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American Women through the Decades - 100 Years of Conflict, Challenge, and Confidence, by Samantha Brooks, Anissa Cooper, and Brian Moch
Welcome to 100 Years of Progress!
During the 1900s American Women worked long and hard to get us to where we are today. countless efforts for equality, awareness and inclusion, along with an undying hope for fuller lives, women throughout the country joined together and fought for each other. The page provides analysis and presentation of women’s major events during our most important century. Below you will find a discussion of women’s conflicts, challenges, and achievements that have lead to increased confidence and opportunities. We have come a looonng way
A few thoughtful questions...
What are you most thankful for when you compare your life to the lives of the women in the early 1900s?
How is the world different from when your mother was growing up? Her mother?
What are the most pressing issues for our generation of women?
How can we help the men in our lives to see the remaining obstacles for women worldwide, and the pressures that society presents us with?
Is there still a need for feminism? If yes...what should it be focused on? And if no, why not?
What are some improvements/issues that have occured since the 1900s?
What would you like to see accomplished for, or by, women in the next ten years?
Women had close to no rights whatsoever; so the fight for women’s rights continued. One of the biggest concerns during this time was women in the workforce, at this time only 18.8% of women held a job, all of which were under paid, along with the some of the women being mistreated. Most of these women worked in factories and mills, some as nurses and teachers. The following link shows a chart of the actual number of women in each job:
In 1900, women had absolutely no political rights, which made their job even harder to get what the rights they wanted. So, the only way was to speak out and hope to grab the attention of enough people to where women’s right became a political issue that was sought into by the government. There were only a few women known well at this time in history for speaking out for women’s rights—Elizabeth Cady Stanton being one. With her voice and actions, women began to gain hope. Stanton was the first president of the National Woman Suffrage Association, and helped immensely to make the first women’s suffrage convention happen at Seneca Falls in 1848. Along with Stanton another women known for the mark she’s left in the women’s right movement is Susan B. Anthony. Like Stanton, Anthony was part of the Seneca Falls convention and also formed many groups to fight for women’s suffrage. Since these two women came into the picture the other side of the fence only seemed that much closer; however, tragically in 1902 Stanton, and in 1906 Anthony passed away, leaving the women’s suffrage movement with two less great leaders and successful activists.
Of course women wanted all their rights to be equal to men’s but like every great movement, it must be taken it in a process of steps, and to gain the ability to hold any type of job, get equal pay, and be equally treated would most likely be considered on top of the list. The next goal on the list that would become a grand issue around 1908 was the voting rights for women. Most of the achievements for this decade in women’s suffrage were the constructing of groups to start a real fight for women’s rights. Some of the most popular were the WSPU—Women’s Social and Political Union, The National Women’s Right Conventional, and the Seneca Falls convention. Did much on paper change this decade for women’s rights? No. However, this is the decade where awareness was the most prevalent aspect in the women’s suffrage movement.
1904, Helen Keller is the first deaf and blind women to graduate from college.
1907, Women were admitted to work in local government jobs.
1908, A law was passed making it illegal for women only to smoke in public.
1908, International Women’s Day was celebrated for the first time.
The conflict now became, creating historical events to keep the women’s suffrage movement prospering and hopeful.
The setback from the 1900s hasn’t changed much. The country is unwilling to adopt more women’s rights, and there are no women in high enough positions to push for the adoption of more rights for women. Women desired their rights. They knew getting women into power in government would be the best place to start now that suffrage was a topic of discussion, so they set their focus into taking the women’s suffrage movement head on into politics.
This decade is packed full of achievements for women. The number of women in the work for has raised almost 5% to 23.8. In 1910, Washington State was the first state to adopt women’s suffrage, with fifteen states following by 1918. And with the election of Jeannette Rankin as the first women elected into Congress, the fight for women’s suffrage only looked more hopeful.
Thousands of Suffragists marched on the Capitol before Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration, aiming to make a statement.
1916, Margaret Sanger was arrested for opening the first birth control clinic in the US.
1919, The Leagues of Women Voters is founded.
(Women casting their ballots for Women’s Suffrage)
Now that women were beginning to be able to cast votes about changing the current suffrage guidelines, the challenge would be to win the ballots. However, this conflict didn’t last long, because in 1920 the 19th amendment, allowing women to vote, was passed.
Women had the usual setbacks since the beginning of the women’s suffrage movement. The 1920’s though were known as the “Roaring Twenties” so this decade focuses more on the achievements of women. This decade women were taking control of their desire to become more politically involved so they could strengthen their fight for their rights.
The biggest achievement of this decade would be the 19th amendment stated above—the right for women to vote. This would forever change women’s political power. In 1923, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was first introduced into congress. The amendment called for men and women to be give the same rights in every aspect of life. The United States also elected its first governor, Neille Ross. Ending the major achievement list in 1928 for women was their entrance into the Olympics.
