By SUZANNE PULLEN
Blast San Francisco Bureau
If you think the 1990s suck, try being a woman or a minority in the 1890s. You want to talk oppression, racism and religious zealotry? Much of the century found women unable to own property, sign contracts, have custody of their children or vote. Protection from sexual harassment was a long way off -- the age for sexual consent for girls was 10, a woman was her husband's property, and charges of rape, if they ever made it to court, were taken before a male judge and tried before an all-male jury.
But the women of the 19th century were by no means complacent. The 1860s found women suffragists calling for President Lincoln to declare that the Civil War was for abolition or they wouldn't support it. The 1870s found women picking up steam in their fight for political and social equality, and the 1880s found a woman running for president.
However, by the time the '90s rolled around, women reformers found themselves facing a fierce backlash in the form of Christianity, temperance and anti-immigrant politics. But hey, if you substitute tobacco for alcohol, Ralph Reed for Frances Willard and affirmative action for lynching, what difference does a hundred years make?
Among the low points from 1890s:
WOUNDED KNEE CREEK (1890): U.S. soldiers disarm Big Foot and the Sioux people traveling to the Pine Ridge Reservation. The troops slaughter close to 200 Sioux, mostly women and children.
SUSAN B. ANTHONY (1890): The longtime suffrage activist engineers the union of the liberal National Woman Suffrage Association with Frances Willard and the religious right-wing American Woman Suffrage Association. The united National-American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) later passes resolutions supporting votes for women over black and "foreign" voters.
MATILDA JOSLYN GAGE (1890): The activist forms the Women's National Liberal Union in response to the formation of NAWSA. She later writes "Women, Church and State" in which she exclaims: "During the ages, no rebellion has been of like importance with that of Woman against the tyranny of Church and State. ... We note its beginning; its progress will overthrow every existing form of these institutions; its end will be a regenerated world."
THE WORLD WOMAN'S CHRISTIAN TEMPERANCE UNION (1891): Founded with Willard as president (Gage describes her as "the most dangerous woman on the planet" for her desire to put "God into the Constitution, prayer into the schools, and liquor out of the realm of choice"), the group gathers 7 million signatures on anti-alcohol and anti-drug petitions across the globe.
IDA B. WELLS (1892): The Memphis journalist begins an anti-lynching campaign and is among the first to expose the epidemic of lynching of blacks in the South. Her paper's offices are burnt to the ground while she is speaking in the North.
JOHN HOPKINS MEDICAL SCHOOL (1893): The school finally admits women -- but only after the women raise a $500,000 bribe.
MISSOURI PRESS ASSOCIATION (1895): The president of this group calls all black women "prostitutes, thieves, and liars," prompting Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin to call the first national conference of African American women in Boston.
ELIZABETH CADY STANTON (1895): She is denounced by clergymen and fellow members of NAWSA (she was the group's first president) for writing "The Woman's Bible," in which she and other women revise biblical passages that degrade women.
IDAHO'S BOARD OF CANVASSERS (1896): The panel tries to overturn a 2-to-1 vote at the polls in support of woman suffrage. Suffragists take the issue to the state supreme court and win. After 48 years of organized work to gain the vote for women, only four states including Idaho (Wyoming, Colorado and Utah) have granted full suffrage to women. It will take another 24 years until women can vote throughout the union.