Type of Project
The lives of women in America in the twentieth century drastically shifted in comparison to the nineteenth century. American women in the nineteenth century were traditionally born into their role of being a caregiver at home for her entire family without being able to contest that.
Women were expected to produce children rapidly without much time in between each pregnancy. However, the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century forged an alternative, contemporary lifestyle for women.
The permeating masculinity ingrained within America’s society sparked the radical transition from the traditional female role to a lifestyle the individual woman chose for herself. Women began to advocate for equal rights and more choices.
Feminism in the late nineteenth century, the Progressive Era, and the 1960s set the foundation for women to overcome patriarchal restraints in an effort to live with their own intent, as women during this era pressed for the rights to vote, to control their appearance and be sexually liberated, have access to birth control, and have a career.
Women in America have been subjected to the ideals of men for most of America’s existence. The first signs of feminism began to show during the Antebellum era, the early to mid 1800s, when women spoke against their frustration of living in a society dominated by men (Corbett, pg. 382). Yet men ignored this and continued to push their own agendas upon women.
In 1899, Theodore Roosevelt once noted that women who fear motherhood should “vanish from the earth” (Gorn, pg. 100), as they are not brave enough for this world. The exemplary American woman would be a child-bearing housewife, and the man took care of money (Gorn, pg. 100). However, this was not the ideal life that many women wanted for themselves.
Women desired more control over their own bodies and wellbeing. Tired of the patriarchal society, women started the suffrage movement to gain their right to vote. This right was obtained in 1919 when Congress passed the Nineteenth Amendment (Corbett, pg. 615).
This amendment was a striking contrast between women’s rights of the nineteenth and twentieth century. The Nineteenth Amendment was a monumental accomplishment for American women. For the first time in America’s history, women were given a political voice. This was imperative for twentieth century women to get the social justice and other societal needs they desired.
Shortly after the Nineteenth Amendment passed, women adopted a new style that was popular through the 1920s. In the post-World War I era, many people were distraught over the chaos of the war. Many of the white people sought out entertainment to cope with their trauma (Braden, America in the 1920s Lecture).
The carefree female flapper style developed during this time. This appearance was a bold way of women making their presence known in the social sphere of America’s society (Corbett, pg. 708-709). The flapper look included the heavy use of makeup, which was previously only associated with prostitutes (Braden, America in the 1920s Lecture).
This movement contributed to the breakthrough of American women’s appearance in contrast to the strict, patriarchal expectations of the nineteenth century. The flapper also supported the change of women’s sexuality due to its drastic change from the previous expectations of traditional women.
Margaret Sanger, a female activist during the Progressive Era, immensely advanced the right for women’s sexuality in a different way. Sanger began to speak out for birth control in 1914, during a time when birth control was illegal due to the Comstock Law of 1873. (Gorn, pg. 157).
She also asserts that instead of focusing on the laws of the unborn, focusing on those who are born is important (Gorn, pg. 169). Of course, there was a prominent rebuttal against her. In a debate against Sanger herself, a New York City male attorney argued that birth control went against the laws of nature and that sex and pleasure cannot be had without paying for it with childbirth (Gorn, pg. 168).
The man responsible for the Comstock Law, Anthony Comstock, believed that there was a reason God set natural barriers within humans and that breaking those barriers would be utterly devastating (Gorn, pg. 162). By virtue of Sanger’s efforts, the topic of birth control caught the attention of many, including medical professionals (Gorn, pg. 173).
The movement gained traction, so much so that in 1960 the birth control pill was released by the FDA. This allowed much more freedom in a woman’s life. Having the freedom to choose whether to have children or not allowed more time for women to work and obtain education (Corbett, pg. 881).
In comparison with women in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this drastically changed women’s lifestyles by giving them multiple choices for their direction in life. Of course, women have a lengthy history of wanting to join the work force. During the Gilded Age, the number of working women tripled to five million (Corbett, pg. 523).
Since then, many men continued to suppress women. For example, in World War I, women were used as a means of advertising on posters. One poster for enlistment depicts a woman standing in a Navy uniform saying that she wishes she were a man, with the caption, “BE A MAN AND DO IT” underneath her (Gorn, pg. 141).
Another similar poster for enlisting in the war shows an interpretation of a German soldier holding a woman, making her look as though she is a damsel in distress who needs to be saved by the men of the United States (Gorn, pg. 143).
Contradictory to these images, women replaced men’s jobs while they were overseas at war. Despite most women being fired and expected to return to their home lives once the men returned, this experience gave women a clear sense of what their lives could be like with a career (Corbett, pg. 674).
During World War II, women were the majority of workers in industries that were previously only known as being men’s industries (Corbett, pg. 801). Women’s actions during this time period affirmed their desire to be independent and have the same opportunities as men.
However, at the time of the civil rights movement beginning in the 1960s, the role for women in America’s society was somewhat brushed aside. Men assumed that women’s issues would resolve themselves once all men were given equality (Braden, 1960s Lecture).
By a stroke of luck, women were included in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited employers from discriminating against anyone due to their sex (Gorn, pg. 281). Although this did not end discrimination against women entirely, many women have gained an abundance of career opportunities since the passage of the Civil Rights Act.
America’s society during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries remained dominated by men in certain aspects. Nevertheless,
many women were courageous enough to stand up for their fundamental rights beginning in the late nineteenth century. The bravery and actions of these women and women in the early twentieth century contributed to a more liberated society for women in the twentieth century.
