First-wave feminism refers to a period of feminist activity during the nineteenth and early twentieth century in the United Kingdom and the United States. It focused on de jure (officially mandated) inequalities, primarily on gaining women's suffrage (the right to vote). The term first wave was coined retroactively in the 1970s. The women's movement then, focusing as much on fighting de facto (unofficial) inequalities as de jure ones, acknowledged its foremothers by calling itself second-wave feminism.
Mary Wollstonecraft published the first feminist treatise, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), in which she advocated the social and moral equality of the sexes, extending the work of her 1790 pamphlet, A Vindication of the Rights of Man. Her later unfinished work "Maria, or the Wrongs of Woman" earned her considerable criticism as she dared to acknowledge the existence of women's sexual desires, which was taboo in Georgian England.
Wollstonecraft is regarded as the grandmother of British feminism and her ideas shaped the thinking of the suffragettes, who campaigned for the women's vote. After generations of work, this was eventually granted − to some women in 1918, and equally with men in 1928.
Woman in the Nineteenth Century by Margaret Fuller has been considered the first major feminist work in the United States and is often compared to Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Prominent leaders of the feminist movement in the United States include Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, who campaigned for the abolition of slavery prior to championing women's right to vote. Anthony and other activists (such as Victoria Woodhull and Matilda Joslyn Gage) made attempts to cast votes prior to their legal entitlement to do so, for which many of them faced charges. Other important leaders include Lucy Stone, Olympia Brown, and Helen Pitts.
First-wave feminism involved a wide range of women, some belonging to conservative Christian groups (such as Frances Willard and the Woman's Christian Temperance Union), others resembling the diversity and radicalism of much of second-wave feminism (such as Matilda Joslyn Gage and the National Woman Suffrage Association).
The end of this wave is often linked with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution (1920), granting women the right to vote. This was a major victory of the movement, which also included reforms in higher education, in the workplace and professions, and in healthcare.