The Development of Women Rights in American History
Gender as a topic, is very critical and continues to attract support and opposition in equal measure. The sense of gender equality being championed in the American society today has come a long way. In the past, women had limited rights and opportunity to career development. Most of them were expected to live a life of motherhood and wifehood as a replacement to the pursuit of careers. Despite the expectation, their rights have since been improving to allow them gain lost ground and abandon the traditionally depriving position that was expected of them. In the early years, the society generally perceived women as tools meant for the creative role in bringing forth new life. They were also viewed as having less intellect as compared to men. Past Greek mythology viewed women as objects for evil and temptation (Ware 31). Consequently, a woman known as Pandora was the one who opened the forbidden box, causing untold suffering and plagues to humankind. This perception was further reinforced by the early Christian theology that reiterated the position of women as being that of a helper to man. Over time, the society developed an attitude that gave women a diminished role. For instance, Hinduism required that women obey men. They could be seen walking behind their husbands and were not supposed to remarry upon being widowed. Hinduism also barred women from owning property. At some point, male children were valued over female children.
Over time, women have gained improved intellectual and personal freedom. Most nuns in the early Catholic Church began to take on more serious roles in the society that they worked. New groups of aristocratic women began to emerge. The aristocratic women wielded immense prestige ad power that signified a new emancipation for women. Similarly, women rulers began to emerge in different parts of the world – Queen Victoria ruled England in 19th C, Queen Elizabeth ruled England in 19th C, and Catherine the Great ruled Russia in 18th C.
Despite these initial leaps towards women emancipation, women still and will continue struggling to overcome the perception that they are the weaker sex in society. They were thought to possess natural weakness such that they could not handle tasks requiring superior intellect or muscular endowment. This explains why women were relegated to do the light domestic work, while the men were left to handle the heavier tasks. This perception ignored the point that women also spent great energy in washing clothes and doing domestic tasks (Ware 27). There are also indications from psychological tests showing the greater ability of women to resist many diseases, toleratepain, and live longer than men.Women were considered to have a place in the home. The young girls in the Western culture belonging in the middle-class could adopt this perception from their mothers. Similarly, they were expected to live an example that reflects their mother’s life. They would clean, cooking, and do child caring.
By 1960s, girl students achieved higher high school grades than boy students. This improvement in performance could be explained by a rise in expectations for the girl child after they were emancipated to look forward to a future that went beyond motherhood and marriage. In the past, girl child education was considered less important as compared to boy child education. During the colonial period in America, girls attended the same classes to learn how to read and write. They got opportunity to attend the higher-level master’s school meant for boys during the summer season – a time when the boys were off-session and were taking up job roles. The women students increased in number significantly by the end of 19th C. More women colleges came up, a higher number of women gained admission in universities, and colleges that are more regular took up women students by 1870. The number of women in post-secondary educational institutions increased to a third of the total population by the year 1900. The number of women university grandaunts began to increase. This was a significant step toward the emancipation of women in American history.
The next important area that required significant improvement in the women’s cause for emancipation was the legal status of women in society at the time. The myth of perceived inferiority of women to men had percolated the early American society such that men were perceived to be owners of their children and wife, just as if they could own property. New gains have since been made such that women can now sue for property; serve as court lawyers, and legal property owners (Stephen 22). The precedent to create equal rights for men and women in American was set by the equity law created in England. The United States society began to embrace a liberal approach to the legal rights of women. Women could now sue their husbands. The US states started to pass laws that would give married women the right to own separate property without the interference or hindrance from their husband. Mississippi passed the law in 1839, New York passed similar laws in 1848, while Massachusetts followed suit in 1854. Divorce law still allowed the man given divorce to retain legal control for property and children.
By the 19th C, most women got work in garment factories and textile mills for12 hours each day (Rosen 13). By 1910, the US passed a law to limit working hours, create better work conditions for women, and create protection against child labor. Some laws appeared to be too restrictive to women – such as restrictions barring work at night for women, and those barring work beyond eight hours every day. Women were also commonly barred from assuming supervisory positions where they were likely to work overtime. Some states had legislations that barred women from lifting weights above 15 pounds, creating an inherent discrimination against women from other jobs. Significant improvements were made in 1960s on the passing of new federal laws to enhance women economic status. These legislations included the anti-discrimination law known as The Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the law supporting equal pay to women and men whenever they do equal work. Through a presidential executive order, contractors in the federal government were barred from acting in bias to the detriment of women.
Women began to work in jobs and professions that were predominantly taken by men. Many women were increasingly accepted to work as teachers, singers, lawyers, and doctors. The early medical practice in the 1800 was not learnt from formal medical schools. Individual initiative was a key factor in the determination of one’s pursuit for medical practice. Women were taking up more roles in obstetrics. Formal education for the medical practice began in 19th C. The result was a reduced intake for women in medical practice (Molyneux 178). Women had been disadvantaged because they got into early marriage and had the responsibility to raise children. This hindered their potential to pursue demanding professional careers as compared to men. However, the early professionals still perceived nursing as a professional domain for women. Ironically, the number of nursing professionals working in hospitals across US was mostly men. There were just about 5% of woman doctors across the entire US.
Women played an important role in the Reform Movements that happened in the US in the 19th C. They participated in courses to ban alcoholic drinks, improve education, stop slavery, and support prison reforms. The Grimke Sisters are famously known as the abolitionist sisters that gave public speeches against slavery (Kerber 36). Women began to gain more rights to support the anti-slavery campaign onan equal footing with men. Male abolitionists who supported enhanced rights of speech for women included Frederick Douglass, and William Lloyd. New women delegates who had been denied an opportunity to participate in the World Anti-Slavery Convention received increased support from people like William Lloyd who protested by refusing to take his seats (Cooper 26). Women also voiced support for the temperance movement as a way to prevent the cases for drunkard husbands to cause poverty for their family. Women began to participate in political party leadership where women suffrage was recognized, such as the Prohibition Party of 1872. Women also participated in movements supporting birth control, labor reforms, and agrarian reforms in the 1800s. Jane Adams was renowned for leading the settlement-house movement in 1889.
In conclusion, women emancipation has come a long way, from the traditional based family roles, communal and sexual perceptions, to acquaintance of formal of education, incorporation into formal roles and professionalism among others. However much more is yet to be achieved despite the efforts to enhance and achieve gender equality. As such more efforts should bedirected towards achieving this especially with their proven ability in various fields and professions.