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Women's Rights Movement and Antebellum Reform

  • Educational Reform in the antebellum era focused on expanding opportunities for the public, and as a result, the literacy rate increased to 94% in the North and 83% of the white pop. in South (58% of total southern population).
  • Horace Mann, the first secretary of the MA Board of Ed., was the greatest (early) ed. reformer and reorganized the school system, lengthened the academic year to six months, doubled teacher salaries, enriched the curriculum, & introduced professional teacher training, educating Native Americans.
  • The Rehabilitation and Asylum movements grew as well: penitentiaries & mental institutions were designed to create a proper environment for inmates; Dorothea Dix began reforming methods for treating the mentally ill.
  • Many female abolitionists like the Grimké sisters used Christian & Enlightenment principles to claim equal civic rights for women.
  • During the 1840s women’s rights activists, often with support from affluent men, tried to strengthen the legal rights of married women; 3 states enacted Married Women’s Property Acts between 1839 and 1845, and an 1848 NY statute gave women full legal control over the property she brought to a marriage
  • Led by Lucretia Mott, Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony, a convention was held in Seneca Falls, NY in 1848 where they created a “Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions” that was patterned on the Dec. of Independence; it rejected the idea that women should be assigned different or “separate” spheres.
  • Many women took leadership positions like: Lucy Stone (kept maiden name) who was a famous lecturer on women’s rights, Emma Willard, founder of the Troy Female Seminary in 1821, and Catherine Beecher, founder of Hartford Seminary in 1823, who worked on behalf of women’s ed.
  • More about Seneca Falls Convention:
  • The Declaration of Sentiments:
  • More about the Grimké sisters:
  • Sojourner Truth:

Women's Rights Movement and Antebellum Reform

Lecture Slides are screen-captured images of important points in the lecture. Students can download and print out these lecture slide images to do practice problems as well as take notes while watching the lecture.

  • Intro 0:00
  • Overview 0:07
  • Education Reforms 1:05
    • Horace Mann
    • Reorganized the School System
    • Literacy Rate
  • Experimental Schools 5:17
    • Self-Realization
    • Perkins School
    • Social Value and Democratize the U.S.
  • Rehabilitation 6:19
    • The Asylum Movement
    • Dorothea Dix
  • The Rise of Feminism 8:09
    • Sarah and Angelina Grimke
    • Other Reformers
    • Married Women's Property Acts
  • Seneca Falls 10:40
    • Society of Friends
    • Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions
    • The Women's Right
  • Declaration of Sentiments 13:38
  • Quakers Influence Feminist Movement 14:36
    • Sexual Equality
    • Stanton Were Quakers
    • Lucy Stone
    • Emma Willard
    • Catherine Beecher
  • Feminist Style of Clothing 17:39
    • Bloomer
    • Amelia Bloomer
  • Example 1 18:54
  • Example 2 21:08
  • Example 3 23:30

Transcription: Women's Rights Movement and Antebellum Reform

Welcome back to

This lesson is on women's rights and antebellum reform.0002

In the same spirit of the second great awakening, and the reform era, and the antebellum time period,0009

we are going to see that not only do reformers and religious people start advocating for abolitionism, women's rights,0017

but we are also going to see that they get very much involved in other issues that they are concerned about.0027

Such as improving educational opportunities and implementing educational reform, rehabilitation.0033

And of course, we are going to see a full fledged women's rights movement,0040

and particularly with an emphasis on suffrage rights and property rights for women, and equal rights in general, for women.0044

That will in many ways grow out of the abolitionist movement.0055

This will culminate in the Seneca Falls convention of 1848.0059

Let us get to it.0065

First I would like to talk about a few more reforms during the antebellum era that are very significant.0067

The first one being educational reforms.0074

During the 1830’s, we will see that although education had expanded quite a bit0077

since the early founding of the United States, public education was pretty limited.0084

And then, we are going to see during the Jacksonian era, an interest in providing opportunities for ordinary Americans.0089

The way to do that was to expand educational opportunities, and particularly free public education.0098

That is going to become a huge interest throughout the United States, but particularly in the northeast and especially in Massachusetts.0107

