The Women's Movement

Martin Pugh charts the Women's Movement's origins and growth 1850-1939.

When did modern feminism begin? We usually see its origin in the political ideas of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment and the French Revolution, which regarded all human beings as rational creatures who enjoyed the same fundamental rights. This gave rise to what is usually called liberal feminism or equal-rights feminism. When the French Revolution broke out in 1789 thirty-three of the famous lists of grievances presented to the Estates General expressed female demands. The intellectual excitement generated in France soon provoked feminist tracts elsewhere. In England Mary Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792) and the German Theodore Gottlieb von Hippel published On the Civil Improvement of Women (1794).

However, little came of this early flourish of feminist propaganda. The French constitution of 1792 actually banned women from public life and the Emperor Napoleon's Civil Code of 1804 was subsequently implemented in much of continental Europe. It effectively denied legal rights and access to divorce to married women, placed their properly and income in the control of their husbands, and generally confined them to a subordinate, domestic role.

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