Back in the Eighteenth Century, women had limited rights, courtesy of their gender. They were not allowed to vote nor vie for political seats, and professionally, they were restricted to being housewives and mothers, with very few being employed as teachers and community nurses. Trade unions formed by women did not exist, and for this reason, they were exploited by being paid low wages and had no limit to the number of work hours they were supposed to be subjected to. However, with time, changes have been observed in the political, civic and professional realms, as women have infiltrated these fields with their persuasiveness, organization and ambition. They have been able to increase their public participation, thereby being seen as capable leaders, a factor that can be evidenced by the fact that Hillary Clinton was able to vie for the presidency in the year 2016. With this in mind, a review of the different changes that women have influenced in the political realms is important in establishing the changes the political sphere has undergone over time.
When politics is mentioned, the suffrage rights of women comes to mind. During the Nineteenth Century, women were not allowed to vote during elections, and neither were they given the opportunity to vie for political posts as they were thought to be unfit to lead. They were also opposed from leading by upper-class women who felt that involving women in politics would result in erosion of moral values. In the 1880s, women in Washington State enjoyed the privilege of voting, after which it was revoked. In 1907, some women decided to form a suffrage movement that would campaign for equal rights for women, with main focus on political equality. The first suffrage movement was founded by Harriot Stanton Blatch. Most women that supported this movement were middle class women, who were later joined by wage-earning women and college graduates. In 1908, the National College Equal Suffrage League as formed, to ensure that collegiate women also supported suffrage. However, an increase in the number of women supporting the movement increased after the First World War and more women were mobilized to fight for their civic and political rights. This movement also looked into the social welfare of women, whereby they sought reforms for the different needs of women.
With time, the women activists that were determined to get suffrage rights changed their slogan to votes for women. This arose from what they had learned from British women who pressurized political leaders and worked towards increasing women employment in the Textile industries. This time around, every white woman was involved, regardless of their working status. Together, they formed smaller societies and continued to campaign for equal rights for women. In 1910, these smaller groups combined with the larger NAWSA and pushed for a national amendment of a section of the constitution that catered for political rights of women. In the Twentieth Century, the women decided to drop any boundaries and united to focus on accessing political power. At this point, women became diversified as middle-class women campaigned alongside working women, and the wealthy women joined the movement to compel legislators and male leaders to act in their favor. The number of college activists also increased since they had initially been prevented from forming suffrage movements while still in campus. These women held numerous campaigns that aimed at ensuring that the Constitution was amended, as this was cheaper than campaigning for suffrage in every state and would take less time. By manipulating large crowds of people, they pushed for Federal Amendment of the Constitution, an in 1911, it was passed as a motion in the House of Representatives. After five years, the nineteenth amendment was successful and women gained their right to vote. Women reformers who were active in politics joined political parties and were actively involved since in Jane Addams was chosen to nominate Theodore Roosevelt. In 1912, women took part in the elections to exercise their newly-found right.
Since these political movements were concerned with other needs of women, working women also opted to fight for the rights of females in the different professions. This came as a result of the discrimination that women were exposed to in their workplaces, witnessed by the low wages they earned, and the undefined work hours. The only women that were allowed to work were the single, unmarried women, while very few wives and mothers ventured into different professions. In 1900, men earned twice as much as women. These women thus campaigned for equal payment of wages, work hours and equal employment. Professions, such as medicine and law, were dominated by men, while women were allowed to work as nurses and teachers. With time, women increased in the professional fields and by 1920, the perspective of women in the workforce changed as some ventured into the male-dominated fields. Teachers upgraded their profession so that only those who had attended collegiate institutions were allowed to teach. Since these changes did not cater for African Americans, they opted to formulate their own changes by establishing their own training programs, schools and profession associations.
The pursuit for equality in wage payment was also fostered by the formation of the different trade unions. In 1903, the Womens Trade Union League (WTUL) was formed to cater for underpayment and the working conditions of white and immigrant working-class women. In 1908, the women activists argue their case before the Supreme Court where they argued against issues of maternal capacities for mothers and assault of wage labor in the case Muller v Oregon. The court agreed to regulate working hours for women and passed a law to ensure that that they would not be paid less when there working hours were reduced. Another factor that was include in the campaign by the women activists was the mothers pension program. In 1911, Illinois paid working mothers a monthly mothers pension of $50 as a grant.
In 1906, the principle of municipal housekeeping was adopted, where women activists increased their public participation and took it upon themselves to campaign for heightened health standards, launch family and juvenile courts and start public libraries. This is explained by Jane Addams in her statement The very multifariousness and complexity of a city government demand the help of minds accustomed to a sense of responsibility for the cleanliness and comfort of the people. This principle also championed for wage labor and proper working situations for women.
The women feminists group is also another civic group that was formed to campaign for the social welfare of women, and emphasize their capacities to interrupt the gender order. They did idiosyncrasies that purported women to be simple maternal figures. This way, feminists were involved with the private lives of women and thus challenged female sexual limitation and maternal capabilities. They wanted women to be freed from sexual antagonism to ensure that women shared mutual passion in their marriages with their husbands. They thus challenged the Gilded Age. Around this time, women began to live freely as lesbians, and had unattached relationships with men as the free sexual climate allowed for them to act on their desires. Feminists also championed for birth control, claiming that women had the right to choose when they wanted to be mothers. Since contraceptive were inaccessible, nurses provided sexual information. Margaret Sanger is known to be one of the strong champions for this cause, but was arrested in 1917. She, however, continued to support birth control and requested that diaphragms be made available to women so that they could have control over their sexuality and reproduction.
Dubois, Ellen Carol and Dumenill, Lynn. Through Womens Eyes: An American History with Documents. Bedford/St. Martins, 2005.
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