Test Cover Image of:  Woman Suffrage and the Origins of Liberal Feminism in the United States, 1820-1920

Woman Suffrage and the Origins of Liberal Feminism in the United States, 1820-1920

In demanding equal rights and the vote for women, woman suffragists introduced liberal feminist dissent into an emerging national movement against absolute power in the forms of patriarchy, church administrations, slavery, and false dogmas.

In their struggle, these women developed three types of liberal arguments, each predominant during a different phase of the movement. The feminism of equal rights, which called for freedom through equality, emerged during the Jacksonian era to counter those opposed to women's public participation in antislavery reform. The feminism of fear, the defense of women's right to live free from fear of violent injury or death perpetrated particularly by drunken men, flourished after the Civil War. And in the early 1900s, the feminism of personal development called for women's freedom through opportunities to become full persons.

The practical need to blend concepts in order to justify and achieve goals created many contradictions in the suffragists' ideologies. By putting suffrage first, these women introduced radical goals, but as a politically powerless group, they could not win the vote without appeals and bargains that men considered acceptable. Ironically, American woman suffragists used illiberal ideals and arguments to sustain the quest for the most fundamental liberal feminist citizenship goal: the vote.

In this book, Suzanne Marilley reframes the debate on this important topic in a fresh, provocative, and persuasive style.

Author Information

MarilleySuzanne M.:

Suzanne M. Marilley is Associate Professor of History and Political Science, Capital University, Columbus, Ohio.


An imaginative and important work. One of the things that impressed me most about Marilley's analysis was the intertwining of ideological, strategic, and historical variables. It is a very impressive take on the suffrage movement which deserves a wide audience. [It is] an excellent study [and] a very exciting contribution to the history of the women's suffrage movement.

An excellent book that corrects much existing literature on a number of important points.

Suzanne Marilley's history of the suffrage movement is a welcome single volume spanning the full history from 1820 to 1920...The most innovative contribution comes from the author's research in the Colorado suffrage victory in 1893, which offers an excellent analysis of state politics. In this case study she closely examines the political context and the array of liberal and illiberal arguments used simultaneously to gain the support of various constituencies...[Marilley] distinguishes herself from other historians of suffrage by clearly defining her book as a political history of the vote rather than a history of women's movement toward equality.

Suzanne Marilley's book is a carefully argued and learned contribution to the view that feminism and liberalism are synonymous. Her account is an excellent introduction to the nineteenth-century campaign; it tracks the movement from 1848 through a series of dogged state campaigns in Colorado in the 1890s and beyond. Marilley stresses the suppleness of the abolitionist legacy and admires the capaciousness of equal-rights ideology after the Civil War to contain a variety of goals for women, including goals to protect women.

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Edition: Reprint 2014
Audience: Professional and scholarly;