Horace Mann was very instrumental in helping to shape a lot of the educational reform during the antebellum era.0117

He was the first secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education,0127

and will become extremely significant in trying to encourage compulsory education and also to encourage teacher training.0131

He will help to reorganize the school system.0145

He will lengthen the academic year to six months.0147

He will double teacher salaries.0152

He will encourage enriching the curriculum to include more subjects.0155

He will introduce, as I was saying, training for teachers and also educating native Americans to bring native Americans into mainstream fold.0162

There were some pretty decent results.0173

The literacy rate increased to about 94% in the north and about 83% of the white population in the south,0175

which was about 58% of the total southern population here.0184

You can see some disparities here.0191

And obviously, African-American slaves were not being encouraged to be educated,0194

as many pro slavery people wanted to disempower the slaves and not give them too much education,0201

as they may search or critically think and question their relationship and0210

the unfair treatment that they are participating in, and that they are facing.0221

The slave owners did not want their slaves to rise up.0230

You know what they say, knowledge is power.0234

Besides these reforms that I mentioned, moral education was also encouraged.0237

And that will tie into the protestant work ethic and temperance, and a lot of the values that grew out of the second great awakening.0243

Many schools will also advocate for teaching the virtues of hard work, punctuality, and morality.0257

The kind of behaviors that will be needed for the emerging industrial society.0263

We will also see an increase in establishing more institutions for higher learning.0269

In terms of colleges, especially in the newly established western states like Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa,0277

We will see more colleges being established such as Oberlin, Mount Holyoke is another example.0285

And then also, the lyceum circuit will become very popular during the antebellum era, which will also tie into the transcendentalist movement,0294

as people like Emerson will travel from city to city to give this talks and lectures to adults,0304

and that will also have a positive effect on adult education.0313

There were also some experimental schools and specialized schools.0319

One particular experimental school in Concord established self realization,0324

along the same lines of what the transcendentalist were advocating for,0330

that education is much more individualized and would emphasize critical thinking skills.0336

There were also schools that focused on education for people with disabilities, the PerkinsSschool for the Blind in Boston.0344

There was also Thomas Gallaudet who opened a school for the deaf.0355

Overall, we will see that schools were supposed to impose a set of social values and0362

help to democratize the United States, and expand opportunity for more people.0367

That is going to be an important trend throughout the antebellum era.0375

We are also going to see efforts to improve the rehabilitation of people who are mentally ill, and or who are involved in crimes as well.0381

The asylum movement is going to gain a lot of ground.0394

Asylums for the mentally ill, as well as for criminals, were established.0399

We are going to see a lot of work particularly being done by Dorothea Dix, who began reforming methods for treating the mentally ill.0405

A lot of the old jails were extremely grim, barbaric type of places.0416

And suicide was a huge problem because the facilities were just completely depressing,0422

and did not provide any type of structure or help, or anything for the inmates.0431

Also people who had mental illness were thrown into these types of jails.0440

This was not an appropriate place for people who needed real professional care and treatment.0446

Dix will be extremely important in launching a cross country campaign0459

to advocate for better treatment of the mentally ill, so they could have appropriate professional treatment.0464

Pennsylvania also took the lead in prison reform to improve the environment, to bring in more structure, discipline, moral reform,0472

that is going to become extremely important to improve both of these institutions.0483

We are also going to see a huge rise in feminism.0493

This is the ideology that men and women should have equal opportunities in their social, economic, and political lives.0497

A lot of women will become involved in the abolitionist movement.0511

And because there will be limits to the types of work that they are able to participate in, and in some cases,0516

women are not even invited to have a voice or to participate to some of the activities that were being undertaken by the abolitionist, by the sexist men.0525

Many women started to advocate for themselves.0539

They did care about the abolitionist but they also realize that they should fight on behalf of their fellow women.0543

We have talked about the Grimke sisters previously, they were activists in the field of abolitionism, and were important reformers in the south.0553

They used their Christian, as well as enlightened principles, to claim equal civil rights for women.0563

