A Damsel’s Guide To First Wave Feminism

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal.”

– Declaration of Sentiments

I’ve had the unique pleasure of growing up with a father who I would officially call a ‘history buff.’  Every time he sees a museum or an informative sign, his eyes glaze over a tiny bit with excitement. While I’m nowhere near as enamored as he, I do recognize the importance of looking at the past to help change the future.With that in mind, it is my intention to further the educational process through breaking down the three waves of feminism in laymen’s terms.

You want to be a feminist? Learn the facts. Learn the history. Learn the good and the bad. That being said, it’s often difficult to know where to begin. Each article seems to lead to more and more articles. It feels like the never-ending-tissue-from-the-pocket magic trick with knowledge that continues on expansively. To get you introduced to first wave feminism in general, this article is the basic need-to-know guide for every damsel and fellow wanting to learn a bit more about the history of feminism. Stay tuned over the next couple weeks as I tackle the next two waves of feminism. As always, make sure to leave any questions, feedback, or concerns in the comment section below.

When Was First Wave Feminism?


Who Invented the Word Feminism?

Sorry, ladies, but a woman did not coin the term ‘feminism.’ For all you men reading, this is a reminder that you don’t need to be a woman to be a feminist. The first technical ‘feminist’ was Frenchman Charles Fourier, who invented the term in the 1890’s. You go, Fourier! Fourier was a huge supporter of women’s rights, believing that jobs should be given based on skill rather than gender. For more information on this outstanding champion of feminism, click here.

Major Events

  1. “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” (1792)

Although the start date of first wave feminism is greatly deliberated, my personal timeline cannot begin without including the revolutionary book “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.” Written by Mary Wollstonecraft, a talented writer and a pivotal character in the feminist movement, this book shook the patriarchy boat like nothing else. Wollstonecraft argues for educational reform, claiming the current lifestyle creates “gentle domestic brutes…educated in slavish dependence and enervated by luxury and sloth.” She argued for equal educational access across genders (something that still needs to be achieved today, if you haven’t read “How Peace Corps Is Forever Changing Girls’ Lives Around The World” yet).

  1. Seneca Falls Convention (1848)

What’s scarier than a disgruntled housewife no longer putting up with the societal suppression of women? How about a convention full of disgruntled housewives no longer putting up with the societal suppression of women? The Seneca Falls Convention took place in Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, NY, led by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.  Around 200 women and 40 men attended this first convention revolving around female rights. The primary purpose of the Convention was to draft The Declaration of Sentiments, a treatise listing a multitude of injustices women and advocating for the right to vote.

  1. Creation of the National Women’s Rights Convention (1850)

The National Women’s Rights Convention is, essentially, the sequel to the Seneca Falls Convention, only on a much grander scale. Two years after the Seneca Falls Convention, no one could predict that the number of people in attendance would quintuple in size (to a grand total of 1000 attendees). This convention, led by Mott and Stanton, addressed political and human rights for women on a more national level. The advocated for the political and civil rights of both women and African Americans. Of everything to come out of the National Women’s Rights Convention, the most famous is, without a doubt, Sojourner Truth’s speech “Ain’t I A Woman?” delivered during the second convention in 1851.

  1. First Birth Control Clinic (1916)

Although the reproductive rights movement gets further addressed during second wave feminism, it would be ill-thought out to ignore Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood and leading advocate for reproductive rights. Not only did she help fund research for the first birth control pill, but she also went on a nationwide tour to promote birth control and established the first birth control clinic in 1916. She tirelessly fought for reproductive rights until her death in 1966.

5. 19th Amendment (1920)

The obvious conclusion to first wave feminism is the 19th amendment, when women finally received the right to vote. This was not only a huge victory for women, but also the start of female liberation from the home and freedom to strive toward further equality.

Important Feminists

  1. Mary Wollstonecraft – author of “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman”
  2. Margaret Sanger – Founder of Planned Parenthood and advocate of birth control and the reproductive rights movement.
  3. Elizabeth Cady Stanton – Abolitionist and co-founder of the National Woman Suffrage Association.
  4. Lucretia Mott — Abolitionist and co-founder of the National Woman Suffrage Association.
  5. Susan B. Anthony – Pioneer of education reform, abolitionist, and avid suffragist.
  6. Lucy Stone – Famous orator and advocate for female rights. She founded the American Woman Suffrage Association and published The Woman’s Journal.
  7. Sojourner Truth – Former slave turned activist.

Don’t go too far damsels and ‘gents. Check back soon to read all about 2nd Wave Feminism next week!


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