March 05, 2012
Historical Developments for Women in the 19th Century
American women today are afforded many rights. They are thought of as equal to
their male counterparts. This hasn’t always been the case. Women had to fight for the rights
that are often taken for granted. In the 19th century, America experienced changes that
expanded the role of women. Women were needed to help carve out a life in the wilderness
of the West and as workers in factories. During WWI and WWII, women kept America
strong. With these new responsibilities, women began to demand the right to more privileges.
The right to the vote and access to contraception are only two of the requests they made for
equality. With the onset of major historical changes all across America, women were
presented with opportunities to change their way of life, ending the isolation that had kept
them in the domestic sphere in times past.
During the 19th century, major cities expanded exponentially. Not everyone
wanted to live in the city. Improved transportation made travelling long distances more bearable.
As a result, more Americans took advantage of this and headed into the West. In search of
economic conquest, cattle ranchers and precious metal miners came prepared to build a life. To
be successful, these men would need wives, the first women of the West. “For the West to come
into existence as an American place at all, the presence of women—white women—was
required, not simply as isolated transients like Susan Magoffin, but white women by the
thousands, come to stay” (Scharff, 2002 p.68).
In the west, women could not simply stay in the house. There was more work to
be done than the men could achieve without help. The whole family would need to work to keep
every aspect of frontier life running smoothly. [Women] engaged in work that produced
income for the family. For example, they made clothes, transformed wild game into meals,
baked, and cleaned. In 1888, Susan Laflesche reflected on her experience on the western frontier
and said that a woman had to know how to do "everything that a man does besides her own
work, for she has to be ready for any emergency that may occur when men are not around"
(Riley, 1992). There was never a time during the year that didn’t require hard work. For instance,
a farmer’s wife would be needed to help prepare fields, plant crops, tend the crops, harvest, store
harvested crops, tend smaller livestock, likely while raising small children. All of this work
would be in addition to her daily cooking, cleaning, sewing, laundry, and food curing for the
The pioneer women in the later part of the 19th century experienced a life in
which they divided their time between farming and household work (Woloch, 2006).Women
played a very important role in the conquest of the West. Without women to help with the many
chores necessary to daily life in the West, men would have been overwhelmed. It is likely that
they would have given up and gone home. If they could somehow complete all the work by
themselves, without women to reproduce with there would not have been a future to build on.
The women of the west were still isolated to a farm or ranch, but the circle of duties they were
expected to do had widened incredibly.
In every big city, you will find big businesses. The factories keep many of the cities people employed. As business became bigger, high costs pushed owners to invest in machinery. Skilled artisans were no longer required, waged laborers took their place. “In the late 19th century, the United States appeared to be progressing at an incredibly fast pace with the rise of big businesses and the development of new and exciting industrial technologies” (Bowles, 2011).
Keeping a large...