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Women Essay, Research Paper


The way in which women are seen today, in America, is very different

from the way they were seen two hundred years ago. Back then women were not allowed

to speak as often as they would have liked to. They were expected to be care-givers, have

and raise children, and do household duties such as cleaning and cooking for the family.

Basically that was a women s typical role, men were constantly seen as being way above

women, so therefore they would always be the ones who commanded or had the final

word in what would be done. Women were seen as passive and weak, and not as able to

accomplish physically or mentally all that men could.

This is in complete contrast from the way in which society sees women today. In

this country women have the ability and choice to create their own lives, own businesses,

become what they ve always dreamed, speak their minds, or balance a family and a

career. If we put in the effort we are able to accomplish all a man can accomplish, or

maybe even more. It is important to look back upon history and value the actions taken

by women in the 19th and 20th century to get society to where we are today. It is also

crucial that we look at the events that took place, because the progress that women have

made has been due to the way women fought for their rights, and the circumstances that

came our way.

Women in America, Social Change and The Legal System

It all started back in the revolutionary era which brought women responsibility

because men were away at war. Women found themselves capable of managing

households, businesses, and estates. But when the men returned home, more often than

not, women were expected to return to their original roles. Because of the new

inventions and the new means of communication throughout the 1800’s, women were

given more time to crusade for their cause. The post-war generation came with food-

canning, the telephone, gas illumination, the linotype machine, which made office work

easier for women, and the bicycle which opened the door for more comfortable clothes,

railroads also made travel more easy. These inventions definitely gave women more

time, and made women s lives easier. Women s magazines also gave women a voice and

character, for the first time people became interested in what women were thinking and

doing as persons instead of just housewives. As the century progressed more and more

colleges began to accept women, therefore enabling women to become educated and

obtain resources that would make them leaders, writers, poets, and so on.

These changes also brought women to new realizations. It stirred women up, and

gave them the desire to be heard and acknowledged. July, 1848 brought five women

together, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Martha Wright, Jane Hunt, and Mary

Ann McClintock. This group met for a social afternoon in Seneca Falls to discuss the

numerous grievances suffered by women. The Seneca Falls Women s Right Convention

took place on July 18th and 19th in 1848. These five women had written up a Declaration

of Women s Rights and displayed it to the thousands of women who showed up for the

first convention, and the conventions that were to follow. From these conventions

millions of women were inspired and decided to join the movement, one of these was

Susan B. Anthony.

Susan B. Anthony joined Mrs. Stanton in campaigns by petition and bombarded

the state legislature with signatures of millions of women who wanted their rights. (1850-

1920) Susan B. Anthony also organized the collection of four hundred thousand

signatures urging the passage of the 13th Amendment which would abolish slavery. Susan

B. Anthony was an influential leader in the Women s Movement, as well as the Civil

Rights Movement and encouraged others to do likewise.

When the Civil War began, the movement was put on hold temporarily. A

woman s role became that of nurse, seamstress, farmer, worker, and so on. About four

hundred women enlisted themselves to fight in the war as men. Some women went in

disguised, and fought for our country without being recognized. When the war was

finally over, and veterans returned to their households many women lost the jobs they had

taken over, and if their husbands or sons had been killed at war they were left without

money, homes, or possessions. With all of this going on Susan B. Anthony organized

The New York Working Women s Protective Union in 1868, this union was made to

protect women against unfair practices and employers.

In 1870 the women s suffrage movement continued on standstill when the 15th

Amendment to the Constitution was ratified. It gave the right to vote to all men

regardless of race. Although men of different races, primarily black had been given the

right to vote, and this was a step forward, black and white women had still been denied

equality. This angered many women, especially those who were leaders of the

movement, some felt discouraged while others felt even more inspired to put their all

forward for the cause.

