Overcoming Oppression: Women Making Their Mark in Society
Women have struggled and fought many battles to be accepted as they are in society today. Through standing against the oppressive thoughts of many, woman are able to hold their heads high. Unfortunately some of what makes a historical woman is too frequently overlooked and taken for granted. But it is important to remember that in society at one time women were not even recognized as to have their own mind or a right to their own thoughts.
Going back as far as 1868, in a time where women were considered second class citizens alongside of African Americans demonstrate how far in society we have come. With the approaching reconstruction of government led by Ulysses S. Grant, women attempted to become legal voters after African Americans were allowed to vote.
As the liberation continued in 1869, two women by the name of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony created a group named the Women’s Loyal League in which they advocated for women to be recognized under the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments. Those amendments opened the pathway for women to begin the feminist movement. For many years Stanton and Anthony fought for women’s rights and created the American Woman Suffrage Association that fought for women to vote on their own ballots. The free choices we have today were fought in those many years that were long and tiresome, but now we have equal rights.
By 1870, as equal rights for women began progressing, women were able to work outside of the home and on their family farms. Although they performed the same duties as the male counterpart they were compensated half of what men earned. These working women were usually single and young, many of them lived in boarding houses or at home with their parents. However, that lifestyle diminished upon marriage where they usually became a housewife, mother, and lived with their new husband. By the 1900’s only five percent of married women worked outside the home, of those black women were of the majority due to the low wages their husbands earned. Typical jobs for women at that time were food processing, textiles, clothing and cigar making. Today women have the opportunity to further their knowledge and careers and are not limited to these low paying and laborious jobs.
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Women Working Outside The Home
As more and more women worked outside of the home, job types also began changing. For example, women were hired as typewriters, telephone answerers/operators, bookkeepers, and secretaries. On rare occasions women entered into law or medical positions, however, in many instances they were not welcomed and in some cases were not even allowed. Yet women in those days continued to be strong, desire, and demand more. By doing so women now have the opportunity to work in positions that were once unobtainable and only a dream.
Yet with all this movement in the work world only allowed men to move to management positions and thereby open up lower level positions for women. By creating this dynamic of women still falling in subservient positions has also created another issue, women did then and still do get paid less than men.
In the late 1800’s women were classified by the home that they kept. This image was not an easy one to maintain, many employed the services of others to help with the daily choirs. This did offer some women jobs. However, these servants were on call about 100 hours a week, off one evening and part of Sunday while earning $2 to $5 week. Furthermore, women were also expected to hold a personal image. Women commonly sought out for their beauty and ability to reproduce, their personal pleasure what quite frequently overlooked. Victorian clothing was the style at that time which allowed women to show of their bodies as the clothing was tight fitting and usually worn with a corset. These corsets were laced up tightly in some cases breaking ribs, pressing organs against one another, and causing sagging uteruses. Although women showed their beauty on the outside this was very risky to their insides, pushing breast up and bottoms out and constricting everything in between, is this beauty or punishment?
The mid 1890’s produced one of the many depressions which empowered women to search for work outside of the home. This was perfect timing for the “New Woman” to demand the right to vote and to stand equal with men. Although these events were not warmly received by men as they felt impressed upon and worried if they would be able to provide for their families.
More Progression For Women
However, a sigh of relieve came when finally in 1890 household products were manufactured to alleviate laboring work. Many things like processed foods and appliances such as “self working” washing machines. Many American households now had the freedom to use Saturdays as more of a family day rather than a work day, hence needing less hours for tedious chores.
As time continued, women kept pushing the limit toward equality to include education. By 1910 approximately forty percent of college students were woman and only one in five colleges refused to enroll women. A paradigm shift came from more enrolled women where women began choosing to marry less and were more self-sufficient. More of these women discarded their Victorian values and style and adopted a more comfortable attire, including the “shirtwaist” blouses and lowered-heeled shoes.
The empowerment of women continued, and during the 19th century women created approximately 500 clubs with over 160,000 members which spun off the creation of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs. Through the organization of these clubs women have assisted in funding libraries, hospitals, schools, settlement houses, compulsory education, and child labor laws.
Despite the many endeavors through an oppressive time women still faced many restrictions that eventually began to push women out of powerful positions. Still striving for fulfilling positions, women were less likely to marry and were better educated then the generation before. Even though women persisted in medicine and law they commonly stayed with traditional roles in nursing, library work, and teaching.
A larger problem still lay ahead, birth control. Women were still not able to control their own bodies which resulted in many unwanted pregnancies. Not having control over ones body contributed to numerous deaths due to at home abortions performed on them to rid themselves of these unwanted births. This sparked the attention of Margaret Sanger whom vowed to educate women on their bodies and how to protect them. By providing education and awareness of controlling pregnancy women felt less guilt about sexual enjoyment and worried less of the consequences.
