Women in American History Essay
Women in America have had several different roles among society. Some women have had worse roles than others depending race, and ethnicity. No matter the background, marital status, or social position women in general strived for better lives. Women wanted more freedom to voice their own minds, opinions, and expectations. As the years passed new opportunities came along to help women with the things they worked for. This included everything from voting rights, equal pay, and more rolls in society other than being house wives. Women in all forms fought and struggled to achieve several different goals that affected women in general.
For most of American history women generally have had fewer legal rights and career opportunities than men. This can also be said for white American women to African-American women. The first major milestone was in the 20th century when women in most nations won the right to vote. During this time they also increased their education and job opportunities. In early attitudes towards women was basically a creative source of human life. While women were considered a major source of temptation and evil, the Roman Empire described women as children, forever inferior to men.
In the 1800s a woman’s role in society was solely taking care of house hold chores. This was because women were long considered naturally weaker than men. It was thought that women were unable to perform work that required extensive muscular or intellectual development. Preindustrial societies often failed to notice domestic chores such as caring for children, milking cows, and washing clothes were not much different than hunting and plowing fields. Women during these times were expected to learn the traditional ways from their mothers such as cooking, cleaning, and caring for children.
This was a prime example of the stereotype “A woman’s place is in the home”. It was not until the late 19th century that women started leaving the home to work for pay. Normally this was in textile factories or garment shops. (Women’s International Center) One of the biggest obstacles women had to face since the turn of the 20th century was equal opportunities in the work place. In recent years research has shown that white American women are now more likely to be employed than African-American women or Latino women. Between the 1960s and 1990 employment between Latino and African-American women decreased dramatically.
(Women International Center, 1995) This actually was not always the case, in fact in much of U. S history African-American women had higher employment rates that white women. Women in the late 20th century that were of more privileged racial/ethnic, national origin and education were more likely to work for pay. Most white women married men who worked thus becoming housewives, and having children. (Women International Center, 1995) In 1970 women were paid forty percent less than men even though they were doing the same jobs. By 1989 women had constituted more than forty five percent of employed persons.
Yet even with these numbers they still only had a small portion of decision-making jobs. Women had to deal with a lot of problems in the working places other than low wages such as longer hours, unsafe working conditions and discrimination based on just being a woman. (Women’s International Center, 1995) In the late 19th century forty percent of African-American women were in the labor force while only sixteen percent of white women were working for pay. This was thought to be because most African-American women had to work to help their husbands provide for their families.
White women usually had husbands who had jobs that provided enough income. Even in the 1950s African-American women were still ahead with thirty eight percent. White women only rose to twenty nine percent. By this time white women were starting to experience times that they could choose whether or not to marry. This was still a higher rate than Mexican-American women at forty four percent, and Puerto Rican women at thirty five percent. (England, Garcia-Beaulieu, Ross, 2004) One of the greatest contributions made by women that are often over looked is those made during war time.
During the Civil War thousands of women left the homesteads and joined the war to be nurses in both the Union and Confederate Armies. This was the first time in American history, that women made contributions other than letters. In the north women concentrated on making sure soldiers had all the supplies they need during battle. Women were eager to help on the frontlines and soon got their wish. In 1861 the federal government agreed to create a unit that would aid and help prevent hygienic and sanitary diseases. This was called the United States Sanitary Commission.
Its sole mission was to combat preventable diseases that were caused mainly by bad cookery, and bad hygiene. Nearly 20,000 women worked as nurses mainly on the union side. Working class and freed African American were laundresses, cooks, and “matrons”. Over 3,000 middle class women worked as nurses. Meanwhile in the south women contributed best they could with what they had to work with as they had less money and supplies than the north did. Even so they contributed by cooking, sewing uniforms, and working as untrained nurses. Some women even cared for wounded soldiers in their home.
This worked resulted in helping expanded many women’s idea about what their proper place should be. (Women in Civil War) After the Civil War ended women did not experience time like those of war until World War I. World War I marked a time that revolutionized the industrial position of women. Women’s role during this war really embarked a new beginning for the role of women. By the end of World War I almost 300,000 women served in the Army and Navy. Nothing much would be different in World War II as over 250,000 women served in the military throughout the world as pilots, nurses, and mechanics.
Women had to step up and fill the gaps left open that men would have done otherwise. Many women took jobs in the defense industry. Although a fictional character Rosie the Riveter became an icon that represented women across the United States. Women would work several hours a day producing machinery such as tanks, fighter planes, and battle ships. Men of America finally started to take notice the contributions women in the United States were making. Many women in everyday lives would transform from their feminine worlds to full fledge war supporters and workers just as men had done. (The World at War).
Whether it was on the battle fields treating sick and wounded soldiers, flying planes, or simply just making uniforms, women fought several wars in their own ways just as they did for equal rights. This kind of determination was empowered to win the battle that was started with women getting the right to vote In 1890 Wyoming territory which allowed women to vote became a state thus becoming the first state in America to allow women to vote. By the turn of the century three more states, Utah, Colorado, and Idaho joined Wyoming allowing women to vote.
