The Progression of Women through the 20th Century Essay

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 17 March 2016

The Progression of Women through the 20th Century

There has been so much history and so many changes to our country over the last 100 years. I will focus on the changes that women have fought for and helped in making positive changes in our country. “If one compares a woman in 1900 with her counterpart in 2000, the gains have been significant. There were the obvious changes, such as the right to vote and other governmental policies supporting women in the 1960s and 1970s. The results were women successfully engaging in certain jobs for the first time. Where women were once a minority, or excluded entirely, by 1980, they accounted for more than half of all undergraduate students”, (Bowles, 2011).

Even with all the advancements of women, we should not forget about the challenges that we are still facing today. In the present day work force, women are still discriminated against due to the “glass ceiling”, a term used in describing a perfectly qualified person to be held back in a lower level position because of discrimination.

A lot has changed in the last 100 years. Women have taken each step towards equality that they have been allowed. “Looking back over the century, Nancy Woloch stated, “Women of the twenty-first century, thus inherited an unfinished agenda, one initiated by second wave feminists in the 1960’s and 1970’s but incomplete as the century ended”, (Bowles, 2011). Jane Addams spent nearly 50 years working towards women’s rights and world peace. She founded Hull House which was a home “where women assisted the needy and provided social uplift for those suffering from what she called the ‘wrecked foundations of domesticity’”, (Bowles, 2011). “Addams’s life and work can act as one possible study of the personal developing into the political; as Addams matured in years and experience, she became more and more political in her activities”, (Alonso, 2004).

Addams was also named Nobel Peace Prize Laureate for her several writings on peace and women’s rights. Men thought that women belonged at home, minding the home and children. Between 1900 and 1920, women started taking jobs outside the home. It started with teaching, nursing, and social work but soon women began taking clerical jobs if they were native born white women with an education. Thus leading to “Rosie the Riveter”, which we will discuss later. “American Feminists, in the early 20th century included a segment of working-class women, participating alongside better-known middle-class and elite adherents of feminist ideas”, (Greenwald, 1989). During World War II, many people moved in to new jobs for the war effort. This included women by the millions. “Rosie the Riveter” was a national symbol of women taking jobs in the industrial field while the men were away fighting the war. “She was fictional, but represented the ideal government worker, including being loyal, efficient, and patriotic”, (Bowles, 2011).

Another area in which women made changes was with their appearance. Women used their attire and style to show an independence, a certain freedom in which they alone had control. Starting with the “Gibson Girl”, women dressed in long, slim dresses, freeing themselves of the poufy petticoats of yore. Women started wearing shorter dresses and shorter hairstyles, leading to “Flapper Jane”. “Women started wearing “less” clothing, shorter dresses, cutting off their hair, and just being more “sensual” than normal”, (Bliven, 1925). Along with taking control of their wardrobe and style, women also started taking control of their own sexuality. From dressing more provocatively to willingly taking birth control to hold the baby-making at bay while still having a full sexual relationship with their husbands. The road to American Women’s Suffrage was up and down, back and forth, from 1776 until 1920. “Suffrage” means having the legal right to vote in a political election.

Women all over the States were vying for the equal right to vote in the elections, to have a voice in what they wanted for their country. The National Woman Suffrage Association, founded by Susan B. Anthony, became the turning point in women’s suffrage. Carrie Chapman Catt had a plan. Her plan was to focus on winning the right to vote by promoting education of the issue at the state level. In August 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment became a part of the U.S. Constitution. In November of that year, women across the country voted in their first presidential election. The African American woman made great strides as well. During the Civil Rights Movements, there were several women to stand up to the white man, some purposefully taking a stand and some just trying to survive in the new world of “freedom”. Rosa Parks made a huge impact on the Civil Rights Movement.

Taking the bus after a long, tiring day of work, she decided not to give up her seat to a white person and was thrown off the bus and ridiculed. Martin Luther King Jr. heard of this and stood behind Rosa Parks and started the first boycott of public transportation. The end result was a law put in place allowing African Americans to ride public transportation without segregation. Another African America woman who made a stand was Diane Nash. She was part of several stances against the white public. She started with the “Lunch Counter Sit-ins”, getting arrested with many others for not leaving a “white” lunch counter when told to. She also participated in the Freedom Riders bus rides across the southern states. Women also started taking their place in the midst of politics, not just voting but becoming a vital piece of the government. Sandra day O’Connor, the first woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court as a republican. She was nominated by President Ronald Reagan, in 1981.

He was considered a moderate conservative and voted accordingly. In today’s modern world, the female population seems to have exactly the same rights as the male population. Women are allowed to vote, wear whatever they choose, and work in whatever field they find an interest in. But not all is as it seems, women still have to fight dirtier and work harder than her male counterpart in the workforce. While we work outside the home, we are still expected to mind the children and home. Taking care of our husbands and children, while working, and some still attempting to further their education with a degree of any kind, we are expected to be at our top most performance in all things we do, leading me to believe that we deserve each and every reward we received for all of our ancestors’ hard work in fighting for our rights in each aspect of the world.

Bowles, M. (2011). American history 1865–present: End of isolation. San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education, Inc.

Greenwald, M. W. (1989). Working-class feminism and the family wage ideal: The Seattle debate on married women’s right to work, 1914-1920. The Journal of American History, 76(1), 118. Retrieved from

Bliven, B. (1925, Sept. 9). Flapper Jane. Retrieved from

Alonso H. (2004). Thinking and Acting Locally and Globally. Journal of Women’s History 16.1 (2004) 148-164

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