Influenced by the view of some twentieth-century feminists that women’s position within the family is one of the central factors determining women’s social position, some historians have underestimated the significance of the woman suffrage movement. These historians contend that nineteenth-century suffragist was less radical and, hence, less important than, for example, the moral reform movement or domestic feminism—two nineteenth-century movements in which women struggled for more power and autonomy within the family. True, by emphasizing these struggles, such historians have broadened the conventional view of nineteenth-century feminism, but they do a historical disservice to suffragism. Nineteenth-century feminists and anti-feminist alike perceived the suffragists’ demand for enfranchisement as the most radical element in women’s protest, in part because suffragists were demanding power that was not based on the institution of the family, women’s traditional sphere. When evaluating nineteenth-century feminism as a social force, contemporary historians should consider the perceptions of actual participants in the historical events.
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