During the 19th century, women were not supposed to get involved in politics—women belonged within the sphere of the home. Women and the Work of Benevolence: Morality, Politics, and Class in the 19th Century explores the history of women’s involvement in politics during the 19th century. Catharine Beecher stated, “Petitions to congress in reference to the official duties of legislators, seem, in all cases, to fall entirely without the sphere of female duty. Men are the proper persons to make appeals to the rulers whom they appoint.” Beecher, and most other individuals in society, believed that the women’s role was in the home. People believed “politics occupied a wholly separate realm from mortality” and did not women to become corrupt by their involvement in politics.
Many women sought to make social change to society, but, still, many individuals insisted the “women’s appropriate means for change lay in their peculiar influence—an influence that was moral, as opposed to political, in nature.” However, women were able to apply their influence to politics. Historian Barbara Berg stated, “Emboldened by frequent favorable responses of public officials to their financial requests. . . women began to bring their problems and plans to governmental authorities.” Politicians were forced to listen to women’s wants because women could apply their influence.
Politicians actually liked any of the women’s organizations because they often promoted conservative values. “Not surprisingly, legislators and council members were most responsive to the pleas of relatively traditional organizations, those that sought to ameliorate specific social and economic conditions, to limit sin rather than to realize a grand moral transformation.” Women’s organizations what give “financial contributions to political campaigns” that had supported their causes, so women were able to extend some political power—even without the vote. “This nonvoting position held potentially radical implications for the structuring of political power in the United States. Although the elevation of the female ideal did not give more authority to women, it did put abstract power into the hands of the relatively powerless and thus might have redefined the focus of social change. Moreover, by adopting this view, ultraist women reacted against the traditional informal political privileges of more elite and conservative women.”
It was during the 20th century that the majority of women began to call for suffrage. They began to realize that the vote would help them actually have a saw in the laws and bills that were passed. They realized that they could affect society for the better by voting for more moral laws.
Julie Dolan, Melissa Deckman, and Michele L. Swers. “Women in Social Movements, Interest Groups, and the Political Parties,” in Women and Politics, (Pearson, 2007), 11-69.