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Fighting for Equal Rights sample essay

Jane Addams, Harriet Tubman, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Rachel Carson were four American women who advocated for social change. Their courage, intelligence, strength and leadership made a positive difference in the lives of many people. These women were pioneers in their times. They either helped to found, or lent their voices to, various social movements, policies, and causes that evolved during their lifetimes and proved successful in helping many oppressed people. Jane Addams is most famous for her work in two major movements, the first of which is the Settlement House movement of the 1800s. Settlement houses, which first originated in England. These facilities were created in response to problems arising from immigration, urbanization, and industrialization. In America, the settlement houses were typically available for medical assistance, housing, and education to immigrants in the areas surrounding them (Izzo, 2010).

Later, with the help of advocates like Addams, they began to take on new roles and more issues related to social and economic policies and conditions. Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr founded Hull House on the West side of Chicago, IL, in 1889. It was a secular house, as opposed to those run by religious organizations. As a more progressive settlement house, along with all the other things offered, Hull House provided more than just basic needs for its attendants. It made available many services such as daycare for single working mothers, an employment bureau, and access to art and other forms of cultural education (Izzo, 2010). As an activist, and one of the earliest social workers, Addams knew it was important for the people she served to have well-rounded experiences; these helped them to be more engaged, productive members of society.

One big difference between the Settlement house movement and other organizations like it was that the settlement houses took information about the poor and underserved they were trying to reach out to, processed the information, and used it to describe the plight of these people to others (Blau and Abramovitz, 2010). This signified a major break toward the fight for social justice and the profession of social work. They were using facts gathered from their work in the population to create structured methods of helping these people. Through these groundbreaking research studies, public policies were eventually enacted. Because of this kind of work in Hull House, Jane Addams emerged as a great leader in the social reform movement. She fought to write and edit legislation about housing, sanitation, factory regulations, immigrant right, and child labor laws. Addams firmly believed that every person deserved his or her equal share of rights as a citizen of the United States.

She allowed union meetings to be held at Hull House and was a member of the Progressive Party (Izzo, 2010). While Hull House is arguably Jane Addams most famous project, another movement she is often associated with is the Peace Movement, which included the fight for women’s rights. Once World War I began, priorities in America shifted. Addams remained focused, however, on her party, the Women’s Peace Party, which she cofounded in 1915. This party networked with other peace movements and their activists, eventually evolving into the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). This organization still exists today; it: “…works to achieve through peaceful means world disarmament, full rights for women, racial and economic justice, an end to all forms of violence, and to establish those political, social, and psychological conditions which can assure peace, freedom, and justice for all.” (Mission Statement, WILPF, n.d.)

Essentially, this means the organization fights for an end to war and violence, equal rights for women and all other minorities, and social justice. This mission statement was part of the code by which Jane Addams lived. Through her work with Hull House, the peace movement, and many others, she was able to fight against mainstream society. She advocated for the rights of the immigrants, the poor, women, and other minorities. All the work she did was for the well-being of those less fortunate than she. Her work did promote social justice. She was a vehicle for change and is still making a difference today, more than 100 years after her death. She spent the beginning of her life learning what she had to fight for, and the rest of her life doing it. Harriet Tubman is well-known for her efforts in the movement to end slavery in America. She is undoubtedly most famous for being a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad, a network of people who helped fugitive slaves in the South escape to the North and to Canada.

