HIS 204 American History Since 1865
Professor Angela Cranon-Charles
August 5, 2012
The role of women has changed drastically throughout history. Women were once thought to only be able to stay at home and tend the house and family. Women were isolated in their domestic sphere; however they did not stay there. Women faced many struggles during their battle to end their isolation from the idea of gender roles within the workforce to the belief that women are not equal to men and therefore do not deserve the same rights as men.
Before 1865 women had very few rights. Her legal standing depended upon her marital status, and once she was married everything became her husbands. She could not control or acquire any property, she was not allowed to control any wages she earned, she could not transfer or sell any property, and she could not bring a lawsuit, or sign any contract. Her life rested solely in the hands of her husband. Women were expected to maintain the home which included cooking and cleaning. They were also expected to bear children and spend their days focused on those children. In 1840 something began to shift when two women, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, met and discussed having a convention to address the situation of women. It took eight years for them to get back together and hold the convention known as The Seneca Falls Convention. The Declaration of Sentiments and its resolutions were presented to a group of three hundred people, including forty men. This stated that men and women were created equal and had a right to equality in all spheres including the right to vote. All of the resolutions were eventually passed. Afterwards they had to deal with ridicule and sarcasm. For example Frederick Douglass wrote "a discussion of the rights of animals would be regarded with far more complacency by many of what are called the wise and the good of our land, than would be a discussion of the rights of woman” (na, http://www.npg.si.edu/col/seneca/senfalls1.htm). This shows just how women were thought of back then. They were thought to be less than animals. While they faced mockery and anger over the fact that they thought they should have rights they did give the idea of women’s rights publicity and brought attention to the idea. This was the way many women lived until the end of the Civil War.
After the Civil War the lives of women saw a change. America was expanding, and people were pushing westward. “Women played a very important role in the conquest of the West” (Bowles, 2011, The New South and New West (1865- 1890), para. 29). Some women moved west with their families, but there were also many single women who wanted to lead their own lives and widowed women who had no other choice. “while I suspect that some of the women traveled west for a mate, others were interested in a life built of their own strength, ambition and endurance. Wishart reports in the 2004 Encyclopedia of the Prairie that, under the Homestead Act, only women who were single, widowed, divorced or deserted could sign for their own land” (Willoughby, C.M., March 26, 2010, Pioneer women: how the west was really won, para. 11). Widowed women were forced to take over the role of their departed men. “These women took on the day-to-day responsibilities of farm and ranch life and were surprisingly successful. A quote from Katie Adams, a Pioneer widow, reads, “I was just like a hired man. I was right there, I even followed the plow” (Peavey & Smith, 1996)” (Willoughby, C.M., March 26, 2010, Pioneer women: how the west was really won, para. 13). In Wyoming and Colorado, between 11 and 18 percent of all homesteaders were single women or widows” (Bowles, 2011, The New South and New West (1865- 1890), para. 30). There was also a need for educated women in the west in order to teach in the schools that were being created and write for the newspapers. This gave women the...