“Life is my college. May I graduate well and earn many honors” – Louisa May Alcott
“Girls should never be afraid of being smart.” – Emma Watson
On the morning of June 12th 1840 international delegates entered the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London, with the exception of two women delegates from the United States; Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. After hours of debate, it was decided by majority of the male delegates, that the two women could NOT participate in the proceedings but could observe – from a balcony – behind a curtain.
That there were women delegates attending this international conference demonstrates the inclusive nature of the abolitionist movement in the United States at that time. While ending slavery was the focus, the approach was a call for racial equality AND women’s rights to equal access of property ownership, wages, and education. Seeing the next logical step being a woman’s right to vote, members of the Suffragist Movement partnered with the Abolitionist Movement. Shortly after the Civil War the 13th Amendment was ratified abolishing slavery, the 14th Amendment was ratified designating those who were freed to be US citizens, and the 15th Amendment was ratified, giving said citizens the right to vote regardless of race, creed, color: however, NOT regardless of gender.
No doubt these were historic changes – AND necessary if the United States continued to herald itself the “land of the free”. But the decision to NOT include a woman’s right to vote in the 15th Amendment was a great disappointment – to WOMEN, anyway.
Important names must be inserted here: Susan B Anthony, Ida Wells, Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, countless others; and two more, separated by centuries and seemingly unconnected. But the combined contributions of Louisa May Alcott, author of “Little Women” and actress Emma Watson, known for her protrayal of Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films, are profound reminders of where we have come from and where we are still going.
That Louisa May Alcott becomes an author speaks to the progressive nature of her supportive family. Influenced by the Transcendentalist movement Louisa’s father, Bronson Alcott brought is family to the brink of financial ruin and it was Louisa’s published works that supported them. This placed her squarely in the role of successful working woman and bread winner. She was a modern women before there were any.
Not surprisingly, Alcott was active in the suffragist movement and was actually the first woman registered to vote in Massachusetts. But in her most famous work, Louisa’s alter ego Jo March and Jo’s childhood soul mate Laurie do more than address the subject of women’s rights – they are perhaps the original call for gender equality. For while Jo longs for the kind of independence reserved for men, Laurie questions his traditional male role, wishing only to devote his time to music and art.
…and 150 years later we’re still taking about it.
By her own admission, Emma Watson practically played herself in the role of the studious Hermione Granger. She completed successful undergraduate work, took courses at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, and after 5 years, received a degree in English Literature from Brown University – record time, considering her filming schedule.
Then June 2014 Watson was appointed a Goodwill Ambassador for UN Women, an organization founded to fight discrimination and promote education and human rights for women. Launching HeForShe in September 2014, a call for men to support gender equality, Watson gave a speech at United Nations Headquarters on behalf of the campaign.
In it, she extends an invitation to men to also seek gender equality. From citing the experiences of her own father whose role as a parent was dismissed as “not as important as a mother’s” to young men questioning their own traditional roles, Watson called for freedom for both men AND women to be sensitive and to be strong. She says “…daughters, sisters and mothers can be free from prejudice but sons have permission to be vulnerable and human, too…”
…and WHAT, you ask, do Louisa May Alcott and Emma Watson have to do with the 19th Amendment?
Though the 19th Amendment grants women the right to vote in the United States and was ratified in AUGUST of 1920, Women’s History Month is celebrated in March; and that decision stretches back to the 1911 International Women’s Day conference. For the the next sixty-some years women from Russia, England, China, Spain as well as the United States laid the groundwork for equality and the rights of women around the world. Then, in 1977, the United Nations announced March 8 as the United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and World Peace.
Now, once again, this international platform is mobilized on behalf of equity and human rights. For Emma Watson’s words – those of a young artist, scholar, and activist – resound with inclusive and empowering messages; messages from a long ago artist and activist, from architects of the women’s movement, and from all those who fought and still fight for equality.
And this time they resound not just for women, but for and to all.
The cited quotes in this piece are powerful and meaningful. But the following words best describe the fight for equality and human rights – past, present, and future, all over the the world, by both men and women. They’re from “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”
Hagrid says, “What’s comin’ will come and we’ll meet it when it does”
…and we will.
Go To: Teachers Pay Teachers – Spike Literature for companion piece.