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The Women's Movement - Our History

A brief history of the women's movement.
"Purple is to lavender as woman is to feminist" - Alice Walker

Organised feminism did not really kick off until the first Women's Conference hed in Seneca Falls, America, in 1848. To begin with, the Women's Movement evolved out of social reform groups such as the Abolition of Slavery, the Social Purity and Temperance movements. Women began to realise that in order to transform society they would need their own organisations to do so. They campaigned upon a whole range of issues; from guardianship of infants, property rights, divorce, access to higher education and the medical professions, to equal pay and protective legislation for women workers - many of which women are still campaigning for today!  

The Suffragettes

Increasingly, women recognised that campaigning was limited whilst women could not make their voices heard directly. The vote took 70 years to gain. It was not until 1928 that all women - not just those over 30 and of the right property qualifications - could legally vote. Despite arguments that women should accept merely local suffrage, or universal male suffrage, or limited suffrage, the suffragettes persevered. The rise of the Militant suffragettes and the contribution of a mass of women workers during war time pressurised the Government to grant limited suffrage. Now it is debatable as to how much impact the vote has actually had in campaigning for women's rights. But it was a CRUCIAL LANDMARK IN OUR HISTORY.  

1940s and 1950s

The war had challenged stereotypes in the workplace and so women began to enter the employment market in much larger numbers. It soon became apparent that some of the burden of family responsibility needed to be shifted onto the state. Together with the trade unions, the women's movement fought hard for a welfare state system which would provide this and act as a safety net for society's most vulnerable. This is perhaps one of the GREATEST ACHIEVEMENTS OF THE CENTURY.  

1960s and 1970s

These decades saw the radicalisation of the feminist movement, led by American women. The mass entry of women into the workforce and the Pill changed women's traditional role within the family. Feminists demanded the right to abortion on demand, free childcare provision and equal pay.  

The Future

As is probably clear from our history many of our demands have still not been met. However, the future liiks optimistic. Political parties are beginning to recognise the importance of female voters, more and more women are challenging the "glass ceiling" in the workplace and the labour movements are pushing for a minimum wage. When the women's movements have linked up with other groups such as the Trade Union movement and other oppressed groups, we have achieved masses, like winning the vote. This is the way forward for the 1990s. A speech given in Dublin, 1992.


It took 70 years for women to get voting rights, some even gave their lives for it and in many countries it is still being fought for. Take your opportunities to vote SERIOUSLY.

If you live in one of the colleges you should automatically be registered. If you live off campus you will need to register yourself. For voter registration forms call in to the SU.  

"If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, together women ought to be able to turn it right side up again." - Sojourner Truth

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