Liberty For All?
Rebecca Harding, who wrote that article about mill workers, was valedictorian of her class. She wanted to go to college, like her brother, but she was a girl, so it didn't happen. "Women's brains are smaller than men's," said nineteenth century experts. Who were those experts? Why, men, of course! Judith Sargent Murray saw clearly, even in 1790, how men maintained their dominance over women. She wrote: "From what does this superiority of men proceed? The one is taught to aspire, the other is early confined and limited."
In 1837, Mary Lyon founded Mount Holyoke College for women in Massachusetts. It was a fine school, but a small one, and it didn't receive accreditation until after the Civil War. For most women who wanted to become doctors or lawyers or just educated citizens, there was no place to go and learn. Elizabeth Blackwell applied to twenty-nine medical schools. Then the administration at Geneva College in upstate New York asked its male students if it should admit a woman. The students thought the question a joke and said yes. They were surprised when Blackwell appeared and made it through medical school. She was the first American woman to do so.
School wasn't the only problem for women. If a woman got a job, her pay would be about half that of a man doing the same work. Her salary, and all her possessions, belonged to her husband. And women couldn't vote, so they couldn't change the laws.