This essay will compare and contrast the thoughts of two great activists for women’s rights, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Ida B. Wells-Barnett. Their perspectives on women, class, and race were in opposition to one another, yet they both share some common views on white male dominance of 19th century America.
Status of Women in the 19th Century
The industrialization of the 19th century brought change to the world of women. One significant impact during this time was the formation of socioeconomic classes. The distinction was made between the middle class, the working class and much poorer classes. Regardless of social class, women's focus on spousal relationships, childrearing, personal ...view middle of the document...
A basic component of the African American family was female domesticity. Although African American women, as well as working class women, were both seeking additional income, there was contrast in the acceptance of women working. "Within black communities, acceptance and support for wives who worked outside the home “had a strong acceptance on the part of men (Woloch, (2002) p151)."
African American families focused on instilling "hope" in their children. Forced to abandon the ideal for family structure, mothers would invest themselves as avid supporters in their children's schooling (Woloch, (2002) p152). "By preserving this hope for their children's future, more than a quarter of black mothers sacrificed the domestic ideal and came to represent its antithesis .
Ida B. Wells-Barnett
Ida B. Wells was a newspaper editor and journalist who went on to lead the American anti-lynching crusade. Working closely with both African-American community leaders and American suffragists, Wells worked to raise gender issues within the "Race Question" and race issues within the "Woman Question. (Sterling 61) “Wells was born the daughter of slaves in Holly Springs, Mississippi, on July 16, 1862. Her parents, James and Elizabeth Wells, were slaves, and thus Wells, a woman who devoted her life to promoting racial equality, was born a slave. It was from her parents that Wells developed an interest in politics and her unwavering dedication to achieving set goals (Sterling (1998) p78). During Reconstruction, she was educated at a Missouri Freedman's School, Rust University, and began teaching school at the age of fourteen. Wells took up journalism in addition to school teaching, and in 1891, after she had written several newspaper articles critical of the educational opportunities afforded African-American students, her teaching contract was not renewed. Effectively barred from teaching, she invested her savings in a part-interest in the Memphis Free Speech newspaper (Sterling (1998) p78).
In 1892, Wells wrote a scathing series of editorials following the lynching of three prominent African-American Memphis businessmen, friends of Wells'. In the aftermath of the lynching and her outspoken criticism of it, her newspaper's office was sacked. Wells then moved to New York City, where she continued to write editorials and exposés against lynching, which was at an epidemic level in the years after Reconstruction. Joining the staff of The New York Age, Wells became a much-sought-after lecturer and organizer for anti-lynching societies made up of men and women of all races. She travelled throughout the U.S. and went to Britain twice to speak about anti-lynching activities (Sterling (1998) p157).
Wells was militant in her demands for equality and justice for African-Americans, and insisted that the African-American community must win justice through its own efforts. After a life of organizing and writing, she died in Chicago on March 25, 1931.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton