The role of women in society has long been underestimated. However, after 1865 women achieved remarkable results in protecting their rights in the United States. Mainly, these considerable achievements were made due to the efforts of women belonging to the feminist movement. Due to their efforts, the very concept of women’s role in society has changed including the opinion that women’s main professions are motherhood and wifehood. Overall, after such changes women began to have more options at studies, at work, at private matters, and in politics.
Early Attitudes toward Women
Although the United States became one of the first states formed on the basis of democratic freedoms and rights, initially women’s role in American society was underestimated. Similar to European countries, in the United States women faced gender discrimination in education, at work, in politics, and even in the family. Women had no opportunity to become students of medicine, law, science, and many other occupations. Women received less money than men even if they had similar working loads. Besides, it was impossible for them to occupy certain positions at work such as medical doctor’s position, lawyer’s position, accountant’s position, and so on. Such discrimination was partially connected with the fact that women were not allowed to enter educational establishments for acquiring these qualifications as it was explained before. Even, when due to the efforts of feministic activists, educational establishments opened their doors to women, their diplomas were not accepted which was a great problem before the second half of the XIX century. Thus, women were limited in their legal rights, and opportunities in life.
The Legal Status of Women
The idea that women are naturally weaker than men including their mental abilities has long affected the legal status of women. In the early history of the United States, women had few legal rights. They were long limited in their ownership rights. They were subjected to the problems caused by the inferiority in rights regarding their husbands. For example, if a man decided that his children were to be sent to a poorhouse, his wife could not object this decision. Fortunately for some women, it was possible for them to have legal rights in certain communities. For example, they could own land, represent their interests in courts and engage in business having all the necessary options for registering their propriety, and processing documents.
Labor law for women was also very upsetting. Women had a twelve-hour working day, and this sad state of affairs was even explored at harmful industries such as mills and textile factories.
Besides, women faced a lot of gender discrimination in banking transactions. They could not have their own bank accounts or exercise a number of operations possible for men.
Moreover, women were long discriminated in their privacy rights. For instance, the law against abortion was a violation of the Fourth Amendment. This complicated issue existed in the United States until 1974. In addition, women were forbidden to divorce. Besides, they were not protected from domestic violence.
Women in Politics
The other sad problem that women faced was discrimination in politics. During considerable period of time in American history, women could not occupy political positions. The fact that women did not have a right to vote was even more upsetting. Such discrimination laid to more problems as women had no healthy mechanisms of improving their situation in society by means of implementing democratic measures. This sad state of affairs was some of the key grounds for initiating an active feminist movement in the second part of the XIX century in the United Sates.
The so-called movement of feminism established its new and the very productive era of development. Women kept on fighting for their legal rights and freedoms and managed to achieve considerable results.
Born in 1810, Margaret Fuller became the first female defender of women’s rights in the United States in the second half of the XIX century. The most famous of her works was “Woman in the Nineteenth Century”. The main idea behind her philosophy was in the equality of all people. She argued that people were created equally gifted, and if women were limited in their rights and opportunities, humanity could suffer great losses. In addition, human hopes for future development were limited due to a mistaken idea about women’s inferiority as far as Margaret Fuller believed (Hazou, 1990). Among the most important objectives of Fuller’s work was defending women’s right for education and employment. The other important for Fuller goals were reforming prisons and slaves’ emancipation. Margaret Fuller’s activity was very significant for the development of feminist though in the United States. Her inspiring works became a motivation for the other women who managed to bring Fuller’s theoretical ideas to reality.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Elizabeth Cady Stanton became a leader in feminist movement in the United States. According to Cimbala and Miller (1997, p. 41), “Elizabeth Cady Stanton was the chief writer and intellectual of the woman’s rights movement during the decade before the Civil War, when the new reform found its voice and reveled its objectives”.
This strong-willed lady was born in 1815 to establish a new era of thinking among American women. In 1895, Stanton published ‘Woman’s Bible’ which became one of her main works. In this book, Stanton attacked male bias against women. Stanton’s main objectives were in obtaining right to vote for women. She made her considerable contributions into final adoption of laws on women’s suffrage.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Born in 1860, Charlotte Perkins Gilman can be considered a role model for the feminists. Her way of living and her literature and sociology works established a ground for numerous changes in American society in the area of gender discrimination (Rymph, 2006). Gilman wrote a lot of important feminist works including “Women and Economics” and “The Yellow Wallpaper”. In “Women and Economics”, Gilman argued that women should have a share in all the important areas of human life including work and politics. In “The Yellow Wallpaper”, which is considered to be the classics of American literature, Gilman meditated on the consequences of a way of life imposed on women by men. The main heroine of the book is slowly going insane on the reason of her way of living. Her husband forbids her participating in social life and going to work. As a result, being idle and useless, the woman becomes mentally ill. This work made its profound effects on American society resulting into changing basic concepts concerning women’s employment (Langley & Fox, 1994).