From this turmoil two women s suffrage groups were formed. Miss Anthony and

Mrs. Stanton formed the Woman Suffrage Association, and the more conservative Lucy

Stone formed the American Women Suffrage Association in Cleveland. Lucy Stone felt

she wanted the right to vote, however a woman s place needed to remain behind her man,

and in the home. She was not for equality, but felt that women should be encouragers of

peace therefore they needed the vote to accomplish this. Eventually in 1890, these two

groups combined. Compromise was key here, the groups felt they would accomplish

more together than separately so both Stanton and Stone found common ground. As

women from England came over, they were more abrupt in their fighting. Because the

14th Amendment stated that no state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge

the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States the women from England, as

well as some from here claimed themselves to be citizens , therefore they attempted

to vote under this amendment. It worked in New Jersey for a short while, but the New

Jersey legislature passed a new constitution that would not allow these women to

continue to vote under the 14th Amendment.

World War I began on April 16, 1917 and women s lives began to change

drastically. Many suffragists continued with their efforts to win the vote, however many

women turned their efforts into obtaining peace. Some did not like the idea of the

country being at war once again, and sending their loved ones off over seas was a

difficult thing. Other women reacted differently, they found war jobs enabling them to

make wages that they had never made before on places like farms, war plants, or

automobile companies. It became normal to see a woman being just as successful as a

man in these jobs that were primarily looked at as men s work . An important outcome

of having women entering these jobs was that the government established a Women in

Industry Service in June of 1918. This invited women to serve on the Women s

Committee of the united States Council of Defense. The movement seemed to be making

more and more progress as the months rolled by.

By 1920, much progress in the Women s Right Movement had been made.

Women had been granted the right to speak in public, testify in court, and preach from

the pulpit, access to equal education, control of personal wages and property, legal

custody of children and entrance into some professions and suffrage. The first four states

to give women the right to vote were Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and Idaho. On May 21,

1919 the House of Representatives passed the Federal Woman Suffrage Amendment;

originally the 16th Amendment, but now the 19th. Women were very excited about their

new political power and the National American Woman Suffrage Association was turned

into the National League of Women Voters. Many women planned to go along with the

existing political system, but in 1923 one woman by the name of Alice Paul planned a

whole new system of equality. At the 75th anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention,

she reread the Declaration of Rights of Sentiments and proposed a new amendment

claiming that Men and Women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and

every place subject to its jurisdiction. In the first two years of the 1920’s women

seemed to revolt.

Socially women s clothing changed due to the fact that working in a war plant

wearing huge skirts was impossible, so women changed into overalls and knickers as

well as cutting their hair, this gave women a new look, also giving them a new liberated

image. Dances such as the Charleston and bunny hug became very popular among

teenage girls during the 20’s. Their skirts went from being down to their ankles to being

above the knee, and it wasn t rare to hear about necking in the back seat of family cars.

Women also daringly began drinking liquor and some went even as far as smoking

cigarettes. The craze of Hollywood and theater also began during this time, and women

took roles in writing award-winning plays, novels, poetry, and short stories. Women

also became actresses, and were highly admired for their beauty. The invention of the

radio gave women a voice in society, traveling also became more obtainable so it wasn t

too long before women began traveling overseas to Paris or other countries to pursue

their dreams. At this time in history women also began to join sports, and practice

frequently to become successful in athletics. On August 6, 1926 Gertrude Ederle was the

first woman to swim the English Channel, and she did it in less than fourteen hours,

which broke the male record. Courage in the field of aviation was demonstrated by

Amelia Earhart in 1932 when she became the first woman to fly a place across the

Atlantic. This was a great and progressive time for women, but on October 24, 1929 the

stock market crashed which began the Great Depression of the 1930’s.

Two women stood out during this time of lost prosperity, First Lady Eleanor

Roosevelt and Secretary of Labor Francis Perkins. Many people became homeless

because they could not pay their rent, they had lost their jobs since railroads, industry,

and banks were becoming bankrupt. People throughout the United States became

hopeless and discouraged. Along came Eleanor Roosevelt who traveled across the

country bringing good will and reassurance to people everywhere by listening,

understanding, and simply caring. Miss Perkins was assigned to office by President

Roosevelt in 1933. She expanded the Bureau of Labor statistics and made it possible

to formulate labor legislation acceptable to everyone concerned.