The rate of women who received college degrees rose from 19% in 1900 to 39% in 1920.
The most percentage of women who entered the work force became a secretary.
This decade’s conflict would be caused by the war. Because the women took the places of the men when they went to war, and now that they are back, should the women be forced to give the jobs up?
Many of the women this decade did end up giving their jobs up either willingly or unwillingly for the men returning home from war to start working again, putting women back in the “housewife” role. Woman, with their new found allowance into government positioned began to aim towards just that…working in government, and for the time, flourished at doing so.
This decade’s achievements by women are filled by women taking government positions for the first time. Starting with Hattie Caraway being the first women elected to the U.S. Senate, followed by Frances Perkins, in 1933, who was appointed Secretary of Labor becoming the first women in the U.S. Cabinet. Arguably the most influential achievement for women in the 1930s decade was Eleanor Roosevelt becoming the nation’s ever first lady, forever changing the role of the president’s wife.
By 1938 800,000 women belonged to unions, triple that of in 1928
Jane Adams was the first women to win the Nobel Peace Prize for working with the poor
1932, Amelia Earhart becomes the first women to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.
During World War II women had to take over the jobs that the men were doing. the work force was not trying to support women because they only saw them in the traditional roles as the breadwinner and homemaker. But once the war broke they urged women to get a job.
The military only accepted young, unmarried women and they were given positions that were subordinate to the males so that they would not be in the position to give them orders. Women with children were prohibited from enlisting into the army. Lesbians were prosecuted and African American servicewomen were kept segregated, as well as the men. However, in 1946, during the end of the war, after enlistments went down, the U.S. War Department asked the Women's Branches in the army (WAC) to reenlist to meet labor shortages in the army hospitals.
After World War II women retained some of the positions they had acquired even in the heavy goods industry. Although still minimal, these changes suggest the possibility of more flexibility in sex stereotyping of jobs if technology decreased employers developed a positive perception of woman's abilities.
The percentage of women workers gradually rose from 21.2 in 1900 to 36.1 in 1945. This broke the norm that women belong at home rather than in the work place. Nearly one-quarter to over one-third of American women were in the workplace, either through necessity or desire. Women did not want to leave the workplace because they were used to the independence and the economic benefit.
Between the 1940s and 1950s women's achievements of increased professional participation is more extensive than in the decade of the 1950s. The number of dentists doubled; the number of women engineers increased six times and the number of women lawyers increased slightly. In 1940, three quarts of all women professionals were in school teaching and nursing, but in 1950, only two-thirds of professional women pursued these two traditional specialties. This showed that women are breaking that traditional barrier and pursuing more professions that men usually do.
In the 1950s there was this idealized happy housewife that was slim, trim and always well-groomed. Television shows during this time depicted this ideal such as Leave It To Beaver and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.
During this time the
magazine and the Barbie doll was introduced. The magazine featured nude pictures and it raised questions of ethics and morals. There were also feminist movements targeting
for objectifying and degrading women. These females were not average-looking, they were air brushed and coated with makeup to fix any blemishes. It would be impossible for any women to match the depiction of the women they were showing. It was stated that she was a "human Barbie." Barbie was criticized for her large chest, tiny body and the effect that she has on teenage girls.
has over the years changed throughout the times, supporting the Equal Rights Amendment, abortion rights and rape counseling. It has also been hurt by woman's criticism and with the changing of times. Their circulation fell in 1970 to 2.5 million.
In the 1960s married women were feeling like they could do more than their same daily routine of domestic duties. Betty Friedman's Book "The Feminine Mystique" summed it up as the problem that had no name. Women were feeling like they could do more than be a wife, mother, or homemaker.
Women wanted to be treated equally in the work force. The state legislation that tried to redress this imbalance by establishing minimum wage laws for women and was struck down by the Supreme court as unconstitutional in the Atkins v. Children's Hospital case in 1923. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 was passed as the first federal law prohibiting sex discrimination. It allows for equal pay for men and women in jobs requiring the same skill, responsibility and effort.
In may 1960 the FDA approved the Pills as a contraceptive device. b the end of 1961, 408,000 of American women were taking it and by 1984 estimates were around 50 million to 80 million women worldwide. Women now have the choice to prevent pregnancy.
Also by the 1960s, the women's work force included women from all age groups, social class and educational levels and ethnic origins.
Magazine Cover from 1970s
Adds in the early 70s portrayed women as healthy, curvy, and as what today would almost even be considered "plus size" for models. However, as the decade progressed models and celebrities became thinner and thinner, appearing to be closer to the astonishingly thin norms in advertising we see today. The Vietnam War was a threat to all Americans in the 70s and widely protested by college students, a high percentage of them young women. The riots and marches took a horrific turn when four American students were gunned down by the National Guard in their own country at Kent State University, eliciting more anger and contempt towards the government and armed forces. President Nixon resigned from office in 1973 following the publicized Watergate Scandal, shortly after the US troops withdrew from Vietnam.
