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Women in American Society:

Topics: Elizabeth Cady Stanton / Pages: 6 (1264 words) / Published: Apr 9th, 2007
During the American progressive era of the late 1800's and early 1900's, the lives and roles of women changed remarkably. During this time, woman were beginning to fight for equality, and to try to convince American society that they had much to offer to their country. Even though they could not vote throughout the majority of this period, they still managed to create many of the public policies and institutions that we enjoy today. Women of this time period managed to promote suffrage, improve educational opportunities. They won laws delegating minimum wage and maximum work hours for female workers. They were able to implement many public programs and social welfare measures.

One of the biggest changes to American women's lives came from the suffrage movement of the progressive era. In 1890, the National Women Suffrage Association (NWSA) and the American Women Suffrage Association (AWSA) united to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Under the leadership of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, NAWSA Began the campaign to obtain voting rights for women. When Stanton resigned in 1892, Susan B. Anthony assumed the position as NAWSA president. In 1893, Colorado became the first state to adopt an amendment granting women the right to vote.

A few years later, Stanton published a new book The Woman's Bible, which was meant to be a direct challenge to the religious doctrine that woman was inferior to man.
(Ward and Burns 1999, 199). The book was very controversial, and many suffragists feared that Stanton's radical ways would hurt the campaign for women's voting rights. They did not want to give the opposition any more fuel to use against their cause, nor did they want to push away the conservative support. After this Stanton was officially separated from the NAWSA.

Before she died in 1906, Susan B. Anthony received a public message from President Roosevelt for "good wishes". Her later remark to this was that she would rather have him say a good word in favor of suffrage to congress instead of extending praises to her. (Ward and Burns 1999, 199). She did not get to see him take a stand when his political party became the first to endorse women's voting rights in 1912. Then, in 1914, the suffrage campaign was formally endorsed by The National Federation of Women's Clubs, bringing support from over 2 million women. Women out west were also participating in many reform movements, including suffrage. (Armitage 1987, 157)

The suffrage movement had as much opposition as it did support. In 1911, The National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage (NAOWS) was organized. Its members included wealthy, influential women, Catholic clergymen, and also the liquor industry, corporate capitalists, and some white southerners. The opposition worried that giving woman voting rights would lead to uneducated voting. Also many organizations, businesses and politicians feared the outcome of women being given their own voice. Religious leaders claimed that voting would undermine the traditional morals and values of the society.

By this time suffrage supporters were tired of waiting. NAWSA president Carrie Chapman Catt proposed a "winning plan" in 1916 to attain permanent voting rights for women. (Ward and Burns 1999, 221). By 1918, Utah, Idaho, Washington, California, Oregon, Kansas, Arizona, Alaska, Illinois, Montana, Nevada, New York, Michigan, South Dakota, and Oklahoma had granted women the right to vote.

The suffrage movement received another boost during World War I. As men left their jobs to go to war, women replaced them. (Kim 2003). Women moved into occupations that had previously been available only to men. This only proved the fact that women can be just as valuable as men to the American society. It helped to show that women deserved the right to vote.

In 1919, the federal woman suffrage amendment, originally written by Susan B. Anthony and introduced in Congress in 1878, was passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate. It is then sent to the states for ratification. A year later, on August 26, 1920 the Nineteenth Amendment to the constitution is ratified, granting women the right to vote.

During the time while woman were awaiting the right to vote, other social movements were taking place. In 1890, well educated women activists began founding something known as the settlement house. By 1900 there were more than a hundred settlement houses throughout the United States (Evans 1989, 148). The houses were placed in urban areas and were intended to improve the lives of the poor, and to help new immigrants to learn about American culture. These settlements usually offered child care, health care, and English classes. There was space for social gatherings such as clubs, classes, theater, art programs, and camps. They also had libraries and had space for political associations and unions to meet. These settlement houses were the beginning of American social work and social services (Mankiller et al. 1998,526). They were very important in instituting progressive reform and gave woman some proof that they should be considered as important members of American society and politics.

One of the big changes for Women at this time was the availability of higher education. Although woman had been allowed in some institutions for many years prior, the education they received was still not up to par with what the male students were receiving. Woman often did not have the money to attend college. For the ones that were able to go, their education often took place at universities with lower funding than that of the men's institutions, or in universities specifically for women. Also, the curriculum was often limited for women. They were generally trained in what was considered appropriate for a woman. They were trained to do the work that males did not do. (Mankiller et al., 1998, 163). Even still, this was a step forward for women. Towards the end of the 1900's there was an emergence of independent, college educated women which had never been seen before. (Evans 1989, 147).

During this time, woman who worked were not being safeguarded by any organizations or unions. Their working conditions were not very good, plagued by long hours and hazards, and low wages. The Unions had no interest in representing the unskilled workforce that women made up. (Evans 1989, 157). Finally in 1903 the women were able to organize an alliance, The National Women's Trade Union League (WTUL), to try and improve wages and working conditions for women. Finally government heard their cry and the Women's Bureau of the Department of Labor was formed in 1920. It collect information about women in the workforce and maintain good working conditions for women.

Women also fought for Child labor as well. The 1890 census revealed that more than one million children, ten to fifteen years old, worked in America.
By 1910 the number had increased to 2 million. Industries employed children as young as five or six to work as many as eighteen to twenty hours a day. (Davis, 2000) During the early 1900's, women had succeeded in implementing Child labor laws, even before they had obtained their own labor laws.

During this progressive period, woman began showing newfound strength, independence, and wisdom. They took it upon themselves to solve many social problems which in turn helped not only themselves, but also the entire American society. During the turn of the century, when so much was changing in America, they sought to better the lives of themselves, their children, and all of society. Their role was crucial, and helped to promote equality for all Americans.

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