We see how abolitionism and women's rights are very much linked together.0571

Other reformers who will become very outspoken and active in the early feminist movement, Catharine Beecher, Harriet Beecher Stowe,0578

Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and of course Dorothea Dix, that we just talked about, who was involved in the asylum movements.0589

Throughout the antebellum era, the 1840’s, women's rights activists often with the support from affluent men, tried to strengthen the legal rights of married women.0599

And three states in particular, enacted married women's property acts between 1839 and 1845.0609

And in 1848, New York statute gave women full legal control over the property she brought to a marriage.0617

Seeing that the pressure from these women's rights activists is starting to pay off,0628

as laws are starting to change and women have more property rights, and this is very empowering.0634

Then, we are going to see that the Society of Friends, Quakers, a recent faction that eventually helped to organize,0644

and especially, the faction of the Quakers helped to organize the Seneca Falls convention,0652

which will take place in 1848 in Seneca Falls New York.0660

The women that were led by Lucretia Mott was with Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony,0667

will come together and try to come up with a plan on how to address a lot of the grievances that they have in society,0674

and to come up with a plan on how they are going to deal with their lack of freedoms,0682

their lack of rights, and especially not having a voice and the vote.0688

They eventually draft the Declaration of Sentiments.0694

This is the long way, Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions,0701

that was patterned on the Declaration of Independence that alluded to the idea that all men are created equal.0704

We will see that they will adapt this to include women, specifically,0713

it will give specific examples of how women are being discriminated against in U.S. society during the antebellum era.0723

Within this important document, they rejected the idea that women should be assigned different or separate spheres.0735

And ultimately, they challenged the idea of the cult of domesticity.0743

They believed that women should partake in the public sphere, as they are in the Seneca Falls convention and in the antislavery societies.0750

We will start to see that their voices are being heard.0761

Although, in terms of suffrage, it would not be until 1919, when the 19th amendment will finally be brought to the table,0765

and would not actually be passed until 1920.0777

That is going to be a long road, but they are getting the conversation started and they are pulling people into the movement more and more.0782

We will see some gains by 1860, New York women were granted the right to collect and spend it on wages,0789

to bring suit in court, and to control property they bought into a marriage in the event that they became widows.0797

Here is a little excerpt from the Declaration of Sentiments.0822

We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men and women are created equal.0826

Here is another excerpt.0835

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one portion of the family of man0837

to assume among the people of the earth a position different from that which they have hitherto occupied,0843

but one to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them,0849

a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes that impel them to such a course.0853

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal,0860

that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights.0865

That goes on and on like the Declaration of Independence, yet is inclusive of women.0868

Extremely important document that will inspire the feminist movement in the antebellum era for years to come.0877

A little bit more about the Quakers who are very influential.0888

We have probably mentioned previously that Quakers were a bit more progressive,0893

especially, in the earlier years of the United States, and even back to the colonial era.0898

There was one particular group, the Hicksites, that were very progressive.0905

Thus, they were activists for having equal rights for women and men.0911

Just to illustrate how important the Quaker voice was in the feminist movement,0919

you could see here that all but Stanton, were Quakers.0925

But not to overstate this, not all were for sexual equality per se, and there was a limited progress for feminist goals,0930

as there were some divisions over the approach that suffragist should partake in.0938

We will see this is going to come to a head a little bit later, but some will advocate for the state approach,0944

and some will advocate for a national amendment to the constitution.0953

There will be some diverging attitudes and visions for the feminist movement which will cause some tensions.0960

And of course, the abolitionist movement is going to overshadow on gender issue for quite awhile.0971

But nonetheless, Quakers are influential in the abolitionist movement, as well as the women's rights movement.0979

Many women did take leadership positions like Lucy Stone.0987

She did keep her maiden name which is a tradition that perhaps is still very influential today.0991

Women either keeping their maiden names if they marry, and or hyphenating their last names to maintain one's identity.1000

This is symbolic and a choice that women like Stone made.1012

Anyway, Stone becomes a very important lecturer on women's rights.1024

Emma Willard, we talked about her before, founder of The Choice Female Seminary in 1821,1029

and also later instrumental in helping to found Middlebury College.1039

Catharine Beecher, founder of the Hartford seminary in 1823, who worked on behalf of women's education.1043

