The History of Feminism in the United States

United States history has witnessed three feminist movements, and many argue a fourth is underway. The first wave began with the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 and lasted until the winning of women’s suffrage in 1920. The second wave started in the early 1960s with the publication of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique and ended with the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment in the early 1980s and the splintering of the movement. Third-wave feminism started in the early 1990s with Anita Hill’s accusations of sexual harassment against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas and continued into the early 2000s. Arguably a new fourth wave emerged after 2010 and continues today, fueled by social media and marked by the 2017 #MeToo movement. What historical conditions gave rise to each movement? How did the class, racial composition, and sexualities of activists change each subsequent feminist movement? What historical impact did each movement have? How can history help us speculate on the future of US feminism?
In this course, we will begin by reading selections from classic feminist theory such as Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, John Stuart Mill’s The Subjection of Women, Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, and the more recent (1989) book by Susan Moller Okin, Justice, Gender, and the Family. And we will explore how these political theories and changing historical conditions stimulated and defined feminism in the United States.

Margo Horn
Former Lecturer, Department of History, Stanford


Learn More

Course Page
Online, instructor-led
Jan 18 - Feb 15, 2024
Stanford Continuing Studies