=The First Gains in Civil Liberty.=—The convention of 1848 did not make political enfranchisement the leading issue. Rather did it emphasize the civil disabilities of women which were most seriously under discussion at the time. Indeed, the New York legislature of that very year, as the result of a twelve years’ agitation, passed the Married Woman’s Property Act setting aside the general principles of the English common law as applied to women and giving them many of the “rights of man.” California and Wisconsin followed in 1850; Massachusetts in 1854; and Kansas in 1859. Other states soon fell into line. Women’s earnings and inheritances were at last their own in some states at least. In a little while laws were passed granting women rights as equal guardians of their children and permitting them to divorce their husbands on the grounds of cruelty and drunkenness.
By degrees other steps were taken. The Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania was founded in 1850, and the Philadelphia School of Design for Women three years later. In 1852 the American Women’s Educational Association was formed to initiate an agitation for enlarged educational opportunities for women. Other colleges soon emulated the example of Oberlin: the University of Utah in 1850; Hillsdale College in Michigan in 1855; Baker University in Kansas in 1858; and the University of Iowa in 1860. New trades and professions were opened to women and old prejudices against their activities and demands slowly gave way.
THE NATIONAL STRUGGLE FOR WOMAN SUFFRAGE
=The Beginnings of Organization.=—As women surmounted one obstacle after another, the agitation for equal suffrage came to the front. If any year is to be fixed as the date of its beginning, it may very well be 1850, when the suffragists of Ohio urged the state constitutional convention to confer the vote upon them. With apparent spontaneity there were held in the same year state suffrage conferences in Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts; and connections were formed among the leaders of these meetings. At the same time the first national suffrage convention was held in Worcester, Massachusetts, on the call of eighty-nine leading men and women representing six states. Accounts of the convention were widely circulated in this country and abroad. English women,—for instance, Harriet Martineau,—sent words of appreciation for the work thus inaugurated. It inspired a leading article in the “Westminster Review,” which deeply interested the distinguished economist, John Stuart Mill. Soon he was the champion of woman suffrage in the British Parliament and the author of a powerful tract The Subjection of Women, widely read throughout the English-speaking world. Thus do world movements grow. Strange to relate the women of England were enfranchised before the adoption of the federal suffrage amendment in America.