In the United States before 1910, the attitude toward women demonstrated negative and discriminative nature. Women were essentially bound to household activities and suffered from stereotypes describing their laziness, incapability, and low intelligence. At the same time, the expectations from society demanded unfaltering politeness, gratuitous complaisance, and focus on lookism. Consequently, it is possible to argue that women’s rights were often ignored and connected to the sole housewife’s responsibility. However, during the period 1910 to 1950, societal and political changes involving female rights were institutionalized and led to the positive development of society striving for equality.
Analysis of the Development of Women’s Rights, Freedoms and Opportunities
The beginning of 1910 accounted for the low societal position of women. Their education prioritized serving others and working for the interest of the male population rather than focusing on the pursuit of personal interests. Women were often occupied with multiple children and their upbringing, sacrificing their dreams to satisfy the needs of their offspring and husbands. As a result, it was possible to observe how the female population was driven to the brink of death from exhaustion, stress, and sickness. The social perception of such events was quite negative as their deaths were compared to personal weakness and inability to indulge in mothership activities (Guild 39). However, U.S. involvement with European affairs in World War I instigated substantial changes in women’s lives.
In April of 1917, a considerable portion of the male population was sent to the front lines leaving numerous vacant occupations in industrial workplaces and farms. By filling these positions, the transformation allowed women to elevate’s positions in U.S. society. Women were able to receive personal income, despite being paid half as much as males. They became the primary workers on the home front; hence the government requested their assistance in aiding the war effort. The government enticed women to participate on Sundays without gas to preserve food, money, and coal, buy war bonds, and plant victory gardens. Over eight million female participants “volunteered for the Red Cross producing surgical dressings, sweaters, socks, and mittens for the soldiers and refugees” (Keene 609). The national workforce by 1920 consisted of women by 23.6% (Keene 648). Women began to make their mark in politics due to their newfound independence.
Women had more economic and social independence during the 1920s. The stay-at-home mother altered her appearance and set new ambitions. They were called flapper girls, defined by shorter hair, shorter clothes, and more free-spirited, fun-loving attitudes. After the war, women felt empowered because they saw how much they could contribute to the community and began comprehending the drawbacks of staying home. They started to challenge the accepted notion of decent females. The new-style feminist was defined as a “good dresser”, a “pal” to men and fully expected to have “marriage, children, and a job, too” in an October 1927 edition of Harpers’ magazine (Bromley 552). At a certain point, married women were perceived as effective housewives, caring mothers, loving wives, and fashionistas at the same time (Keene 648). They began providing opposing images of women achieving their appropriate societal position through college attendance. Women defied traditional gender roles by demonstrating that they have objectives and desire to stay in the job market permanently.
Many prominent female names acquired public acknowledgment for their first achievements. Margaret Sanders led the American Birth Control League in 1921 to enforce contraception (Keene 650). In 1925, Nellie Tayloe Ross became the first woman governor in the United States, and Zara Neal Huston was the first African American woman to enroll at Barnard College (Keene 646). Almost the whole world was equal to the standard of an elegant, beautiful, intelligent, attractive, and household woman from the turbulent twenties to a certain point.
Indeed, some events end and some new activities begin in particular historical periods. The arrival of the Great Depression in 1929 was a difficult time for women in almost all plans. From the Roaring Twenties forward, women maintained their ambition and aspirations, allowing them to sustain themselves. However, during the Great Depression, typical family earnings plummeted, and many people lost all of their assets due to bank failures, forcing families to leave their homes (Keene 663). In general, the period of the Great Depression did not change the roles of men and women but rather reinforced the problems and gaps in inequality that should have been eliminated (Lynd and Lynd 201-202). Men were actively looking for work to maintain their families, or they would be labeled failures. Women’s self-expression was replaced by household chores, such as cooking, washing, cleaning, and fixing several items. Even though men struggled, women at home did not lose their work; rather, their responsibilities were illuminated since they were the ones who had to make ends meet.
During the Great Depression, Eleanor Roosevelt authored a book called “It’s Up to the Women” to support women in difficult times. To convince men to assist women in growing from housewives to businesswomen, she stated that a man should support her and not hold her back. Eleanor Roosevelt was an exceptional first lady, as opposed to past first ladies who were essentially white house hostesses, as told in Visions of America. She urged people to assist families in coping with the recession while raising awareness about racial inequality and poverty. She even invited renowned African Americans to speak about civil rights at the White House.
Her work paved the way for other women to enter politics, including Francis Perkins, the first woman to serve in the cabinet. One should also mention Mary McLeod Bethune, who founded the National Council of Negro Women (Keene 667). Women still had to satisfy their expectations, even if they were assisting with the Great Depression and new political positions. For example, even the media hinted that young girls were “inferior” to some men, and the role of women was not taken seriously. The Great Depression came to an end at the conclusion of the decade, but another conflict was about to begin.
Another critical moment for women to make their mark was World War II. Women took their places in factories, shipyards, and writing citations when the males left to war overseas and accounted for one-third of the workforce. Rosie the Riveter was conceived as an iconic character symbolizing all-female defense workers with bulging biceps, rivets, and lipstick (Keene 701). This propaganda portrayed almost 19 million women who worked in the Red Cross, and Women’s Army Corps, and Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service during WWII, gaining new skills (Keene 701). Toni Frissel achieved breakthroughs in the photographic field by shifting from the soft news on fashion and society pages to the harsh news on the front page of America (Library of Congress 1930). In a media effort meant to challenge the unfavorable public view of women in uniform, she was the first to photograph and publish the Women’s Army Corps’ in training (Library of Congress 1930). This demonstrated the strength and intelligence of women as they began to prove their significance in the world. However, once the war was over, women were again urged to return to their feminine duties, although many did not.
It is no secret that women in society saw significant changes between 1910 and 1950, allowing them to have higher expectations than stay-at-home mothers. Several concepts from the point of view of the evolution of roles, rights, and opportunities among women influenced the further development of American society as follows. Firstly, views and opinions on some aspects have changed in the USA. From now on, representatives of the fair sex are not only housewives and keepers of the family hearth, but also they may be careerists, “workaholics,” and excellent managers at enterprises. They can take leading positions in society, helping in conflicts, passing laws on voting, and creating new fashion trends. Today, women have more rights and opportunities; for example, they have a chance to take measures and receive compensation for their service in the army.
Secondly, women can freely express themselves and show their individuality without fear of a negative response and negativity in their address, as noted in the previous era. Women’s actions during the period established modern standards, norms, and trends. The age of patriarchy has long passed, and they do not need to stay at home, wash, clean, look after the children, and “please” their husbands with delicious dishes. Therefore, the period from 1910 to 1950 became one of the most important and significant, which challenged expectations, prejudices, and stereotypes.
Bromley, Dorothy Dunbar. “Feminist-New Style.” Harper’s, 1927, pp. 552-560.
Keene, Jennifer D., et al. Visions of America: A History of the United States. Pearson, 2015.
Library of Congress. Women Come to the Front: Journalists, Photographers, and Broadcasters during World War II. Library of Congress, 1995.
Lynd, Robert S, and Helen M. Lynd. Middletown in Transition: A Study in Cultural Conflicts. Constable and Company, 1937.
Roosevelt, Eleanor. It’s Up to The Women . Stokes, 1933.
Women’s Co-Operative Guild. Maternity: Letters from Working-Women. G. Bell, 1915.