American Women 1920-1960 Essay

Throughout history, society has classified women and their roles and potential within a given society. There have been reasons in the past for this fact, which have included religious oppression and portraying of their role. The initial idea of a women’s place being in the home taking care of the children and looking after the home, this is still common in today’s society. Women now have a new found ability to fulfill their dreams and have achieved an independence that few would have perceived. Modern day society accepts the fact that sex should not determine your place within it, however, how did it get to this point? To find out, we will discuss some of the major events over time that have carved the modern day woman and the role that she plays in society. Primarily, the progression of women’s place is in the home, to that of where it stands today was at a complete standstill and it would take numerous life changing moments in time to change this perception.

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While America grew over to the west, women’s roles began to change. From this point the homemaker perception of a woman’s place was still strong throughout the country. It was not until, “the pioneer women in the later part of the 19th century experienced a life in which they divided their time between farming and household” (Eisenmann, 2006). This also lead way for women to start providing for their family by producing goods such as clothing, cooking and cleaning other houses. This was a new unfounded land; the women that inhabited it had to be prepared for almost anything. With a moment’s notice, their husband could take ill and

she would be left to her own devices. This new found independence was a glimpse of the women’s potential future. However, during the early 1900’s the United States was viewed as being one of the greatest and democratic powers in the world. There were problems that were concealed deep within its heart, “from the founding of the United States, women did not share equally in its democratic freedoms, most notably in the inability to cast a political vote” (Bowles, 2011). There were also places that women were not expected to be seen, what she would be able to learn through education and where they were allowed to work. There was a set path that each and every woman was set to follow. The path was simple, you are born, you marry, you care for your family and you die.

For the women of the 19th century, this was not okay. Change was coming, although slowly, it was working its way into the mainstream and efforts were slow-moving it opened up new avenues for women to explore. Women wanted equality and sought to get it through reform, however, reform requires change and change is what they did. The change came from their perception of themselves, “images drawn by Charles Dana Gibson of the New Woman emphasized athleticism and slimness, unconfined by the stiff petticoats of the past. Known as the Gibson Girl, such drawings appeared in magazines and served as a model for other women to emulate. This came at an important time in history. While suffragists often encountered scorn, disdain, and hostility while struggling to attain political independence, the Gibson Girl portrayed an image of freedom” (Bowles, 2011). As women started to emulate these pictures, idolized examples such as Isadora Duncan, became role models for bored housewives. The traditional Victorian submissive wife was starting to disappear.

There have been several women who look outside this and took action, wanted to change the way women were perceived. Eleanor Roosevelt had set a different role as a First Lady, on the inauguration day in 1933 she had put together a budget for the White House, her focus was to reduce the budget and help her husband. She was the first, First Lady to hold her own press conference, stating she would have a “get together” with female reporters once a week (Anonymous, 2013). She did not want secret service to greet her guest at the White House, she wanted to do this herself. Eleanor would write a column once a month in the Woman’s Home Companion and invited other woman to write to her, she then started a column that she wrote every day six days a week to help with other women.

Eleanor Roosevelt was a large part of her husband’s career in his presidency and her own progression, women looked up to her. Eleanor Roosevelt was a great leader for all women, she became involved after her husband came down with Polio, they were trying to find a cure for polio, and they had researched what may help him. In 1924 Eleanor Roosevelt started writing articles for magazines, she was also on the radio, was a board member of the bi-partisan Women’s City Club. In 1926 she had established the non-profit Val-Kill industries; this was designed to help farmers learn how to create furniture to help with their income (Hoff-Wilson, 1985). With the progression of the perceptions of the modern day women, the suffrage movement gained enough momentum to effect change. When trying to evoke change for a taboo subject such as the right to vote, women utilized education to do it. They recognized that educating women across the country would allow them to realize what was at stake. This was a

slow and low yielding progress as changing someone’s way of life is a hard thing to convince someone of, even if it was for the better. Many women became impatient and as a result began to protest to make them heard. Alice Paul convened the Congressional Union, who on “January 1, 1917, they stood rigid and silent in front of the presidential home with banners that demanded the right to vote. Paul said that the strategy was to “visualize the movement to the man and woman on the street” to become “part of the vocabulary of the nation” (Browne, 2008). Although convincing, it was not enough to have the movement passed. In retaliation and to demonstrate their political influence they manage to savage three political candidates campaigns and, “based on this display of power, one year later the amendment passed both the House and the Senate; in August 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment became a part of the United States Constitution.

In November of that year, women across the nation voted in their first presidential election (Dooley, 1990). While World War I raged on American nation decided to step into the forefront and to mobilize its army. Even, “though America did not enter the war until 1917, in reality it had been preparing for the eventuality of the conflict almost since the fighting started. In 1915, Wilson endorsed a proposal to expand the military. The first step was the National Defense Act of 1916, which increased the Army from 90,000 to 233,000 troops” (Bowles, 2011). The draft took people from all walks of life and forced them onto the front line, by doing so it left large holes in the inner workings of the economy. Although there was a war, soldiers needed to come back to a working country.

