Women and Work Essay

Pages: 6 (1907 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 6  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Sports - Women

¶ … Changing Role of Women in the 18th and 19th Centuries

Women's roles in society, and in the family, changed quite a bit from the mid 18th century to the end of the 19th century. However, women in the 1700s were actually more 'advanced' than many people might think. While it is true that most women's primary role was that of wife and mother, DuBois and Dumenil (2005) report that "Historians estimate that between 1740 and 1775, over 90 Boston women operated commercial enterprises" (p. 31). Many also worked outside the home in shops or even as 'tradeswomen' in the blacksmithing and silversmithing industries (Woodward, 2004).

However, most of these workers were single women who had very little choice but to work until they found a husband and eventually settled into the more traditional role of the housewife and mother. According to Woodward (2004) "For most girls, becoming a blacksmith was probably not a dream. Husband, family, home: those were the pursuits of a young woman of the eighteenth century. Finding a woman or women working at all outside the home, much less in a male-dominated trade, most likely meant the dream wasn't shaping up the way they'd hoped. Some women worked because they had no choice" (p. 1)

Regardless, it is likely that some women took these types of jobs because they enjoyed the challenge and wanted to be more than just housewives. They might not have admitted that that was the case, because they would have been looked down upon, but despite what some people may think, women are not automatically programmed to want a husband and children -- not even hundreds of years ago.

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In the last half of the 18th century, middle class women who were married also took on teaching jobs, and there were even some women who had professional careers such as doctors and lawyers, but these were very rare. Mostly, lower class women took the labor intensive and industrial jobs; middle class women who worked were usually teachers or seamstresses; and upper class woman hardly ever took jobs outside the home (Riley, 2001).

Essay on Women and Work Assignment

Some people, both men and women, tried to keep holding women back from pursuing their careers and education, and to keep them 'barefoot and pregnant' as the saying goes. However there were both men and women who were willing to speak out on behalf of women's rights. One of those supporters was President John Adams, whose wife Abigail was a strong advocate of women's right to be educated. Although Abigail and her husband viewed the opportunity for women to excel in higher education as means for them to teach or train children, as opposed to pursuing a career of choice, this couple still had a strong impact on educational opportunities for women after the Revolutionary war. In a 1778 letter to her husband, Abigail "reminded John of the 'narrow contracted Education' of women in the new United States. 'You need not be told', she wrote, 'how much female Education is neglected, nor how fashionable it has been to ridicule Female learning'" (Riley, 2001, p. 84)

According to DuBois and Dumenil (2005) "Abigail Adams' admonition to her husband, John Adams, that the men drawing up the new government and its code of laws should 'remember the ladies' is probably the most famous expression of the handful of elite women who hoped to see at least modest changes in women's status" (p. 94).

Another outspoken woman promoting women's education after the American Revolution was Judith Sargent Murray. This feminist author used the pen name Constantia to promote her views on women's rights to equality in education as well as politics. "Are women deficient in reason?' she asked. 'We can only reason from what we know, and if an opportunity of acquiring knowledge hath been denied us, the inferiority of our sex cannot fairly be deduced from thence'. If women were 'allowed an equality of acquirements' in the area of education, they would 'meet on even ground' in their achievements" (Riley, 2001, p. 84).

As the 19th century dawned, women were continuing to pursue their educations. This helped to propel them from a passive role in society to more of a leadership role. Many began to question women's submissive roles. For example, Mary Gove Nichols "spoke forcefully and wrote explicitly about women's physical frustrations and sufferings in marriage" (DuBois and Dumenil, 2005, p. 216). This type of outspokenness definitely affected women's roles in public life, allowing men to see that they were not just submissive assistants, but that they were capable speakers, writers and leaders. Certainly many women still believed that women were supposed to be submissive and innocent because of their strong belief in the teachings of the Bible. However, clearly not all women agreed, as early feminists like Nichols demonstrate.

As the 19th century progressed, women were also beginning to get fed up with the way their husbands were treating them. In 1852, Susan B. Anthony proclaimed, "No woman should consent to be the wife of a drunkard because she must be the medium of the stamping of new forms of immortality with his gross carnal nature" (Cited in Leach, 1980, p. 30).

The industrial revolution, which reached its peak in the middle of the 19th century, is what has probably had the biggest impact on women's roles in America's history. The industrial revolution expanded the middle class, turned a rural nation into an urban one, and greatly changed the way women were viewed, as well as the way that they viewed themselves. As large factories became the primary employers, there were more jobs available for women to work outside the home. With these new opportunities came an increased sense of independence, value and freedom (Riley, 2001).

Upper class women's roles also changed due to industrialization in the sense that their duties at home began to be transformed when, more and more often, tasks they used to perform by hand were becoming automated. Furthermore, according to Kramarea and Spender (2000):

"Along with the 'housewifization' of women, the nuclearization of the family (increasingly becoming the "one-parent" family of postindustrial societies), declining fertility, and universal primary education (which left no more older siblings at home to mind the younger ones while they helped with the chores) were friendships that led to the emergence of child care as an identifiable task. Meanwhile, Marxist thinkers, in their analysis of industrial society, were describing women's roles as productive and reproductive, thereby collapsing the two important functions of homemaking and childbearing or -rearing into one, a conclusion that can justifiably be attributed to a male perspective" (p. 157).

Industrialization also boosted the educational needs of women, because it created opportunities which required women to be knowledgeable in a variety of subjects. Women needed to be able to communicate effectively, make prudent decisions and take on leadership roles. This required woman to know about more diverse subjects than just cooking and sewing. They needed to know about politics and government and business -- all of which were areas that most women had always left to the men.

Another women had always left to the men was voting. Although women did not actually get the right to vote until the 20th century, the campaigns for women's suffrage began long before that. According to Hurner (2006) "Women's rights agitation began humbly with a convention held in a small church in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. The suffrage movement emerged as an extension of other reform movements when women came to understand their vulnerability to the effects of alcohol and abuse, and their limited influence in the public domain" (p. 234).

Led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the Seneca Falls convention brought to the forefront all of the injustices that women felt they had suffered at the hands of men. They developed their own version of the Declaration of Independence, which began: "The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world" (Sochen, 1974, p. 127). Stanton then presented the list of ways that the alleged land of freedom had oppressed women, by keeping them unequal and uneducated. These women were taking a stand against the traditional role of the woman, and demanding that they be allowed to be an active part of politics, government and community. They wanted their beliefs about the abolition of slavery to be just as important as the male citizens of the country. They wanted the right to vote as well as to serve, because there was no viable reason that they could not. After all, they were just as intelligent as men, just as capable of making important decisions as men, and just as likely to be a good leader as men. So why should they allow themselves to be denied these rights?

These women were not just blowing smoke, either. They… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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