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Quaker Feminists Theologians in 19th century America Rosemary R. Ruether

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Quaker Feminists Theologians in 19th century America Rosemary R. Ruether

The women’s rights movement that arose in the two decades before the American Civil War drew on a combination of radical evangelical and Quaker theological and social principles and American political egalitarianism. The American Declaration of Independence assumed an Enlightenment secularization of Christian doctrine that all humans are created in the image of God. This was understood of mean that all humans have a common human nature that endows them with “reason and moral conscience.” This is the basis of the claim that all humans should therefore possess the same “human rights.” European societies divided between aristocracies and peasants denied any such equality of natures and so of rights. For revolutionary liberalism this class hierarchy reflected a distortion of “nature.” The overthrow of class hierarchy and the establishment of democratic society was understood as the restoration of an original equality in nature. This secular political equivalent of the theology of creation, fall and redemption was enshrined in the American tradition in the phrase “we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.” But the framers of the American Constitution did not seriously consider including all humans in this definition. Property-less white males, slaves, Indians and women were all assumed to be excluded from full and equal citizenship and hence voting rights. The “all men created equal” de facto meant free white propertied men. It would take almost two centuries for the excluded groups to be incorporated into the American legal definition of equal self-representing citizens. Quaker feminists played a key role in this struggle to abolish slavery and female subjugation in 19th century America. 

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