She made the dangerous trip alone first, in 1849, when she feared she and her fellow slaves might be sold. Over the next ten years, she would return eighteen more times, rescuing most of her family and at least 300 more slaves. She later helped John Brown recruit men for his raid on Harper’s Ferry, and in the post-war era struggled for women’s suffrage. (Sicker, n.d.) Harriet Tubman, for most of her life, advocated for the rights of African American slaves in the South. After settling in New York, she lent her voice to the fight for women’s rights. Her advocacy absolutely helped promote social justice. She devoted her life, often risking her own safety and well-being to her cause. She was a true spokesperson for basic rights for all. People deserved to be free from slavery, persecution, and abuse. She was widely regarded by many people in her time, and still is today, as an incredibly brave and exceptional advocate for oppressed persons.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton is most famous for being part of the Women’s Rights movement. Stanton and a few other women planned and executed the first women’s rights convention, from which the Women’s Rights movement was born. She helped write many famous literary works associated with the movement. Some would say she was overshadowed by her friend, Susan B. Anthony. This was because Stanton refused to keep a rigorous travel and campaign schedule while her children were young; She wrote a great number of the speeches that Susan B. Anthony delivered. (Women of the hall…, n.d.) Another integral part she played in the Women’s Rights movement was as drafter of the Seneca Falls Convention’s Declaration of Sentiments, including the words, “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men and women are created equal…” (Women of the hall…, n.d.) In her wedding vows to her husband, an abolitionist, she insisted that the world “obey” was left out of the ceremony.

Some of her earliest targeted rights applied to married women; women who were denied the right to hold their wages, to own property, and rights to obtain guardianship of their children. Elizabeth Cady Stanton fought for the rights of, not only women, but all who were mistreated. Although she did not live long enough to see women gain the right to vote or the chance to obtain equal opportunity employment, her ideas live on in the people she inspired. Women fought for their rights with Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s words behind them. Her advocacy led to major shifts in social policy and undoubtedly helped promoted social justice. As she once stated, “The prolonged slavery of women is the darkest page in human history.” (Women of the hall…, n.d.) Due to the efforts of women like Stanton, that page has, for the most part, turned.

Rachel Carson achieved notoriety for being an important part of the movement to limit DDT, synthetic pesticide, sprayings on farm crops. She wrote her groundbreaking book, Silent Spring, which brought many of these issues to light. In January of 1958, Olga Huckins wrote a letter to Carson about the devastating effects that an aerial spraying of DDT had recently her on a private bird sanctuary in Massachusetts. (Beyl, 1991) As Carson wrote in the acknowledgements to Silent Spring, that letter “brought my attention sharply back to a problem with which I had long been concerned. I then realized I must write this book.” (Carson, 1962) As Carson showed in her book, the technology of the twentieth century often brings a variety of unintended consequences that can have profound and long-lasting consequences.

Silent Spring’s most penetrating effect was informing the public of the true effects of DDT sprayings. Carson’s ability to make such complex scientific information accessible to a general audience resulted in a public outcry for more research into the use of chemical pesticides, leading to a series of hearings and the appointment of a Presidential Commission to evaluate the dangers posed by these pesticides. (Beyl, 1991) Rachel Carson’s intentions were the same as any social worker today who is working toward social justice. She not only sought to inform the public of the dangers of these chemicals, she was defending the environment as well. Before she wrote her book, no one knew the effects that these chemicals were going to have on the crops, the surrounding environment, or the people who ingested it. She became a strong advocate for social justice, specifically for doing proper research when finding out what will and will not effect people and their lives, and properly informing the public of these risks.

Also, she became a huge force behind the environmental movement, and protecting and preserving our surroundings. All of these women were driving forces in the movements they believed in, and were often ridiculed for their unwavering beliefs. Never dismayed by adversity, they were brave, persistent women who never strayed from their motives or ideals. Their courage to work toward social justice in times when women were just starting to gain their independent voices inspired many women in their own times, and still today. Their advocacy did and still does show any person, no matter their gender, sexual identity, race, or sexual orientation, that on person speaking up can absolutely make a difference.

Works Cited

Beyl, C. (1991). Rachel carson, silent spring, and the environmental movement. Retrieved from history/lecture31/r_31.html

Blau, J, & Abramovitz, M. (Ed. 3). (2010). The dynamics of social welfare policy: third edition. New York, NY: Oxford University Press

Carson, R. (1962). Silent spring. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Izzo, Amanda. (2001). Biographical note, the jane addams papers, sophia smith collection, smith college, northampton, mass.. Retrieved from bioghist.html

Mission statement, women’s international league for peace and freedom. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Sicker, T, et. Al.. (n.d.). People & events: harriet tubman. Retrieved from

Women of the hall: elizabeth cady stanton. (n.d.). Retrieved from http:// www.greatwomen.orgwomen.phpaction=viewone&id=149

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