Collier's New Encyclopedia (1921)/Feminism

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FEMINISM, a term, supposed to have originated in France in 1890, which includes all phases of the modern tendency of women to assert their equality in the social life with men; their right to enter the professions on an equal basis with men, equal suffrage for both sexes in political matters, and a general recognition of the rights of women to interest themselves in pubic affairs.

The first manifestation of what has been commonly called the “women's rights” movement was the growing demand for equal suffrage, principally in this country and in Great Britain. The demand has been based on the democratic ideals of both these nations, supported by the contention that men formed a superior political class who subjected women, as an inferior class, to political slavery. In Great Britain equal suffrage for the sexes has been a national problem, on account of the centralized system of the British Government. In this country it had, until slightly previous to 1920, been a problem which each State might solve as it saw fit. Thus in several of the Western States, notably Kansas and California, women were granted the right to vote at a much earlier period than it was granted them in other parts of the country.

The growing agitation by women's organizations, however, stimulated public interest in the question, and repeated efforts were made to grant the right of suffrage to women by means of an amendment of the Federal Constitution. The activity of women in war relief work, during the participation of the United States in the World War, rousing universal admiration of their efforts, undoubtedly was the chief cause of the sentiment which carried the amendment through Congress in 1919 (passing the Senate June 7, 1919). In a little over a year the necessary number of State Legislatures had ratified the measure, that of Connecticut being the last to pass its approval, thus enabling women all over the country to participate in the presidential elections in November, 1920.

In other phases of the general movement toward equality of men and women the United States has been far in the lead over Great Britain and the Continental countries, with the possible exception of the Scandinavian countries. As far back as 1833 the coeducation of men and women was introduced in Oberlin College, and gradually became a common feature of a large number of American institutions of learning. The right of women to a place in the professions has long been recognized in this country, while in other countries women who ventured into the gainful occupations would be socially ostracized.