Term Paper: American History Since 1865

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Progression of American Women Throughout History

American History Since 1865

Historically speaking, American women have had fewer rights and opportunities than American men. For hundreds of years, the roles of women were confined to that of wife, mother, housekeeper and cook. However, as years went by in America, women were able to gain more and more rights, putting them on equal footing as men. While some women may agree that even in the 21st century they are still not treated the same as men in society and the workplace, it cannot be denied that women have come a long way since the mid-19th century. This paper will focus on the progression of women's rights and opportunities in the United States from 1865 until present time.

By 1865, black Americans had found new freedom. They began to look for their families and find a place for themselves in society -- against intransigent and unrepentant white racism (Evans). During the battle over Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments promising citizenship and voting rights to black men, suffrage was also a central issue within the movement for women's rights as well. Female citizenship began to find new meanings in a world that was rife with racial and class conflict -- and this included tensions between women and men. In 1865, Southern white women created Confederate memorial societies to help memorialize the "Lost Cause." This is the jumping board that women need to catapult them into the public sphere for the very first time in American history. Around this same time, Southern black women -- newly emancipated -- formed thousands of organizations that were aimed at "uplifting the race."

For black women, emancipation from slavery was fraught with many different issues. First of all, under slavery, black has basically learned the value of mutuality, or of looking to their own community for the support that they needed.

Individualistic competition had few rewards in that system, and the slave community developed many ways of enforcing its own norms. Knowing well the need for mutual aid and support, women played strong and visible roles both in their families and in associations. Ideas about the proper roles of women and men also surfaced, shaping different experiences according to gender. Women's abrupt withdrawal from field labor provided the first clear signal of this difference (Evans 1997).

For many women, the idea that they could go home and tend to the needs of their own families was a joyous one; however, they were resentful about the sacrifices that they had been forced to make before.

The National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) and the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) were founded in 1869. Both were founded in response to a split in the American Equal Rights Association over the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. In the meantime, the changing lives and activities of large numbers of women provided new ground for the seeds of women's rights activism.

In the winter of 1873-74, women in little Midwestern towns -- such as Hillsoboro, Ohio -- rose up in massive numbers, sending a shock wave through the nation (Evans 1997). Their cause was Temperance, a reform issues that came out of the antebellum era. Through temperance, women were able to express their anxieties about the disruption of communities and families and they also lashed out at certain male behavior -- the consumption of alcohol (1997). Their main goal was to close down the saloons; by the next summer, over a thousand saloons had been closed because of their work. Women in other areas of the state who had also been successful in shutting down saloons joined Hillsboro women. While the women's crusade did not last long, what was left was the sense of accomplishment that these women had. The were able to change their experience into power. Frances Willard wrote:

Perhaps the most significant outcome of this movement was the knowledge of their own power gained by the conservative women of the Churches. They had never even seen as "women's rights convention," and had been held aloof from the "suffragists" by fears as to their orthodoxy; but now there were women prominent in all Church cares and duties eager to clasp hands for a more aggressive work than such women had ever before dreamed of undertaking (Evans 1997).

Very much like abolition, temperance was a secular reform with evangelical roots, couched in religious language. For middle-class women it was a vehicle for their joint grievances as women, much as moral reform had been for earlier generations (Evans 1997). The women were intent on protecting their homes and their families from violence, financial irresponsibility, desertion, and immorality that was linked with alcohol and men's abuse of alcohol. These were the major feminist issues at hand of the Temperance movement.

Unit II: 1877 -- 1920:

Modern America was emerging during this time; urban, industrial, and bureaucratic -- are some of the key words to describe the era. American women were forming new voluntary organizations and social movements. Thanks to movements like the Temperance movement, women saw how the use of their collective power, which had frown throughout the 19th century, was a way to achieve political reform and woman suffrage. Even though black female activism had emerged, there were still major divisions of race between females. Frances Harper, a poet as well as an abolitionist, was one of the most important female activists of this period. She addressed the Congress of Representative Women, as racial terrorism was still ever present in the south. "She knew that the reforming sensibilities of white women were deeply imbued with both racial and class bias" (Evans 1997).

Life had completely changed by the year 1890; there was the emergence of big, industrial and urban ways of living that went against what people knew -- the small community that was once such a defining aspect of American society. Women, like men, worked in bigger and louder factories that were owned by enormous, vertically integrated corporations (Evans 1997). A new class had emerged -- the managerial class, who wanted to control supply and demand of all the raw materials. The wives of the managerial and wealthier class of people lived in the suburbs, electric trolley rides away from the dirty and impoverished neighborhoods of the city where most of the new immigrants took up residence. The farmwomen in both the south and the west could not take part in electoral politics, an area that their husbands were desperate to understand and participate in after the banks and railroads destroy their cooperatives (1997).

Women shared in the violence of American's birth, for the birth was not an easy one. Most of the perpetrators as well as victims of class and racial violence were male, but women, of course, shared men's "conflict-shaped environments and their ideas of race and class position" (Evans 1997). However, one of the most stunning facts about this time is the fact that women were now going to college, they were not always married, and they were becoming self-sufficient.

After the Civil War this first generation of women had been formed in the intense world of women's colleges where they challenged conventional wisdom about women's intellectual capacities and developed deep and loving bonds with both teachers and sister students (Evans 1997).

By the year 1880 there were forty thousand (32% of all students) enrolled in higher education. Women had a choice after graduation: did they want to get married and choose a more traditional life, or did they want to choose a career where they would be paid for their work? The fact is that nearly half of all college-educated women never married; those who did decide to marry did so much later and they had fewer children. They women were not allowed to go into certain "male" fields and so professions like teaching and nursing began to grow and became typically seen as female professions.

The road to self-sufficiency and education wasn't easy for women of this era. Career women were looked upon as being unnatural beings, for what woman should not want to have children? There was even the ridiculous belief that too much education could hurt the female reproductive system. Because of this, women turned to places where they could find solidarity with others of the same gender.

Between 1900 and World War I, the antiquated Victorian code which set up very strict segregation of men and women began to crumble in different areas (Evans 1997). The women's movement reached a new height of political power; by 1912 they movement saw new laws for pure food, protective legislation that regulated wages and hours for women in the workforce and children, prison and court reforms, as well as the establishment of a Federal Children's Bureau headed by former Hull House resident Julia Lanthrop. The old image of the Victorian woman was gradually fading. Women were seen in places where men had once only been able to frequent -- places like movie theatres, dance halls, and amusement parks.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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