. Margaret worked as a nurse and midwife in the tenements of NY where she cared for chronically pregnant women, some dying in childbirth and from self-induced abortions. She became a voice for the women.
The Catholic Church considered her an enemy and obstructed her actions. Anthony Comstock made her work even more difficult. The influential politician and religious zealot became U.S. Postal Inspector and used his power to impose his religious views on everyone.
The Comstock Act of 1873 prohibited sending birth control and venereal disease information and contraceptive devices through the mail. They were considered lewd and obscene. The law resulted in confiscation of medical texts mailed to students, and threatened doctors with imprisonment for discussing contraception with their patients.
Margaret wrote The Woman Rebel, a monthly subscription issue to promote women’s rights in the workplace and a woman’s right to birth control – a term she coined. Margaret was arrested after boldly violating the Comstock obscenity-law with her publication. She fled to Europe under an assumed name to avoid serving a 45-year sentence. There, she learned about birth control methods from physicians in The Netherlands and France. Margaret returned to the US in 1915 after charges against her were dropped.
In 1916, she and her sister Ethyl, also a nurse, opened the first birth control clinic in the U.S. The clinic treated 486 patients in ten days before the NYPD Comstock Vice Squad swept in and arrested them and their patients. After Ethyl nearly died in prison from a hunger strike, and Margaret was released after thirty days in a penitentiary, she reopened her clinic in protest.
In 1917, she published Family Limitation, a small booklet describing methods of contraception and where to purchase ingredients or items through mail order. The booklet included recipes for making your own pregnancy prevention vaginal suppositories and douche solutions. The Comstock Vice Squad arrested her husband for distributing Family Limitation.
Her campaign for birth control was supported by wealthy friends including Katharine McCormick, John D. Rockefeller and others, including her second husband James Slee. Their money and drive for education and research for an oral contraceptive fueled development of an oral birth control.
In 1960, the FDA approved Enovid, the first oral birth control pill in the U.S.
Margaret Sanger founded the American Birth Control League that became Planned Parenthood of America. She continued to fight for women’s rights until her death in 1966.
A Woman’s Right for Equality
Over this past year, women’s rights and healthcare were again up for political debate. During the recent presidential race, some political candidates did not support the 2009 Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
Let’s not forget the strong women who fought for our right to vote, receive an education, obtain professional careers, use contraceptives and receive equal pay for equal work. It is important to follow in their footsteps to defend rights and gain opportunities for our daughters, granddaughters, and for the rights of all women throughout the world who need our voices.
Imagine a bold plan for a world without discrimination, in which women and men are equal partners in shaping their societies and lives. Nicole Kidman
Betty Kuffel, MD and Bev Erickson