History 246 Reading Guide

The Woman Suffrage Movement:  Moderates versus Radical Feminists

  • Ellen Carol DuBois, "Outgrowing the Compact of the Fathers:  Equal Rights, Woman Suffrage, and the United States Constitution, 1820-1878," Journal of American History 74.3 (1987), 836-862.  JSTOR

Further readings:

  • Aileen Kraditor, Ideals of the Woman Suffrage Movement (1965), Chapter 5, "Woman and the Home," 82-104.
  • William O'Neill, Everyone Was Brave (1971), Chapter. 2, "The Demand for Equal Suffrage,"49-76.
  • Carl Degler, At Odds (1980), Chapter. XIV, "The Suffrage Fight:  The Last Step was Really the First," 328-361.


In her article, DuBois reiterates an argument, which she first made in 1978, that scholars miss the point when they describe the woman suffrage movement as a conservative movement and the late-nineteenth century arguments of expediency as abandoning the principles of justice. In this article, she offers a political and political-theory analysis of the evolution of the woman's rights movement and the woman suffrage movement. Locating those movements in the context of nineteenth-century American society, reform, and politics, she argues that women's rights demands were an important aspect of the radical tradition of equal rights and popular nineteenth-century republicanism. She also examines the impact that concepts of rights, individualism, and equality had on the way women understood themselves and expressed their sense of their proper position in society.

DuBois divides the nineteenth-century woman's rights movement into three stages.

  • At each stage, what concepts and strategies shaped women's efforts for women's rights and woman suffrage?
  • To what extent were these concepts, strategies, and goals radical?
  • How does this perspective change the way that we understand what Gerda Lerner describes as an "alternate path" in the stages of feminist consciousness?