The Rebirth of Feminism in the 1960s
After significant achievements in the XIX century and the beginning of the XX century, feminist movement became less active due to the improvement of women’s situation in the country. However, in the 1960s new issues emerged which cased rebirth of feminism in the United States. According to Chafe (2004, p. 548),
With the formation of NOW in the fall of 1966, America’s women’s rights activists had an organization comparable to the NAACP, ready to fight through the media, the courts, and the Congress for the same rights for women that the NAACP sought for blacks. NOW focused on an “equal partnership of the sexes” in job opportunities, education, household responsibilities, and government. Friedan and her allies pressured Kennedy’s successor, President Lyndon B. Johnson, to include women in his affirmative action policies, which were designed to speed the movement of minorities to decent jobs, and to appoint feminists to administrative and judicial offices. NOW endorsed the Equal Rights Amendment and made reform of abortion laws a national priority.
The most influential activists of this period were Betty Friedan and Pauli Murray. The main work by Pauli Murray was dedicated to women discrimination matters along with the discrimination of women on the reason of their ethnic origin. Being an Afro-American, Pauli Murray knew it very well what it meant for a woman to be discriminated and underestimated on the reason of her gender and race. Her inspiring ideas initiated a new debate in society leading to considerable achievements for American women including women of color.
Betty Friedan was the first President of the National Organization for women which became the most influential establishment during the second wave of feminism in the United Sates. She also founded the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws which helped thousands of American women in protecting their right for privacy and safe abortion. In her works, she argued that the “dominant institutions of American culture tried to treat women like children by enclosing them in “comfortable concentration camps” where they were told they must be happy because they were women” (Chafe, 2004, p. 547). She believed that being assigned a set of responsibilities solely on the basis of gender matters, women were robbed of their chance to develop their personality, cultivate their talents, and defend their legal rights.
The Achievements of Feminist Movement
Feminist thought greatly affected political thought in the country. The first political power which was inspired by the ideas of feminism was the Socialist Labor Party. In 1892, this party included woman suffrage into a list of reforms that required urgent measures towards their implementation.
Political thought made a considerable progress toward women’s rights realization. In 1869, the first women suffrage law passed in Wyoming. Beginning from this year, women in Wyoming received a right to serve as juries in the court.
In 1919, the federal amendment on women suffrage was passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives.
In 1917, Jeanette Rankin from Montana became the first woman in the United States House of Representatives in the Parliament. In 1968, the first black woman Shirley Chisholm from New York was elected as a member of the House of Representatives.
In 1925, the wife of a former governor Ferguson in Texas replaced her husband on this position. In 1932, Hattie Caraway from Arkansas became the first woman member in American Senate. In 1949, Eugenie Anderson became the first woman ambassador from the United States. In 1974, Ella T. Grasso became governor in Connecticut on her own merits. During Roosevelt Presidency, Frances Perkins became the first woman in the President Administration. In 1971, Patience Sewell Latting became Oklahoma City mayor. In 1981, Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman heading the United States Supreme Court.
Women managed to have significant concessions in the area of education and employment. In 1877, Helen Magill became the first women with Philosophiae Doctor Degree. In 1963, The Equal Pay Act against paying women less than men was passed in the Congress. In 1972, Education Amendment title IX guaranteed female students equal rights in receiving education in any type of establishments, and equal opportunities in their education being financed by the government; as a result of this police, both male and female students competed for acquiring federal grant for their education on equal terms.
Women succeeded in improving their legal status. Gradually they acquired rights for propriety ownership, for making bank operations, and for becoming entrepreneurs. In 1973, after the legal case of Roe vs. Wade, women’s right for safe abortion was confirmed by the Supreme Court. Thus, women’s right for privacy was defended. In 1986, as a result of Meritor Savings Bank vs. Vinson case, the Supreme Court protected women against sexual harassment at work. In 1994, the Violence Against Women Act protecting women against violence at home and sex offenders was adopted.
Nowadays, the opportunities open for women in the United States are some of the best opportunities in the world. Women rights are vindicated in the country allowing women to make their considerable contribution into the development of the country, feel independent, and enjoy life. The achievements which became possible due to the feminist movement in the United States affected lives of millions of grateful women in the other countries.
After 1865, the situation that women faced in the United States began changing in a considerable way. Such success by women can be explained by the efforts of the feminist movement. Among the most important activists of the first wave of the feminism movement in the United Sates were Margaret Fuller, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman. These outstanding women argued that American society suffers great losses due to limiting women’s opportunities because all humans as individuals were equally endowed with talents and skills. They also argued that the values established in the Constitution such as democratic freedoms and rights were violated on the reason of gender discrimination. The efforts of these earnest women made it possible for American women to enjoy better social position and acquire more freedoms and rights. During the second wave of feminist movement in the United Sates, which occurred in the 1960s to the present period, even more freedoms and rights became a daily reality for American women. Overall, due to the efforts of American Women Rights movement, women were guaranteed the right to vote; to occupy important positions in the law enforcement organizations, juridical establishment, politics and government; to exercise financial transactions, and become private property owners; defend their right for privacy; be protected from domestic violence, and sexual harassment; have equal rights in the area of education, and many more.
Chafe, M. (2004). No Small Courage: A History of Women in the United States. New York: Oxford University Press.
Cimbala, P., & Miller, R. (1997). Against the Tide: Women Reformers in American Society. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.
Hazou, W. (1990). The Social and Legal Status of Women: A Global Perspective. New York: Preager.
Langley, W, & Fox, V. (1994). Women’s Rights in the United States: A Documentary History. The United Sates: Praeger.
Rymph, C. (2006). Republican Women: Feminism and Conservatism from Suffrage through the Rise of the New Right. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.