Women did not demand “equality” until the 1960’s, therefore, our study of women in America focuses on how women accept their place in the private “woman’s sphere” but are still important and vital participants in the story of the United States. Provide three examples of how women in the first six topics of this course shape American development despite the lack of legal equality, rights or access to public roles in business or politics.
The story of women in the United States is an important one and undoubtedly they have helped reshape the whole history of the country in more ways than one. One could argue that women began to clamour for their basic rights in tandem with what was happening in the Civil Rights era in the 1960’s. However women were active in American society even when they had no basic rights and were rather shunned by society and actually put in their place. One example of how women influenced and shaped American development is during the Civil War when Southern women played a hugely important part in galvanizing the Confederacy as after all did Northern women in their own way for the Union cause. Another important role which women played in early American history was during the American war for Independence when their zeal and support for their husbands and male companions provided a no mean feat in itself to achieve the eventual aim of total independence. Finally another important factor for women was when they accompanies the Western expansion and the settling of the West where their steadfastness and absolute control over difficult situations greatly helped in the establishment of American society there. Women were also important in acquiring a certain level of independence and authority especially after the Civil War.
Summarize Gerda Lerner’s framework for writing women’s history. Does the author of the textbook, Nancy Woloch, succeed or fail according to Lerner? Provide examples.
Gerda Lerner insists on a rational explanation of women’s history in the sense that facts should be presented as they are and no embellishments should be made. Very much involved in the leftist and progressive schools, Lerner has consistently made the case for women’s emancipation on various levels and her style of writing and teaching focuses upon those lines. Woloch provides a similar approach to the narrative although at times she does seem to be rather patronizing in certain parts of the book especially those concerning the Civil War where she seems to sympathize slightly with the Southern cause. Woloch is also very detailed on certain aspects of women’s liberation and this is noticeable in the narrative as time goes by.
We have covered the period of American history from 1620-1910 so far this term. Which of these stories did you enjoy most and why? Has studying these topics changed your memories of your previous American history studies?
I was most enthused with the Civil War period as this is one of the most important aspects of American history and I have read a large number of books on the subject. The accounts of the battles and the roles of both conflicting sides in the whole equation has made it extremely interesting apart from providing a new angle on which to reflect. The topics in the course have been tackled from very different angles and this has made it all the more interesting apart from changing some of my perspectives on American studies.
Describe women’s contributions to the American Revolution and how the war itself changed the status of women as wives and mothers.
The American revolution was a seminal event in the history of the nation and women undoubtedly played a hugely important role here. Women felt emboldened in their contribution to the war effort and there were several instances of heroism and self sacrifice which almost defy description at times. The war also changed the status of women as wives and mothers in the sense that it provided them with a certain amount of independence and assertiveness which was missing from their lives beforehand especially due to their intrinsic contribution to the whole war effort.
Describe the experiences (work, motherhood, legal status and religious obervance) of European women in the American colonies and Native American women during the colonial period (1620-1776)?
Women were very much intended for domestic service in the colonial period especially European women. The strict observance of religious customs and the nature of all goings on in the colonies actually insisted that women had to remain at home and rear their offspring without the opportunity to do much else otherwise. The situation for Native American women was quite similar with their lot being rather more restrictive and tied to their home. Women had practically no legal rights and they were treated very much as the property of their husbands without any possibility for advancement or intrusion into political affairs. It was a situation which continued to flourish even after independence until the Civil War began changing all this.
The story of slavery is a major theme in American history. How does slavery and the efforts to end it, deeply impact American women – both as slaves and abolitionists? Describe the experiences of each and provide examples.
Women were very much involved in the slavery question especially on the abolitionist side. In the North, women formed societies to assist runaway slaves and to help educate them and all this led to a general outcry against slavery which culminated in the Civil War. Slave women were themselves affected by all this as most of them now found a new independence in their ways and customs which could not be expressed whilst they were suppressed into slavery. Naturally enough, there were women, especially those from the Southern states who resisted all efforts to end slavery as they were comfortable enough in their own cosy situations with their slaves helping them live the life of queens. However American women eventually played a hugely important role in the slavery question and were also instrumental in the efforts to end it completely. Slavery as a scourge was always there and women played a huge part in making this disappear for ever.
American society changes dramatically in the 19th century with the economic and social changes brought by the industrial revolution. How are women in the poor classes and the prosperous middle classes affected?
The Industrial revolution brought about a huge and not inconsiderable change in women’s conditions in the middle of the 19th century. First of all, the women moved out of the house and into the workplace, making a huge and substantial contribution to the workforce although in rather horrific working conditions. Obviously women in poor classes had to work to survive and these were sent out to tackle some very physical jobs thus completely changing their mindset and their opinion on life. However it also found them a new form of independence and a will to attain new goals. The middle classes were also affected in the sense that they began gaining a certain amount of independence by observing their peers in the world of work and slowly but surely they began infiltrating the male dominated professions. Wealthier women also had access to more material goods and travel was also a factor which brought them to new ideas and different lifestyles. The Industrial revolution was a melting pot of sorts and this affected women in a significant manner even in the relationship between husband and wife.
The United States is changed by the influx of immigration in the 19th and 20th century. How do different groups of immigrant women blend into American society and what do they lose in the process?
Immigration can be said to have been the kernel of American society in more ways than one. The vast differences in races and customs have brought about a sea change in American society which is also constantly and consistently changing. Immigrant women obviously bring with them their particular customs and also their traditions but once these assimilate into American society, most of these are lost. It is important to note however that several nationalities who are now part and parcel of US society still retain their roots to some extent and women are no exception. This is particularly seen in the ways women raise their children which may be completely different from the traditional American way although at times it is rather difficult to resist the pull of capitalism and other materialist values which seem to dominate the United States nowadays. Women provide a consistent and intriguingly changing pattern to American society which changes accordingly and immigrant women are certainly no exception both for the multiculturalism which they bring as well as the intrinsic variety and innovation which has become part and parcel of American life today – unity in diversity.