America’s Founding Feminists
Frances Wright’s early socialist critique exposed the systemic oppression of ordinary American citizens at the hands of the ruling white male elite, and encouraged individuals to scrutinize the mechanisms of political power to ensure their legitimacy. Wright dealt more directly with slavery and the oppression of women than her better known contemporary Alexis de Tocqueville. Harriet Martineau refashioned Adam Smith’s moral theory of sympathy to provide a pathway to abolishing slavery and expanding women’s rights. Angelina Grimké, Sarah Grimké, and Lucretia Mott provided the foundations for a Quaker political theory, a set of ideas framed within their religious worldview on issues of equality, freedom, citizenship, and constitutional reform. Elizabeth Cady Stanton exposed the hypocrisy of women’s oppression and began a process of moral instruction reminiscent of Smith’s moral theory. Using her unique status as a free black woman to destabilize stereotypes and biases, Sojourner Truth encouraged men and women of all races to reexamine their double standards and hypocrisies. These women were limited by the political and cultural norms in which they lived, and yet they expanded the fundamental principles of the American project to address the needs of the disenfranchised, a process that continues today.
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