Once again women took over men s work when World War II began, and the

depression ended. This time over 260,000 women enlisted to join the war, and the ones

who stayed home either continued to work towards peace or joined the Civil Defense

Program which would provide first aid or community organization. After this war

women were once again forced out of jobs they had taken over, or just willingly gave

them up because society continued to see a women s place in the home. Many

women returned from war and were bombarded with magazines that showed women as

purchasers of appliances, detergents, cosmetics, and house-cleaning products which

would once again place them in the home. Women who were wonderful wives and

mothers were the ones who were not preoccupied with world affaires or careers. At this

point the housewife began to feel trapped. She realized that she was living in a Man s

World where men made the laws and ran the country. Some reforms needed to be made

because women wanted to feel and be seen as equals.

The Kennedy Commission on the Status of Women was headed by Eleanor

Roosevelt in 1961, and was formed to bring about change so that women could feel like

citizen s of the state. At this point the Equal Pay Act of 1963 required equal pay for men

and women for equal work performed on equal conditions. President Kennedy began to

support women s cause and with that came the adding of sex to race, color, religion,

and national origin in the Civil Rights Bill in Title VII.

By June 1966 the National Organization of Women was formed, and continues to

exist today making sure that equality takes place among sexes. In the 1970’s Sexual

discrimination cases began to come up in federal courts. Under the Equal Pay Act over

30,000 women employees were found to have been underpaid by more than $18 million.

Eventually all segments of society including churches, industry, universities, banks,

magazines, and advertisers began re-examining policies towards women. Membership

in labor unions increased by 333,000 from 1970 to 1972, women were determined to take

a stand against any kind of sexual discrimination.

Sexism in textbooks and children s books also came under fire, what had normally

been used, such as he to encompass both genders was no longer seen. In school girls

were being granted the opportunity to play sports with the boys and compete against

one another. Finally on March 22, 1974 the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment

took place. Also in March of 1974 A Coalition of Labor Union Women was formed with

women from 58 labor unions joining together to make a stand against sexual

discrimination, and to work toward more policy-making positions in unions, towards

legislation to provide child care facilities, and to encourage more women to join.

From 1974 to today changes continues to occur, and women continued to fight

for equality. Today women work alongside men in jobs ranging from school teachers to

truck drivers, wine makers, telephone line crew women, horse trainers, mayors, minsters,

and governors. Although it took a long time to obtain this status, women finally pulled it

off. We live in a nation where equality among sexes and races is emphasized and

protected. There still is a lot of work to be done though, the majority of the offices in

government continue to be male-dominated, and it is often seen that men are more

likely to be bosses, managers, or in a leadership position. Percentage-wise women are

also more likely to raise and spend more time with children, do more household chores,

and be the ones who put a hold on their careers to focus on the family. Although women

do have their careers, they are still expected to be good care-givers and wives. Where

women are today can be looked at from both positions; how much we ve accomplished,

and yet how much there still continues to be done.


Women are seen very differently today from the way they were looked at

two hundred years ago. Today women voice their opinions, have careers, go where

they want to go, and do what they want to do. Women have taken control of their own

lives, and are able to make their own decisions. Although there continues to be a lot

of expectations for women, and some roles have remained the same, overall women have

broken away from being weak, naive, or passive and gone into being independent,

intelligent, and powerful.

It was a long, hard struggle for women to obtain equal rights, but equal

rights were obtained because women always kept their eyes on the cause and never

gave up. It is very admirable to see the way in which women like Susan B. Anthony,

Alice Paul, Mrs. Stanton, and Eleanor Roosevelt had a cause and they stuck with it.

Although these are the names we are familiar with when we think of the movement, it

is very important to also remember those women who were never mentioned, yet

supported the cause with much vigor. The same type of spirit continues to exist today

as we see women balancing careers and a family life. This is not an easy task, yet many

women pull it off fantastically, and if it wasn t for those women back in the day, we

would not even get a change to attempt that balance.

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