American Women's Changing Roles In Society

American Women's Changing Roles In Society

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During the first half of the 19th century, women's roles in society evolved in the areas of occupational, moral, and social reform. Through efforts such as factory movements, social reform, and women's rights, their aims were realized and foundations for further reform were established.

The occupational standings of women evolved in the first half of the nineteenth century. A new system of recruitment, the Lowell-Waltham system, emerged in Massachusetts. This new factory system brought in young, unmarried women to work together in a new form of mass production (C). It was characterized by long hours, dangerous working environment, and strict moral regulations. The factory owners enacted a system of paternal supervision in which all girls attended the local church. Women were forced to work anywhere from 11 to 14 hours a day in the textile mills (D). During these long hours, they were engaged in the use of heavy machinery, which made labor extremely hot, noisy and hazardous (G). Because of these adverse working conditions, organizations and their efforts progressed into strikes, newspapers, such as the Lowell Offering, and unions, such as the Factory Girls Association in 1834. Many strikes failed due to the deteriorating conditions, the longer hours and lower wages. Although these strikes may have eventually been failures, they paved the way for equal employment opportunities in future situations.

As the natural form of society progressed, women strived toward a higher degree of independence and gender equality. Through their efforts, women began to take a more dominant position in the areas of temperance, civil order, and education. Women fought back against the oppression caused by drunkenness and the disruption it imposed on their families (A). In the crusade against drunkenness women claimed that alcoholism placed hardships upon family life, such as wasted money and abuse. While the movement was gaining strength, it began to divide in purpose. Some advocates wanted abstinence to include beer and wine, not just liquor. Others wanted temperance to rely on the conscience of the individual. But most advocates had similar ideas and motives. Reformers that promoted abstinence were also attempting to promote the moral self-improvement of the individual. The temperance movement set the foundation for the eighteenth amendment, passed in 1919 and prohibited any consumption of alcohol. A similar impulse helped create another powerful movement of reform: the creation of asylums for criminals and the mentally ill. At the head of this movement was Dorothea Dix, who began a national movement to treat these challenged individuals.

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These asylums eventually evolved into the modern day penitentiaries. Women's educational opportunities were expanding beyond the elementary level into a college setting. Women were first allowed to enroll in co-educational schooling at Oberlin College in 1837. In that same year, Mary Lyon established Mount Holyoke, an all women's college (E). This paved the way for many women's institutions and colleges in years to come.

American women in the early nineteenth
century began to express their awareness of the problems that women themselves faced in a male-dominated society. They suffered from traditional restrictions as well as a new set of regulations that had emerged from the transformation of the family. Women were now expected to focus entirely on the home and raising their children. They were expected to leave the labor and finances to their husbands. Women were beginning to resent these new roles. In the 1820's and 1830's, women such as Sarah and Angelina Grimké, who were active and outspoken women's rights advocates, began to defy these restrictions. After being rejected in 1840 at a world anti-slavery convention in London, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton wanted to elevate the status of women. They arranged the Seneca Falls Convention to discuss women's rights. The Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions was then written, which directly stated men and women were created equal (B). The most prominent demand was women suffrage. Lucretia Mott at the Women's Convention in Salem, Ohio gave a speech in which she said that the general view of women was below that of men (H). Many active feminists were Quaker women. Elizabeth Cady Stanton was the only one among the women who drafted the Declaration of Sentiments that was not of the Quaker faith. They encouraged women to become preachers and community leaders. The efforts for women suffrage did not immediately take effect, but established the groundwork for the nineteenth amendment in 1920, which allowed woman suffrage. Not only did they express their feelings and ideas through speeches and letters, they also expressed them through their choice of dress. Introduced in 1850 by Fanny Krembr, a famous actress, was a new garment, which combined a short-skirt with full-length pantalettes. It allowed free movement without a loss of modesty. This later became known as the "bloomer" after one of its supporters, Amelia Bloomer (F). It ended up producing so much controversy that they finally abandoned it because it drew too much attention away from their cause. These efforts by women to build themselves as a stronger political and social group in society did much to arouse feelings in everyone that men and women were truly created equal, and that each deserves total equality.

The changing roles of women had a profound effect on the atmosphere of society, the movements of labor, rights, and domestic reformation. These changes set the framework for many other efforts in the future. Through the changes that these women achieved, future goals were realized and the progression towards total gender equality was made substantially more evident.
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