How important do you feel women's issues are to current societal trends?See results without voting
The Right To Vote
The most important battle of them all still went on as women protested in front of the White House beginning on January 10, 1917. Women were not giving up on what they felt was their right just as much as anyone else’s right; the right to vote as an American citizen. The Progressives saw it to be beneficial for women to vote as it would lessen political corruption, protect the home and increase the native white vote.
Finally the day has come. Wyoming becoming the first state to recognize women suffrage in 1869, as a result women began to have the right to vote. In 1914, following Wyoming in the liberating moment 10 western states and Kansas honored women’s rights. After the end of World War I and attentions were now back on American issues the women right to vote decision struck other countries to join in, beginning with Great Britain granting women over the age of 30 the right to vote in 1918, Germany and Austria in 1919, and the United States in 1920. The women’s right to vote was protected by the Nineteenth Amendment that did not allow discrimination due to race, color, or creed.
The war proved to allow women the ultimate freedom as with the masses of men being sent to war, someone had to maintain the workforce in America. Women were able to work outside the home which in most cases were needed to support the family that men left behind. In 1917 guidelines set forth by the Labor Department protected women in laborious positions through Women in Industry Service. This organization regulated the work hours of women and limited their work day to 8 hours and mandated breaks for meals and equal pay.
Women herded ahead for equal rights and left behind old ways of thinking, living, and dressing. Blossoming from their Victorian constricted waists women began to feel the freedom of expression and thereby the flapper was born. These women wore close-fitting hats and makeup, long-waisted dresses and few undergarments, strings of beads and unbuckled galoshes hence giving them the name “flapper.” A symbol of liberation and freedom allowed women to openly join the work force which eventually began to change societies view about women and their role.
As this change was evolving women began to vote and advocating for woman’s issues commonly led by Eleanor Roosevelt and Frances Perkins. Woman played a valuable role in the Roosevelt campaign. Following the stand taken by women and supported by the Roosevelt era came World War II which further encouraged the rights of women.
Susan B. Anthony Speech
The Forefront of Modern Day Women
World War II allowed women to serve in the US military in their own branch. They joined the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps which allowed women to join with inferior status and pay. By 1943 woman were treated equal except for being allowed to go to war zones, that is until 1944. Most of the women’s posts were behind barbed wire and could only move in groups under the supervision of an armed guard.
While earning a living for their families women began to realize that two incomes in the home allowed for extra spending and financial freedom. In a 20 year period women working outside the home doubled from 15 to 30 percent. All women from all financial statuses worked; some worked to provide for the family while others just enjoyed more money. Despite working away from home allowing women to find social connections as well as fulfillment with their lives, though, society still portrayed women as sex objects or domesticated housewives and mothers.
By the 1960’s women’s equality pushed for a feminist movement that had the nation in an uproar. Although women had not just began fighting for their spot in society it became a force to be reckoned with. Women had been allowed to vote in the 1920’s as well as allowed into the workforce due to men fighting in the two wars but women demanded more. Still being portrayed as housewives and sexual toys yet ignoring the fact of an independent person able to receive equal treatment and benefits as men, women continued to search for actual equality from the American government. Designated by President Kennedy in 1963, The Commission on the Status of Women proposed the Equal Pay Act which requested the removal of all discrimination including gender from the Civil Rights Act which would allow women of the workplace fair treatment.
Other organizations were created for women’s benefit in this fight that continued on for some years; women just wanted a voice and to make law makers aware that the treatment received was no different from the discrimination that other minorities endured for years. These organizations fought for women’s rights in the workplace to have maternity leave and other family assistance. By 1973 in Roe vs. Wade the Supreme Court announced a women’s right to abortion. Over 15 years later, the abortion issue remains the most contentious and most unresolved issue of our age.
Even though American Women take for granted the rights that many died for, the struggle is evident and painstaking. As Bill Clinton once said during his 1992 election campaign “Building up women does not diminish men;” unfortunately it took many years for the American people to see this simple fact, or do they?
Davidson, J.W., DeLay, B., Heyrman, C.L., Lytle, M.H. & Stoff, M.B. 2008. Nation of Nations: A Narrative History of the AmericanRepublic, Since 1865 (6th. Ed. Vol. II). New York: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Faux, M. 1988. Roe v. Wade: the untold story of the landmark Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal. New York, New York, Macmillan Publishing Company.
Ferree, M.M. & Martin, P.Y. 1990. Feminists Organizations: Harvest of the New Women’s Movement. Philadelphia: TempleUniversity Press.
McCammon, H.J., Campbell, K.E., Granberg, E.M., and Christine Mowery. 2001. How Movements Win: Gendered Opportunity Structures and U.S. Women's Suffrage Movements, 1866 to 1919,
Oh, B.B.C &Stetz, M.D. 2000. Legacies of Comfort Women in World War II. New York: M.E. Sharpe.
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