The end of World War I women began to change they took on a different meaning with fashion, they started wearing shorter shirts, applying make-up, and they even cut their hair shorter. It became the decade that they were able to vote. They could start to make choices for themselves, if they wanted to stay home and be a homemaker or they could enter the workforce and make some money. Even though women we able to work outside the home, there pay was less than a man’s pay even though they would do the same work as a man (Hogan, 2003). The attire of woman’s clothing started with the younger generation and moved on to the older generation. The younger generation did not understand why the older generation wanted to look younger. They were told it was because they had more independence and were able to make more decisions for themselves. Woman just wanted to become more noticeable, that they were humans and not just homemakers for the men (Bilven, 1925). The opportunity to fill this void fell in the lap of the women of the country.

While there husbands, fathers and brothers were fighting for their country it was time for them to advance from contributing to the household, to contributing to the country. They stepped up and, “made contributions to the labor force at home by maintaining farms left when the husbands went to war. Other women drove trucks; however, few actually participated in heavy industries. This would not be the case in World War II, although, women in 1917 still faced much gender discrimination. Those women who did take new jobs during the war lost them immediately when men returned from Europe” (Dooley, 1990). This was not the ideal end to their efforts, however, most certainly opened up an array of new ideas as to what could possibly be achieved.

By the time 1940 was here the Social Security was underway, women were working and only made up to 25 percent of the workforce. If it was not for women going into the workforce and paying taxes, just like men did, then they feel Social Security would have gone broke. In the 1040’s they looked at the Social Security as they would not have to pay out as much, studies have shown that men did not live as long as women. However, due to this they would have to pay women a little longer than men so women needed to contribute to Social Security (Colgan, 2001). At that point in time, the women of that era were caught up in the presumption that being a housewife was the best they could be. All the major obstacles that they had fought for, including the right to vote, the right to higher education had been left unneeded. This common feeling the women faced was what people would really think of them if they were to complain. “They feared if they expressed too much concern that people would think of them as a failure. In an effort to seek relief from this growing anxiety, some even turned to barbiturates which many doctors were willing to prescribe” (Bowles, 2011). There was one lady who did not care what others thought of her she felt her place was to help out and do what she could for our country. War created work for women; they helped in the defense plant making bombs and building aircrafts. They owe it all to Rosie De River, she would jump in where she was needed, and women watched Rosie and liked what they had seen from her and her dedication. There were 2 million women working in the defense plant, ½ million aircraft plant, and 225 thousand working with the ships. Work force, was over 19 million working women, these women were usually single (Wattenberg, 2000).

One of the biggest revolutions that the women’s revolution faced was during the 1960’s. In the 60’s the Civil Rights act was passed. This was a large step in the right direction for all African Americans, however, in the process, identified its main reason for existence as being all about “personal identity”. Personal identity and gender went hand in hand, although the act identified the equality if all people it still did not change the problems that were faced even though President Lyndon Johnson, “also gave the attorney general the power to ensure that no employer, private or public, could discriminate in hiring practices with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) serving as the watchdog on this task” (Bowles, 2011). As it stood, women who possessed jobs in male orientated workplace were subject to discriminatory and sexist environment. As the complaints began to grow and nothing was being done to resolve the problem it was left to Betty Friedan to tidy up the mess.

Much like the times before, a more proactive method was needed to ensure their point of view was to be heard and, “Friedan led the formation of a new group of women activists known as the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1996 to take action to bring American women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now” (Cayton, 2006). Although relatively small, the NOW organization packed a punch and initially went to work correcting all the wrongs that women had to face in the work place. Some of the most pressing matters were that of equal pay, equal opportunity and probably most importantly, the negative image that women were portrayed in. To do this they had to concentrate all their efforts towards one cause and in 1972 they passed the Equal Rights Amendment to the house of the Senate.

The 21st century marked a time of great change, for instance the first African American president still resides in office to this very day which is testament to the great example of change through the years. For women, the change has been somewhat bewildering as although the presidential seat by a man, in 2008 the United States of America experienced their first female candidate. Not only have women finally found their place in politics, however, in the workplace numerous CEO’s of multibillion dollar company’s step forward to be counted. Not only do the changes become apparent within the workplace, nevertheless, a women’s place is no longer just the home. The timeframe that was set out for their life has now gone. Fewer women decide to marry a many that were stuck in social acceptable marriages now felt free enough to spread their wings.

These fantastic changes have given light to otherwise depressing situation, however should not overshadow the work that will be required ahead. Women in many companies faced the “glass ceiling,” which is a term used to describe an otherwise qualified person being halted at a lower level due to discrimination. The term is most commonly applied to women in the workplace, because they often faced discrimination for earning positions of greater responsibility due to concerns that they would leave (on a temporary or permanent basis) when they became pregnant. Women also faced stresses in their own attempts to combine family and career. While women with advanced professional degrees were able to make a decent living, this was not the case for the working poor; women accounted for 58 percent of the lowest paid workers. These women were often in dead-end jobs with little hope of improving their situation or climbing the economic ladder. Often they lacked basic health care and had little opportunity to save money or advance their position (Bowles, 2011).

Women have made progress through hard work and a combined effort have set the standard for future generations. The 21st century has been a time of change with multiple events that we never thought would ever come to realization. A black President, women Senators, whatever will be next. The only problem is in a lot of the instances, it took major and often catastrophic events to effect change. Let’s hope that next time something needs to be done as a country, this time we act like one.

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