Out of this whole time period, we will see a lot of important feminist leaders emerge.1052

And in terms of fashion, we will also see the bloomers become a fashion statement for feminists.1061

They have also been called the Turkish dress, American dress, or reformed dress, named after Amelia Bloomer.1069

This was a combination of a short skirt with full length pantalets.1087

This ended up becoming a fashion craze in the 1850’s.1097

Women wore them in Seneca Falls.1102

These are extremely popular, and in some ways they ended up diverting people's attention away from the feminist cause,1110

but they are very symbolic and become very much popular in many feminist circles.1123

Let us get into some of the assessments.1135

Sojourner Truth, you may remember her from the previous lesson because she was abolitionist, as well as a women's rights activist.1140

This is at the women's convention in Ohio, in 1851.1149

I think, and pardon me, I will try my best to capture this dialect but we will see how it goes.1154

I think that twixt the negroes of the south and the women at the north, all talking about rights,1163

the white men will be in a fix pretty soon.1168

But what is all this here talk about?1171

That man over there says that women need to be helped.1175

Nobody ever helps me, and ain’t I a woman?1179

Then they talk about this thing in the head, intellect.1183

What is that got to do with women's rights or negroes rights?1186

If my cup would not hold but a pint, and yours hold a quart, would you not be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?1192

Then that little man in black there, he says women cannot have as much rights as men because Christ was not a woman.1201

Where did Christ come from?1208

From God and a woman.1210

Men had nothing to do with him.1213

A little wisdom from Sojourner Truth.1218

Which of the following did Truth reject?1223

Women's equality, the cult of domesticity, republican motherhood, the working status of women.1226

The answer is the cult of domesticity.1237

Truth saw the connection between women's rights and,1249

Abolitionism, educational reform, the second great awakening, the U.S. constitution.1253

And the answer is abolitionism.1261

Let us move on to the next one.1270

From Seneca Falls convention, the Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions, 1848.1273

The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and use of patience on the part of men toward women.1279

Having indirect object of the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her.1286

To prove this let facts be submitted to a candid world.1292

He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to be elective franchise.1296

He has compelled her to submit to laws in the formation of which she had no voice.1303

Having deprived throughout the first right of the citizen the elective franchise,1310

thereby leaving her without representation in the halls of legislation, he has oppressed her on all sides.1315

He has taken from her all right and property, even to the wages she earns.1321

Which of the following did the Declaration of Sentiments refute?1332

Women's equality, the cult of domesticity, republican motherhood, or the working status of women?1337

The answer is the cult of domesticity.1344

The passage was based on which of the following documents?1351

The declaration of the rights of men and of the citizen, the Declaration of Independence, the social contract, or the U.S. constitution.1354

And the answer is the Declaration of Independence.1366

Which of the following did the Declaration of Sentiments advocate for the most?1373

Citizenship, the right to vote, equal pay for equal work, or the right to work?1378

The answer is the right to vote, for suffrage rights.1388

Number 4, which of the following groups is most associated with the Seneca Falls convention?1393

Puritans, Quakers, Catholics, or Deists?1399

The answer is Quakers.1405

Let us move on to example 3.1411

Choose one of the reforms listed below and explain how it best demonstrates1422

the influence of economic changes during the first half of the 19th century.1426

Public education, temperance, women's rights.1431

I’m going to choose this one.1436

You can choose your own.1440

Public education with free public schools for children of all classes was motivated by the growing numbers of the uneducated poor,1442

including immigrant and native born that were found in the growing cities.1451

Contrast your choice against one of the other options demonstrating why that option is not as good as your choice.1460

Temperance was opposed by many immigrants especially Germans and Irish Catholics1468

who lived in cities while Protestant Americans supported temperance.1474

Lastly C, briefly explain one government response to the reform movements during this period.1481

Education became compulsory in the 1840’s due to the efforts of public school reformers in Massachusetts such as Horace Mann,1488

it has spread to other states eventually as well.1495

With that, we are done, and thank you for watching