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The History of Women

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The History of Women
HIS 204 American History Since 1865

The History of Women What would the world be if not for the powerful women who have helped to guide the path of women’s rights in the nation? Would women enjoy the same freedoms or would women still be prisoners to the home? Thankfully women don’t need to spend much time contemplating this as we did have strong, powerful women that fought for women’s rights for centuries. Women encouraged other women to fight for equality, fight for freedom, fight for the opportunity to be a strong independent woman in a nation of strong independent men. This paper will discuss several significant events that shaped the future for women in America. Events driven by women that wanted their voices to be heard through a sea of men, women that wanted men to realize that women had a lot to offer this world we live in. The first event this paper will discuss is the American Equal Rights Association started in 1866 by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. This association would shine a light on women’s suffrage in the nation and later inspire a more radical group called The National Woman Suffrage Association. World War I was another event that that the shaped the future for women in America and around the world. Women left their homes to become nurses that would care for wounded soldiers around the world. Another event is the passage of the 19th amendment in 1920. The 19th amendment gave women a voice in elections throughout the country. Their votes would now count alongside the men’s to shape the nation. As years went by the issues women faced did not cease. Women fought for more and more rights and notoriety, such as Amelia Earhart. Ms. Earhart would be the first women to flight solo across the Atlantic and later would accomplish many other firsts as a woman, in and out of an airplane. America would not escape from another war. In 1942 an event occurred that would diffuse the frail image of women. World War II began with the attack on Pearl Harbor; women would once again be called upon in a time of need. This time, women served not only as nurses; but as uniformed members of the military, taking their place alongside men overseas. Lastly, in 1963, Betty Friedan wrote a book entitled “The Feminine Mystique” that would inspire and encourage women once again to step out of their comfort zones and demand a more active and important role in society. The role of women throughout history has been shaped by the women themselves, the women who fought for equality and proved their worth in American society and the world. The suffrage movement is where it all began. In 1776 the Declaration of Independence was written claiming equality for all men. In hindsight maybe it should have read; for all mankind. During the 19th century many women had dreams of one day being considered equal to men in society. Women that were given the same rights and privileges as men were given. The fight for suffrage was the communicated desire of women for a profoundly different position in society that women’s customary one. Woman suffrage portrayed to the nation a distinctive message of women’s longing for independence (DuBois, 1987). The American Equal Rights Association (AERA) was created in an effort to bring equality to all mankind, with a goal of combining black suffrage and woman suffrage into the all-encompassing demand for united suffrage. Several women believed that equality for all could be fought for together, giving a voice to the citizen rather than the color or sex. After several years it became apparent that battling the two simultaneously was not working. The focus had shifted from “women” to “black women” and women were excluded from the 15th amendment; thus a rift developed between the women involved. The AERA and universal suffrage was not working. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were two women with a vision of equality in their hearts. These two women would become the face of the “new” suffrage movement (Harper, 1906). After the failure of the AERA the women shifted focus to a more radical group giving specific attention to women’s suffrage, the National Woman Suffrage Association or NWSA, thus giving a new identity to their cause. (DuBois, 1987). The NWSA claimed that women should be afforded the right to vote based upon their sex and not simply as individuals. The two believed that the feminine element should be enfranchised in government. They argued that the feminine element would “elevate national life and “exalt purity, virtue, morality, and true religion” essentially giving the nation some heart. According to DuBois “the NWSA distinguished itself among suffrage organizations by it emphasis on national, as opposed to state, action to enfranchise women” (1987). The women would continue the fight for women’s education; their right to divorce, to own property, to obtain careers, and their right to vote. Women now had a voice in the nation; this voice would be carried into a global war in 1914. In 1914 the nation was pulled into the Great War or World War I. Women were an important piece of the voluntary support of the war. Women were used as iconic images to represent the nation and its war aims (Dumenil, 2002). Propaganda used the female image, at times draped with an American flag as a way to symbolize America’s honor. However, these efforts did not do nearly as much to encourage or support women and their rights as the eventual mobilization did. National women’s organizations began to encourage their involvement through the NWSA. The National Women’s Party (NWP) also got involved, picketing the White House and demanding that the same democracy that was being fought for by war, also be given to the women on the home front as well. The NWSA and the NWP gained notoriety and proved an important factor in creating sympathy for the suffrage. Other significant steps towards equality also came about during the First World War. The Young Women’s Christian Association and the Women’s Land Army also offered job opportunities that challenged traditional patterns of sex segregated labor. Women began farming the land, working as street car conductors and postal carriers. Women were now afforded the opportunities that had previously only been offered to men (Dumenil, 2002). Blatch wrote ” Groups of women from colleges and seasonal trades have ploughed and harrowed, sowed and planted, weeded and cultivated, mowed and harvested, milked and churned, at Vassar, Bryn Mawr and Mount Holyoke, at Newburg and Milton, at Bedford Hills and Mahwah. It has been demonstrated that our girls from college and city trade can do farm work, and do it with a will. Better still, at the end of the season their health wins high approval from the doctors and their work golden opinions from the farmers” (Blatch, 1918). Prior to the war there were 403 women assigned to the Army Nurse Corps, by the end of the war there were 21,480. Women arrived in Europe even before American troops. Nurses served in numerous countries around the world, they served in field hospitals, mobile units, evacuation, camps and convalescent hospitals as well as troop trains and transport ships. The women who served in the war were subject to treacherous conditions, heartbreaking losses, and emotional losses. By joining forces in war and caring for thousands of fathers, brothers, and sons of America, women were able to elevate their fight for equality. World War I was a noteworthy example for escalating roles of women in the military and for evolving the military acknowledgment of women’s service in the Armed Forces and throughout the nation (Ghajar). Social reform was an important phase of the Progressive movement. An essential event during this time was the passage of the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote. Women believed that their rights, in politics, were key to their rights in society. Achieving the right to vote was a tumultuous struggle that took decades to accomplish. Generations of suffragists lobbied, wrote, marched, and lectured in an effort to ratify the constitution. The amendment was originally introduced to congress in 1878 and was not ratified until August 18, 1920. At first woman suffrage supporters pursued passing the suffrage acts in each state independently, others confronted the male-only vote through the court, while other, more radical suffragist, used spectacles, vigils, and hunger strikes to campaign their cause. Most major suffrage organizations supported the ratification of the constitution. However, it was believed by the National Committee Chairmen that the women would vote soundly against that party whose legislatures declined to ratify; the “mythical sex-vote idea” (Brown, 1922). It wasn’t until New York adopted the woman suffrage that President Wilson