In the early 70s, the ERA (equal rights amendment) which states that women and men are of equal status and share equal rights in the USA was passed in Congress, but fell short by three states. A few years later in the decade, nearly 100.000 protestors marched in Washington D.C. in support of the ERA.
However, a step forward in liberation was taken when women were finally guaranteed their right to abortion through the Supreme Court Case of Roe vs. Wade.
The 70s were an era of increased educational opportunities and desires for women. From 1970 to 1979 the number of young women enrolled in American colleges rose by 60%. Shows like Charlie's Angels began premiering as popular entertainment, portraying women as tough, intelligent and clever professionals capable of anything. In a way, the "super girl" fantasy started here: characters were independent, but still traditionally feminine and attractive, with styled clothes and long hair. "Title IX" was made official in 1972 promising women and men equal opportunities and resources when it came to education and federally funded extracurricular, such as sports and organizations.
In 1982 the ERA expired, still only three states short of a positive vote. It is fascinating that even in the 80s, women were not yet considered fully equal to men by law. In fact, even today there is a battle being fought over the ERA, almost 20 years later, it has yet to been ratified. Known as the "me" generation, women of the 80s were very concerned about their own personal success, their material belongings, their representation of wealth, and living a glamorous life. This was infuriating to the feminists of the previous twenty years, and worrisome to mothers who watched their daughters choose careers and paychecks over husbands and babies.
Exercise and physical fitness became increasingly popular and important to young women in the 1980s. While being thin and willowy was a popular look in the 60s and 70s, the 80s placed a new emphasis on "working out", spending time at the gym, burning calories, and having sculpted muscles. This look was portrayed to women all over the media through buff Hollywood beauties like Madonna, Janet Jackson, and the "energizer bunny" aerobics instructors emulated curvier women across the nation. Soon there was a striking epidemic in both the number of cases and awareness of eating disorders among adolescent and college age women everywhere. The craze to control one's body make it "perfect" were goals that women were willing to die for, and quite a few did. However, with the negative that came from this intense, desperate era, there was much light shed on the subject of eating and exercise disorders. All over the world doctors began conducting research and collecting data about body image perception and ways to treat the popular afflictions. Awareness was key to helping young women everywhere and soon their disorders became recognized as true mental health problems that could be treated.
Women's advancement in the professional and educational world continued to gain speed. By the 80s over half of all masters’ degrees were earned by women. Many women entered professions previously thought to be entirely male such as law, business, and healthcare. Sexual harassment was finally prohibited by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the early 80s fortifying hopes for a safer and less biased work environment for women. Women also finally gained entrance into the United States Army and almost 9% of officers and personnel were women.
The questions about what it meant to be a "good mother" increased as more and more women entered the workforce, either full or part time; more children than ever were placed in daycares and left with babysitters. There was a desire to follow traditional norms and raise a family, but also a pressure to follow popular trends of the professional world. Many women simply could not choose one or the other and attempted to excel in family life as well as the workforce. Women of previous generations, along with women who continued to stay home and even some working women, began to question the security of children raised by someone other than their mother.
The ideal "Superwoman" or "Supermom" who could do it all - keep house, raise children, and have a rewarding career - was a tough example to live up to. Many women found that their desires undermined one another. Having children interrupted career advancement, while waiting too long to start a family had many risks of its own. This conundrum is something that women continue to struggle with today due to the fact that living on one income is nearly impossible, yet parents understand the importance of spending time with their kids.
Considerably different from the eras in which they grew up, and in which their mothers were mostly "homemakers", women of the 90s made up 46% of the American workforce; translating into 60% of all women working outside the home, earning over 40% of all medical, business, and law degrees in the USA. The "Violence Against Women Act" was passed in the mid 90s, making victimization of women easier to convict and prosecute by law. Girls who grew up in the 1990s are socially and globally privileged above all other previous eras. Balance within our social, intellectual, occupational, physical, emotional, and spiritual selves is a goal that we strive for. Awareness and confidence in every sphere of life is abundantly available, as well as encouraged. A global outlook and identity are also highly valued by modern women. We have made considerable progress in the past one hundred years, and women of today hold the keys to a brighter future for the planet and all of the living things that call it home. The women and girls of today also celebrate more free-speech and self expression than ever before, many are learning to see past the popular idealism of society and critisize impossible norms. A fun example of this to check out is Bitch Magazine, a publication produced to respond to pop culture. Check it out here for a new view of our culture:
We hope you enjoyed learning about the important events of the 1900s, the women of the past, present and future thank you!
As a person, and as a woman, do your part to make the next century just as memorable - you too have the power to change our world.
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