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Women’s History Essay

Women have fought for many years to gain rights and the ability to be treated as man’s equal. Women have earned the right to vote and work outside the home in jobs that were classically men’s work. Women earned the right to serve their country during wartime. However, women must work harder to prove that they are worthy of being treated as an equal. Women have made great advances in civil rights since 1865, but they still have a long way to go to be treated as man’s equal.

1865-1900
During this time period, women in the United States gained a little independence with the westward expansion. They had to learn to operate all machinery and to run their homestead just as well as their husbands in case of an emergency when he was not around. There were many homesteads that were entirely run by women.

These women were widows that moved either west after their husbands died or inherited the land after their husbands or ancestor’s death. During the 1900’s women worked as domestic laborers such as maids, cooks, waitresses, and launderers. Some women obtained manufacturing jobs for pay that was significantly less than male workers (Bowles, 2012). Women were also beginning to become teachers. One in every four teachers were women. By 1900, three out of every four teachers were women (Bowles, 2012). After the slaves were freed in the South, the African American women took jobs as domestic workers.

These were the same jobs that they had when they were slaves, only they were now able to earn a wage. In the homes that could not afford to hire outside domestic labor, the women of the home were forced to take on the responsibilities of running a home and some had to obtain jobs outside the home. These women took jobs outside of the home preparing meals, sewing in factories, and domestic work in upper class homes. There were few women in industrial jobs, mostly sewing factories where they worked on an assembly line. Women began getting jobs in the clerical field, as the typewriter was better suited to their fingers.

Other fields that were opening up to women workers were teaching, nursing, social work, and retail clerks. The women working outside the home were from the lower and middle class, single women, immigrants or African Americans. The upper class women did not get jobs outside the home, but many volunteered their time to causes that they felt strongly about. Elizabeth Cady Stanton started the fight for woman’s equal rights and their right to vote.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton drafted the Declaration of Rights and Sentiments for Women in 1848. In 1868, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony began the National Woman Suffrage Association and wrote the Revolution a weekly publication that prompted equal rights for women. Susan B Anthony was arrested for illegally voting in the 1872 presidential election (The Bibliography Channel, 2011). The amendment to allow women to vote was introduced to congress in 1878; however, E. C. Stanton and S. B. Anthony died before the amendment was passed into law.

1900-1920
There were nine western states allowed women to vote by 1912. One of those states was Montana. In 1916, Jeannette Rankin decided to run for a seat in the House of Representatives. She was elected in 1917 and played an integral part to the women’s right to vote. She fought for the creation of a Women’s Suffrage Committee and was appointed to it upon its creation (Office of History and Preservation, 2007). This committee wrote the Constitutional Amendment that would allow women the right to vote.

On May 21, 1919, The House of Representatives passed the amendment and the senate passed it 2 weeks later. On August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to allow women the right to vote. When Tennessee ratified the amendment, this allowed Congress to pass the amendment since three-quarters of the states agreed. Women gained the right to vote with the 19th amendment that was certified on August 26, 1920 (National Archives, 2012).

Although women gained the right to vote during this period, their employment opportunities were still limited. They were still accepted as teachers, nurses or social workers, retail sales, domestic labor, nuns and in the clerical field. As women filled the clerical positions, employers offered les pay to the female workers than the male workers had received (Bowles, 2011).

Most women attended all female colleges or business schools during this time, as there were a few colleges that allowed co-education of men and women. There were also limits on what a woman could do after obtaining her degree, as it was still not acceptable for women to hold other jobs.

Women’s fashion during this time period changed. Many women began to stop wearing the corsets that were so popular during the 1800’s. The length of their dresses became shorter. Instead of floor length, the hem rose to their mid-calf (Bowles, 2011). Women also began to wear makeup and cut their hair short.

This represented a woman’s freedom to do what he wished with her body. Women also started to become more athletic and outdoorsy, shedding the Victorian ideals of keeping the skin pale by staying out of the sun. Women also started to smoke as a sign of freedom and rebellion.

Margaret Sanger was a nurse in New York when she wrote a newspaper column titled “What Every Girl Should Know” (Biography.com, 2012). She started a publication called The Woman Rebel in 1914 in which she advocated a woman’s right to “birth control”.

In 1916, she opened the first clinic specializing in birth control, where she gave out information, condoms and fitted women for diaphragms to prevent pregnancy. She felt that it was a woman’s right to decide if and when to have children and that a woman would never be free until she was allowed that choice. In 1921, Margaret Sanger started the American Birth Control League.

When World War I began in 1919, the clerical field was completely feminized (Bowles, 2012). During this war, 20,000 women worked in the armed forces, one quarter of these women were nurses stationed overseas (Bowles, 2012). They also took over the family farms and drove trucks during the war. They volunteered their time to promoting Liberty Bonds, teaching food conservation and sending supplies overseas. Their participation in the war efforts were then used as an example why they should be have an equal say in the political matters of the country they helped to defend.

1920-1945
During the 1920’s after earning the right to vote, women were able to express themselves in the political arena, so they also began expressing themselves in other area. Their fashion and lifestyles became “freer”, thus earning the name of “Flappers” (Bowles, 2011). These women wore their hair very short, wore a lot of makeup, and wore shirts or dresses that were at or above knee length. They were more apt to explore sex since birth control was available. They became very liberated during this time period.

During the Great Depression, women suffered as much as the men. Women’s wages were decreased or jobs lost depending on the industry that they worked in. Many home became multi-family homes and the women became responsible for the care and feeding of more people.

When the Great Depression started to subside, the United States government allowed women to obtain retirement and unemployment benefits when the Social Security Program began. This program was started by Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labor. She was the first woman to hold a position in the Presidential Cabinet (Biography.com, 2012). There were also great advances in technology that produced more housework for women. With more advanced stoves, vacuum cleaners, washing machines and refrigerators the expected care of the home increased, thus creating more work for the women of the home.


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