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Feminist Theorists

Key Writers About Feminist Theory

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"Feminism" is about equality of the sexes, and activism to achieve such equality for women. Not all feminist theorists have agreed about how to achieve that equality and what equality looks like. Here are some of the key writers on feminist theory, key to understanding what feminism has been all about. I've listed them in chronological order so it's easier to see the development of feminist theory.

Rachel Speght

1597 - ?
Rachel Speght was the first woman known to have published a women's rights pamphlet in English under her own name.

Olympe de Gouge

1748 - 1793
Olympe de Gouges, a playwright of some note in France at the time of the Revolution, spoke for not only herself but many of the women of France, when in 1791 she wrote and published the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Citizen. Modeled on the 1789 Declaration of the National Assembly, defining citizenship for men, this Declaration echoed the same language and extended it to women, as well. In this document, de Gouges both asserted woman's capability to reason and make moral decisions and pointed to the feminine virtues of emotion and feeling. Woman was not simply the same as man, but she was his equal partner.

Mary Wollstonecraft

Mary Wollstonecraft
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1759 - 1797
Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is one of the most important documents in the history of women's rights. Wollstonecraft's personal life was often troubled, and her early death of childbed fever cut short her evolving ideas. Her second daughter, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley, was Percy Shelley's second wife and author of the book, Frankenstein.

Judith Sargent Murray

1751 - 1820
Judith Sargent Murray, born in colonial Massachusetts and a supporter of the American Revolution, wrote on religion, women's education, and politics. She's best known for The Gleaner, and her essay on women's equality and education was published a year before Wollstonecraft's Vindication.

Fredrika Bremer

1801 - 1865
Frederika Bremer, a Swedish writer, was a novelist and mystic who also wrote on socialism and on feminism.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Elizabeth Cady Stanton
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1815 - 1902
One of the best-known of the mothers of woman suffrage, Elizabeth Cady Stanton helped organize the 1848 woman's rights convention in Seneca Falls, where she insisted on leaving in a demand for the vote for women -- despite strong opposition, including from her own husband. Stanton worked closely with Susan B. Anthony, writing many of the speeches which Anthony traveled to deliver.

Anna Garlin Spencer

1851 - 1931
Anna Garlin Spencer, nearly forgotten today, was, in her time, considered among the foremost theorists about the family and women. She published Woman's Share in Social Culture in 1913.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote in a variety of genres, including "The Yellow Wallpaper," a short story highlighting the "rest cure" for women in the 19th century; Woman and Economics, a sociological analysis of women's place; and Herland, a feminist utopia novel.

Sarojini Naidu

1879 - 1949
A poet, she led a campaign to abolish purdah and was the first Indian woman president of the Indian National Congress (1925), Gandhi's political organization. After independence, she was appointed governor of Uttar Pradesh. She also helped found the Women's India Association, with Annie Besant and others.

Crystal Eastman

1881 - 1928
Crystal Eastman was a socialist feminist, and in this 1920 essay, makes clear the economic and social foundations of her feminist theory.
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