First Wave Feminists

(To receive this and future issues of The American Feminist, join FFL today!)

We know Alice Paul as the suffragist leader who achieved passage of the 19th Amendment and authored the original Equal Rights Amendment. But when Paul met Feminists for Life co-founder Pat Goltz, Paul told Pat that FFL was not the first pro-life feminist group. Alice Paul said she and other first-wave feminists opposed abortion too.

The same belief in human rights that inspired abolition became the undulating impulse that gave birth to feminism.

The first feminists—who had no legal right to vote, testify on their own behalf, or sit on a jury—affirmed the fundamental liberty of every woman, just as many had affirmed the fundamental liberty of every enslaved person. Denied the right to stop marital rape, control their own finances, or (with the exception of Oberlin College) pursue higher education, the first feminists still found strength to give voice to the most vulnerable, including born children in need of empowered parents and unborn children peacefully floating in their mothers’ wombs.

When I first started at Feminists for Life, an opponent of FFL’s emerging voice alleged we offered only one pro-life quote from one lone suffragist that we kept repeating over and over again. Famous historians peddled the claim that there was no documentation of Susan B. Anthony’s opposition to abortion.

But thanks to the late Mary Krane Derr, who was commissioned by the FFL Board of Directors to research The Revolution (published by Susan B. Anthony and co-edited by Elizabeth Cady Stanton) and Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly (published by Victoria Woodhull and Tennessee Claflin), we established an undeniable consensus among early feminists against the horror of abortion. Other researchers like Suzanne Schnittman, Lisa Bellecci-st. romain, and Ruth Moynihan dove deeper, bringing our rich pro-life feminist history forward into the light.

The early feminists had a spectrum of opinions and pursuits within their movement, just as we have within pro-life feminism today. Like second wave feminists of the 1970s, many of whom strayed from feminism’s original non-violent tenets, some of the first wave feminists’ words and actions can be disappointing—even offensive. Suzanne Schnittman warned me long ago that these were not perfect people any more than we are.

Without known exception, every first-wave feminist who spoke out on abortion strongly opposed it. Some addressed the unmet needs of women driven to abortion; others focused on the children threatened by it; and all expressed intense and unwavering opposition to it.

Feminists for Life surges forward to fulfill the urgent, unrealized dreams of first-wave feminists Alice Paul, Susan B. Anthony, and others—to systematically eliminate the root causes that drive women to abortion.

While we seek solutions in homes, the workplace, schools, and communities—especially for those at highest risk of abortion—we stay true to our core feminist beliefs of nonviolence, nondiscrimination, and justice for all.

Your support ensures that through our advocacy and education we can reach that once-far shore. That day, when no woman feels driven to abortion, is coming—propelled ever faster by you.

That day is coming.

Because women deserve better,

SMF sig

Serrin M. Foster