The writers and activists considered in this chapter were essentially ‘reformist’ in that they did not challenge the rule of law or provide a systematic attack on the socio-economic system, or on marriage and the family. However, their approaches and origins were more diverse than the ‘liberal feminist’ label which is frequently attached to them suggests. Many were initially drawn into politics via evangelical Christianity rather than by liberal ideas of equal rights. As their activities developed into political campaigns for women’s rights, some also developed analyses of women’s collective interests and their oppression in private as well as public life that were remarkably similar to late twentieth-century radical feminist ideas on sisterhood and patriarchy. In addition, some African American women anticipated later black feminist analyses of the limitations of white feminism and of the interconnections of gender, race and class. To label the approach of the nineteenth-century writers and reformers simply as ‘equal rights’ or ‘liberal’ feminist is, therefore, to impose an inappropriate classification based on conventional politics, and to obscure its nature and diversity.
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