“The Evolution of Women in Society”
Throughout United States history oppression of people has always been prominent, whether through African American’s and segregation or Asian American’s during the Vietnam War. What is often ignored is our history of the oppression of women. No matter what time in history, there is always a case to be found of the discrimination over gender. Many people know of how African American’s came into freedom and the long perilous road it took, but few know the struggles, changes and hardships that women have perceived to get where they are today. As the civil war halted and industrialization and urbanization came into play, the role of women changed dramatically and their status in the society in the aspects of employment, equal-rights, and in the home.
Women entered the work force suddenly and abruptly. With the advent of typewriters, clerical work, and assembly lines, women were looked for more and more to fill labor positions. Although the typewriter was not responsible for the employment of women as clerical workers its existence probably facilitated or eased the entrance of women into offices (Binder 68). Also expansions in industrial and retail sectors saw women employment in clerical jobs skyrocket. In 1920, the amount of women in clerical work was over 12 times that in 1880 (Norton 341). Some women were getting supervising jobs but they posed no threat to male managers (Norton 341). Problems with factory jobs occurred because of the influx of cheap women and child labor. Employers began to hire more and more people, overcrowding factories. One such occurrence that showed the hazardous work conditions that they were put through was at the Triangle Waist Company. Workers were leaving a days work when a fire broke out, and they found themselves trapped inside with windows and fire escapes rusted shut. As the fire spread some began to jump from the nine-story building. By the time it was over, 146 workers had dies, most of them young Jewish women (Binder 84).
Through reconstruction women began to receive rights they truly deserved. Conventions broadened women’s rights in property holding and divorce (Norton 309). The women would end up keeping land through a divorce. The goal was not to make men and women equal though, it was to free the debtor, usually the male, from obligations. On the other hand discrimination was still prominent as shown in 1872 when Myra Bradwell, a female attorney, had been denied the right to practice law on account of her gender (Norton 315). Verbally shot down by the judge, he said, Man is, or should be, women’s protector and defender. The natural and proper timidity and delicacy, which belongs to the female sex, is evidently unfit for many of the occupations of life (Binder 81). This phrase properly shows how much further women had a lot farther to go to reach equality in the legal system.
After the war and with a revolution coming into play, many women began to leave their traditional home settings. Some taking refuge in office clerical work, booming jobs market at the time. Others yet began to follow their husbands who were in search of wealth in natural resources. Although few women prospected, they did contribute a lot in the small mining “towns”, performing services for the men (Norton 325). Women were also pulled away from the traditional nurturing and educating home structure of the family (Norton 365). Family was still strong in the early 1900’s but had changed a lot due to parents being out of the home. Birthrates also had dropped. This was caused by the urbanization of America and families moving away from farm life. Compared to farms where children started work at an early age, and could contribute to the family, urbanization meant children were not able to be included in the workforce until much older.
As shown, the hardships of women have been great and this is only the tip of the iceberg. Through the industrialization of America women had at least started gaining ground as being perceived as contributors to the work force. They slowly discarded the idiosyncrasies of being kept at home tending to the children, and broke out into clerical and assembly line jobs. Some were forced into hazardous factory situations, but were determined to break the mold of the roles females played in the past. They were seen as motivated people who still spent much of their time on family. Although upper management was not worried of women taking over their jobs, women performed to as high a standard as they were expected and were a force to be reckoned with in the new urbanized America.
Binder, Frederick M. The Way We Lived. Boston, New York:
Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999.
Norton, Mary Beth. A People and A Nation: A History of the
United States. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin
“The Evolution of Women in Society”