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Handbill for two 1914 events at Cooper Union, New York. It reads: What is Feminism? Come and Find Out.

“What is Feminism? Come and Find Out”

In 1913 Winnifred Harper Cooley, the daughter of noted suffragist Ida Husted Harper, asserted in Harper’s Weekly that “All feminists are suffragists, but not all suffragists are feminists” but her pithy aside was somewhat misleading. The question of woman’s status and women’s rights had been publicly debated since the late 18th century but the specific word “feminist” was a more modern construction, derived from the French “feminisme” of the 1880s but not widely deployed in the United States until the second decade of the twentieth century. That decade was also the height of suffrage advocacy, and the two movements were closely intertwined. Those who self-consciously adopted the feminist label often embraced a broader commitment to economic independence and sexual emancipation than suffrage’s more narrow demand for the vote. But taking the long view, both suffragists and feminists were marching in the same general direction.

The best example of contemporary feminism was a Greenwich Village group called Heterodoxy, founded in 1912 by “women who did things and did them openly.” The club brought together self-described modern women for heady discussions about the challenges of the liberated lives they envisioned for themselves, and by extension all women. Some of these discussions took place in public, such as two panels held at Cooper Union in New York City in 1914. “What is Feminism? Come and Find Out” read the handbill. At both events many of the speakers had ties either to Heterodoxy or the suffrage movement or both.