The Seneca Falls Convention is typically seen as the beginning
of the first women's rights movement in the United States.
Revolutionary Backlash argues otherwise. According to
Rosemarie Zagarri, the debate over women's rights began not in the
decades prior to 1848 but during the American Revolution itself.
Integrating the approaches of women's historians and political
historians, this book explores changes in women's status that
occurred from the time of the American Revolution until the
election of Andrew Jackson.
Although the period after the Revolution produced no collective
movement for women's rights, women built on precedents established
during the Revolution and gained an informal foothold in party
politics and male electoral activities. Federalists and
Jeffersonians vied for women's allegiance and sought their support
in times of national crisis. Women, in turn, attended rallies,
organized political activities, and voiced their opinions on the
issues of the day. After the publication of Mary Wollstonecraft's
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, a widespread debate
about the nature of women's rights ensued. The state of New Jersey
attempted a bold experiment: for a brief time, women there voted on
the same terms as men.
Yet as Rosemarie Zagarri argues in Revolutionary Backlash,
this opening for women soon closed. By 1828, women's politicization
was seen more as a liability than as a strength, contributing to a
divisive political climate that repeatedly brought the country to
the brink of civil war. The increasing sophistication of party
organizations and triumph of universal suffrage for white males
marginalized those who could not vote, especially women. Yet all
was not lost. Women had already begun to participate in charitable
movements, benevolent societies, and social reform organizations.
Through these organizations, women found another way to practice
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