It will be a history of change. The superior position which women enjoy in America to-day is the result of a slow evolution from an almost rightless condition in colonial times. The founders of America brought with them the English common law. Under that law, a married woman’s personal property—jewels, money, furniture, and the like—became her husband’s property; the management of her lands passed into his control. Even the wages she earned, if she worked for some one else, belonged to him. Custom, if not law, prescribed that women should not take part in town meetings or enter into public discussions of religious questions. Indeed it is a far cry from the banishment of Anne Hutchinson from Massachusetts in 1637, for daring to dispute with the church fathers, to the political conventions of 1920 in which women sat as delegates, made nominating speeches, and served on committees. In the contrast between these two scenes may be measured the change in the privileges of women since the landing of the Pilgrims. The account of this progress is a narrative of individual effort on the part of women, of organizations among them, of generous aid from sympathetic men in the long agitation for the removal of civil and political disabilities. It is in part also a narrative of irresistible economic change which drew women into industry, created a leisure class, gave women wages and incomes, and therewith economic independence.
THE RISE OF THE WOMAN MOVEMENT
=Protests of Colonial Women.=—The republican spirit which produced American independence was of slow and steady growth. It did not spring up full-armed in a single night. It was, on the contrary, nourished during a long period of time by fireside discussions as well as by debates in the public forum. Women shared that fireside sifting of political principles and passed on the findings of that scrutiny in letters to their friends, newspaper articles, and every form of written word. How widespread was this potent, though not spectacular force, is revealed in the collections of women’s letters, articles, songs, dramas, and satirical “skits” on English rule that have come down to us. In this search into the reasons of government, some women began to take thought about laws that excluded them from the ballot. Two women at least left their protests on record. Abigail, the ingenious and witty wife of John Adams, wrote to her husband, in March, 1776, that women objected “to all arbitrary power whether of state or males” and demanded political privileges in the new order then being created. Hannah Lee Corbin, the sister of “Lighthorse” Harry Lee, protested to her brother against the taxation of women without representation.
[Illustration: ABIGAIL ADAMS]