It was not until 1919 that a two-thirds vote necessary was reached in favor of the woman suffrage movement amendment. It all came down to one state and one man’s vote. Harry Burns of Tennessee surprised observers by casting the supporting vote. In his pocket was a letter from his mother that read “Don’t forget to be a good boy” and “vote for suffrage”. (Women’s Fight to Vote) Even after all the work women had done throughout the wars, women still had an uphill battle with equal rights in the work place.
While women had won the right to vote in 1920 with the passing of the 19th amendment, many doors were still yet to be opened. Along with the right to vote, women now had many other choices to make. Many threw away their corsets, heeled shoes, and dull floor length dresses. They changed their hair and wore short skirts. A lot of women even took up smoking as this was a sign of independence. Women did not necessarily have to be a house wife anymore. Women could choose whether to marry and start a family, or go to work and start a career.
(The Roaring Twenties) One thing that contributed to equal rights was this achievement. A couple of groups helped encourage this was National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) and the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA). Oddly enough some women reformers did not want this amendment to take place out of fear it would end protective labor and health legislation that was designed specifically to aid females in the work place. Women’s right to vote changed several things and brought more control and influence on the things that affected women.
It was not until the 1960s and 1970s that women saw important legislation enacted to address sex discrimination in employment and education. (Steinen. G) While women were fighting for equal rights and gaining ground in the work place and education facilities, African-American women were in the mix as well. They too wanted these same things but their primary focus was on a broader spectrum. Segregation would be the key factor African-American women would face on top of all other problem women in general were facing. These problems would go on some thirty to forty years after white American women would gain ground on suffrage.
The 1950s and 1960’s would be the most intense since the civil war. (Bowles, 2011) White women had won the right to vote in the 1920’s, but voting was still for white Americans only as voting regulations virtually the African-Americans from having any voice in the political aspects of the country. This continued to be fueled by several extremist white politicians. “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman in South Carolina and James Vardaman the so called White Chief of Mississippi did not try and hide their racial beliefs in their campaigns.
(Bowles, 2011) They had a firm belief that it was a divine right of the white man to rule, to be the only voters, and political offices to be all white. Although several acts had been passed such as civil rights act of 1964 which also prevented further discrimination in employment, African-American women were still at the bottom of the “economic totem pole” due to being both African American and a woman. They had a double edged sword in disadvantages. Doctor Pauli Murray testified to congress that “we are holding on defiantly to the patriarchal aspect of white America” (Murray, 1970).
Doctor Pauli Murray voiced out concerns that addressed what had been true issue for African Americans. She sought to “extend protection against sex-based discrimination, particularly in education and employment” (Murray, 1970). Being an African American female she knew firsthand what was happening in the United States as far as discrimination. She firmly believed that discrimination based on sex is just as discriminating on one’s race as one’s color. She felt it was degrading, dehumanizing, immoral, unjust, indefensible, and infuriating.
Discrimination against white women was not as intense as it was on African American women. Women from all across the United States for well over a century have steadily fought to contribute to the nation, and gain equal rights. Women stood in the shadows for so many years, but yet stepped like men when times got tough. Though it took decades to accomplish the equal rights they have today there are still areas that need improving. The first major accomplishment was the ratification of the 19th amendment that granted the right to vote to (white) women, and this was just a stepping stone.
It would take several more decades for African American women to experience this milestone. Women from all backgrounds had their many of the same adversities to overcome. Eleanor Roosevelt said it best when she said “Women were like teabags, you will never know how strong she is till she is in hot water”. References A&E Television Networks: Women in the Civil War. Retrieved from: http://www. history. com/topics/women-in-the-civil-war England, P, Garcia-Beaulieu, C, Ross, M (2004) Women’s Employment among Blacks, Whites, and Three Groups of Latinas: Do More Privileged Women Have Higher Employment?
Retrieved from: http://www. jstor. org/stable/4149447 Murray, P (year unknown) “The Bottom of the Economic Totem Pole”: African American`Women in the Workplace retrieved from: http://historymatters. gmu. edu/d/6472 The Roaring Twenties. Retrieved from: http://digital. films. com/OnDemandEmbed. aspx? Token=36218&aid=18596&Plt=FOD&loid=0&w=640&h=480&ref Steinem, G (year unknown) “All Our Problems Stem from the Same Sex Based Myths”: Gloria Steinem Delineates American Gender Myths during ERA Hearings Retrieved from: http://historymatters.gmu. edu/d/7025 World War II: The World at War.
Retrieved from: http://digital. films. com/OnDemandEmbed. aspx? Token=36221&aid=18596&Plt=FOD&loid=0&w=640&h=480&ref= Women’s History in America: Presented by Women’s International Center. Retrieved from: http://www. wic. org/misc/history. htm Women’s Fight for the Vote: The Nineteenth Amendment. Retrieved from: http://law2. umkc. edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/conlaw/nineteentham. htm.
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