Women advocated and achieved changes in legislation regarding their personal lives and choices. Women of the twentieth century and onward can reflect upon the actions of women in the past and feel empowered by their successes to continue the fight for equality.
Braden, April. “1960s Lecture.” North Lake College HIST 1302, 4 Mar. 2019.
Braden, April. “America in the 1920s Lecture.” North Lake College HIST 1302, 11 Feb.
Braden, April. “Progressive Era Lecture.” North Lake College HIST 1302, 4 Feb. 2019.
Corbett, P. Scott, et al. U.S. History. Houston: OpenStax College, and OpenStax College
History, 2014. OpenStax. 1 Mar. 2018.
Gorn, Elliott J., et al. Constructing the American Past: A Sourcebook of a People’s
History. Vol. 2, Oxford University Press, 2018.
The Evolution of the African American Experience
America has come a long way regarding the acceptance of African Americans as true members of society. Though there is still a long way to go before complete social equality is achieved, the implementation of groundbreaking pro-integration legislation has created a much more tolerant environment for modern African Americans.
Despite the suppression of African American freedoms via brutal acts of terrorism by the Ku Klux Klan, the Great Migration, the Brown v. Board of Education verdict, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 have proved substantial in creating a more balanced society for African Americans.
Originally formed in 1866- just one year after the abolition of slavery- the Ku Klux Klan’s primary goal as a terrorist organization was to deter African Americans from exercising their newly acquired rights as free people (especially voting rights). In order to achieve this, Klan members routinely terrorized African Americans as well as black sympathizers with various acts of violence- most notably lynching.
Although lynching is among the most famous of their vile methods, they employed a variety of tactics ranging from “threats and intimidations to… killing” (Constructing the American Past 13) in an effort to preserve white supremacy. Perhaps the most striking truth about the Klan is that its members were really everyday citizens.
As explained by Pierce Harper in an 1871 testimony of Ku Klux Klan victims, “you deal wit’ ‘em in de stores in de day time” (Constructing the American Past 7). Though the organization was banned in the late 1870s, it was later re-established in 1915, in part as a response to the Great Migration.
Lasting from 1900 to 1970, the Great Migration was a period of African American migration to the Northern US that was primarily inspired by the desire for industrial work, especially “steel mills, mines, construction, and meat-packing” (US History 549). During this period, approximately 6 million African Americans moved to the largely unfamiliar North, lowering the percentage of blacks in the South by around 37%.
This rapid increase in the population of this somewhat foreign demographic did not bode well with the Northern whites. Aside from racially-motivated acts of violence and the re-emergence of the Ku Klux Klan, blacks were systematically sectioned off via a process known as redlining.
In this process, certain areas were marked on the map as bad investments, and this was used as an excuse to “deny home loans to qualified buyers” (US History 550). The effects of this can still be felt today, as many cities in the North and Midwest are extremely segregated by race.
However, despite the initial backlash from whites, the sudden convergence of different regional groups resulted in vast exchanges in culture throughout the African American community.
In addition to the Great Migration, the Supreme Court verdict in the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas case also facilitated a mixing of cultures- this time via the integration of schools. This controversial ruling effectively undid Plessy v. Ferguson by establishing that ‘separate but equal’ schools were unconstitutional as they made African American students feel inferior to their white counterparts. This was met with much public backlash, inspiring various acts of resistance, including Orval Faubus’ response to the Little Rock Nine- a group of nine African American students who planned to attend the formerly segregated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Despite the Supreme Court explicitly stating that the students had the right to attend the school, Faubus ordered Arkansas troops “to prevent the students from attending classes” (US History 848). In response to Faubus’ defiance, President Dwight Eisenhower enforced the ruling, even providing the students with military escorts to ensure that they made it to class safely.
This sudden federal backing for the rights of African Americans helped set the stage for the Civil Rights Act of 1964.Proposed by President John F. Kennedy and enacted by President Lyndon Johnson, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 served as the “most far-reaching civil rights act yet” (US History 866) at the time of its passing, further dismantling systematic racial segregation and providing African Americans with more freedoms.
Among other things, the act banned segregation in schools and public facilities, banned employment discrimination, and gave black people voting rights- primarily by banning fraudulent literacy tests. However, this act was met with white resistance, not unlike the resistance that African Americans faced with the abolition of slavery, the Great Migration, and the Brown v. Board verdict.
In Southern states, for example, it was not uncommon for white people to prevent black people from registering to vote, and “protests against this interference [were] often met with violence” (US History 866). Despite the public’s aversion to forced integration, this act ultimately served as the stepping stone for future pro-equality legislation such as the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968.
Though true racial equality has yet to be achieved in the US, the country has undeniably seen substantial progress since the abolition of slavery in 1865- though not without a few barriers along the way. From the barbaric actions of the Ku Klux Klan, to white resistance during the Great Migration and following the Brown v.
Board verdict and Civil Rights Act of 1964, African Americans have faced significant amounts of hardship to obtain the level of respect that they now possess. Each of these events, in particular, has served a vital role in creating a modern society that is closer to universal impartiality than ever before.
Corbett, Scott P., et al. US History. 2014. Openstax. Web. Oct. 2018. https://d3bxy9euw4e147.cloudfront.net/oscms-prodcms/media/documents/USHistory- OP_tkj0lZo.pdf. Accessed 7 Mar. 2019.
Gorn, Elliott J., et al. Constructing the American Past: a Sourcebook of a People’s History . 8th ed., vol. 2, Oxford University Press, 2018. https://platform.virdocs.com/r/s/0/doc/590207/sp/45578854/mi/187332006. Accessed 7 Mar. 2019.