Chapter One argues that the Genesis creation story played a defining role in debates about women’s rights for generations and that this is why so many women responded enthusiastically to Darwinian evolutionary theory in the second half of the nineteenth century. By refuting special creation and asserting human-animal kinship, Darwin offered attentive readers with a new way to think about the differences between women and men and an alternative, naturalistic creation story. Ultimately, Darwinian evolution inspired some freethinking (a nineteenth-century term referring to agnostics and atheists) feminists to renounce Christianity all together, forcing a split in the women’s rights movement. After 1890, in the wake of the controversy caused by Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s Woman’s Bible, the women most influenced by Darwinian evolution were ousted from the largest suffrage organization, the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). This chapter establishes the enthusiasm that a variety of women had for evolutionary theory in the 1870s and 1880s and why, after the 1890 merger of NAWSA, the women who continued to speak and write about the feminist applications of evolutionary theory did so in free thought, sex reform, and socialist venues, rather than within the suffrage movement.
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