began to support the amendment and the political poise began to swing. The House of Representatives passed the amendment followed two weeks later by the Senate. The amendment met its required three-fourths of the states allowing for ratification on August 26, 1920 (The constitution: The 19th amendment). The 19th amendment changed the face of American politics and was a major win for the women of the nation shaping a future of powerful women. One of these powerful women would be Amelia Earhart. Amelia Earhart was one of the most heroic women of the 20th century. Earhart changed the view of women around the world not just in America. Women prior to this point have paved the way for women like Amelia Earhart. In earlier years she may not have been able to pursue flying and would have become the powerful independent women that she was. As a result of her parents turbulent marriage Earhart vowed to be an independent woman. Working as a nurse’s aid in a military hospital in Canada during World War I and worked as a social worker in Boston, she earned her financial independence. Through her work she earned money for flying lessons and bought herself a small plane. This plane would cast her into our history books as the most well know female pilot of all time. Earhart would come to break dozens of flying records, to include being the first female pilot to fly across the Atlantic. Earhart was an important influence for women. According to Edwins, “She believed her solo flight proved that men and women were equals in all “jobs requiring intelligence, coordination, speed, coolness, and willpower.” (2012). She also wanted to challenge women to push themselves and their limitations. Earhart said herself “Now and then women should do for themselves what men have already done—occasionally what men have not down – thereby establishing themselves as persons, and perhaps encouraging other women toward greater independence of thought and action” (Edwins, 2012). Due to Earhart’s fame she was able to gain support for female pilots discrimination. She encouraged women to make more of them and to push the limits of aviation for the world. Women like Earhart kept feminism alive in a slow time of women’s activism. Numerous organizations used her image as a way to promote the safety of aviation, although the image it appeared to represent was that flying must be easy if a woman can do it. Inevitably women encountered resistance and criticism during this time however they were still afforded the opportunity to travel, race, set records, and promote aviation all at a corporate expense. Throughout Earhart’s tours she would address women’s group promoting independence. During this time Earhart was able to portray to the nation that women pilots were able to combine career and adventure along with the more feminine duties of marriage and motherhood, exemplifying the liberated yet feminine woman (Corn, 1979). It was because of her inspiring independence, passion, and drive that she became such a heroic icon in women’s history. Much like the times of WWI, men were sent off in droves during World War II. More than 16 million men left to serve in the military, as a result more than 6.5 million women stepped up to fill the open positions in factories. The percentage of women in agricultural roles during this time also increased by nearly 15 percent, with more than three million women joining the federal Women’s Land Army in an effort to save the nations crops. Women also donned their military service uniforms for jobs like metal smiths, aircraft mechanics, parachute-riggers, air traffic controllers, link trainer instructors, and flight orderlies. All three branches of the military allowed women to join their ranks, although their service wasn’t necessary glamorous or equal to the men. Close to 350,000 women joined the military. Women volunteered for the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), the Navy Women’s Reserve (WAVES), the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve, the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve (SPARS), the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASPS), the Army Nurse Corps, and the Navy Nurse Corps. The Women’s Air Service Pilots or WASP’s were created as a quasi-military organization alongside the Army Air Forces and used to ferry aircraft around the world. The Women’s Army Corps also put women in uniform and sent them into action. During this time uniformed women did not serve in combat roles, alongside the men, however they did serve around the world, near the front lines, as combat nurses. Litoff and Smith discussed the way the war effected women by saying “The lives of American women were dramatically changed by the experience of war. The war transformed the way women thought about themselves and the world in which they lived, expanding their horizons and affording them a clearer sense of their capabilities.” (2002). After the war the women of the nation felt more sure of themselves and powerful in society. They had proven their strength and purpose outside of the home. Due to their passion and dedication towards the war efforts women were afford any more opportunities going forward in a world formerly suited for men. It was not felt by all around the nation however; once the men returned the women were again pushed out of jobs and forced to take their place back in the home. This did not go over well and a second wave of feminism began, as women fought to keep their jobs and new found independence. World War II was a significant spark in the fight for women’s rights, not only because of the new jobs women held but because of the desire the women of war held for not going back to their old lives. As women fought to maintain their new found independence a women by the name of Betty Friedan put her thoughts down on paper in the form of a bestselling book entitled The Feminine Mystique. This book encouraged women that were already searching for more. Friedan wanted women to question their role in society. They began to question their domestication and to reconsider their place in society. During this postwar era the men of the nation had once again taken over the breadwinner role and had begun, once again, to repress women, expressing that women could only be happy in “sexual passivity, male domination, and nurturing maternal love” (Meyerowitz, 1993). Friedan argued “full-time domesticity stunted women and denied their “basic human need to grow.” (1993). She believed that both men and women found fulfillment through achievement in society. Friedan also served as the first president of the National Organization. She also founded the National Women’s Political Caucus. Betty Friedan became the most powerful figures in the women’s movement by encouraging women to be more than housemaids and wives (Meyerowitz, 1993). She knew women had made strides during the war and know wanted them to prove themselves once again in a society the repressed women just as before the war. Her book and her inspiring words changed history and changed women forever more. This paper discussed several significant events that shaped the future for women in America. These events were driven strong, independent women and war. The first event discussed was inspired by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton during the progressive era, the American Equal Rights Association and the eventual, more radical National Woman Suffrage Association. The two women, driven by a passion for equality and women’s suffrage, made strides for women over several decades. World War I created an environment in which women stepped out of the safety of their homes to become nurses that would care for wounded soldiers around the world as well as taking jobs in factories and on farms to keep the home front running strong in support of their men fighting the war. The ratification of the 19th amendment in 1920 ended a long battle to give women a voice in government elections. Amelia Earhart inspired women around the world to fight for their dreams and do the unimaginable. She would be the first women to flight solo across the Atlantic and later would accomplish many other firsts in and out of an airplane. The attack on Pearl Harbor would spark World War II. Women once again took their place beside their brothers. They joined the military and donned the uniform as proud patriots. This time, women served in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. They worked as nurses, as mechanics, and as pilots. Lastly, in 1963, Betty Friedan changed the opinion of women by writing a book entitled “The Feminine Mystique”. During this time women were once again encouraged to step out of their comfort zones and demand a more active and important role in society. The role of women throughout history has been shaped by the women themselves, the women who fought for equality and proved their worth in American society and the world.

