Women's Rights at the Turn of the Century

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Women’s Rights At The Turn Of The Century

Elisha Enlow
11/24/2012
“I am woman, hear me roar,” ("Helen reddy -," ) was definitely not a term known to the American way of life at the turn of the century. Women were nothing more than shadows of their husbands and the housekeeper of the home and children. Fitting for the term “barefoot and pregnant,” as that was the common role of most women. With many battles before them there were courageous women that would not settle, but laid the foundation that paved the way for women to experience a life beyond the shadow of the husband and the walls of the family home. A woman’s place would eventually begin to evolve, but this was a long tedious process that took years of stepping out and declaring their own freedom and rights separate of that of their husbands.

During the turn of the century there were many things a woman could not legally do. They could not vote, hold public office in any state, have access to higher education and were even excluded in the professional workplace. The law had accepted and established a woman’s place was in the home, and her legal identity was that of her husband. Therefore, she could not sue, or be sued, nor could she make a legal contract or own property. She was not permitted to control her own wages or gain custody of her children in the event of a separation or divorce (Womans Rights).

There were many influential women, even in the late 1700’s that had a vision for more. Catherine Beecher (1800-1878) and Sarah Hale (1788-1879) were part of the first efforts to expand women’s roles through moral influence. Beecher, the eldest sister of Harriet Beecher Stowe, was one of the nation’s most prominent educator’s prior to the civil war. Hale led the successful campaign to make Thanksgiving a national holiday, and also composed the well-known nursery rhyme “Mary had a Little Lamb.” Frances Wright (1795-1852), a Scottish born reformer and lecturer spread her radical ideas about birth control, brought divorce laws and legal rights for married women. Then the first women to receive a degree in medicine was Elizabeth Blackwell in 1849. Phoebe Palmer (1807-1874) became a Methodist preacher known through-out the America’s and Canada (Mitz, S., 2011). It was during the 19th century employment opportunities began to open up more for women. Women began to have fewer children and were not having them so young. The first half of the 19th century there were many improvements in women’s status, however they still lacked political and economic status when compared to men. A decade into the 21st Century, women’s progress can be seen- and celebrated, across a range of fields. Although we have not arrived yet, certain conclusions are nonetheless clear A statement made by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit, as she declared a tipping point for women, “When we liberate the economic potential of women, we elevate the economic performance of communities, nations and the world,” she said. “There is a simulative and ripple effect that kicks in when women have greater access to jobs and the economic lives of our countries.” Greater political stability. Fewer military conflicts. More Food. More education opportunities for children. By harnessing the economic potential of all women, we boost opportunity for all people” (Ellison, J., 2011). World War 1 affected women’s roles with a shortage of men needed to produce the massive amounts of war materials needed. Women were needed to work outside of the home. All of a sudden women and young girls could make a decent wage doing work normally done by men. This opened up a new world to many women who had lived in the countryside who were now taking jobs in the larger cities, riding buses, trains and even boats to escape poverty, or see new t hings. The war enabled them to test tanks, airplanes, weapons and perform other duties that formally had been male functions (Goodwin,...
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