Blatch, H. S. (1918). Mobilizing woman-power. New York: The Womans press.
Brown, G. S. (1922). The "new bill of rights" amendment. Virginia Law Review, 9(1), 14-24. Retrieved April 25, 2013, from
Corn, J. (1979). Making flying "thinkable": Women pilots and the selling of aviation, 1927-1940. American Quarterly, 31(4), 556-571. Retrieved April 25, 2013, from
DuBois, E. C. (1987). Outgrowing the compact of the fathers: Equal rights, woman suffrage, and the united. The Journal of American History, 74(3), 836-862. Retrieved April 25, 2013, from .
Dumenil, L. (2002). American women and the Great War. OAH Magazine of History, 17(1), 35-39. Retrieved from
Edwins, L. (2012, Jul 24). Amelia Earhart: Pilot and feminist. The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved from
Ghajar, L. A. (n.d.). Military nurses in world war. Retrieved from
Harper, I. H. (1906). Susan B. Anthony: The woman and her work. The North American Review, 182(593), 604-616. Retrieved April 25, 2013, from
Litoff, J. B., & Smith, D. C. (2002). American women in a world at war. OAH Magazine of History, 16(3), 7, 9-12. Retrieved April 25, 2013, from
Meyerowitz, J. (1993). Beyond the feminine mystique: A reassessment of postwar mass culture, 1946- 1958. The Journal of American History, 79(4), 1455-1482. Retrieved April 25, 2013, from
The constitution: The 19th amendment. [Electronic Record]. National Archives and Records Administration. Retrieved from

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History's Impact on Women.

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