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woman's rights were little recognized. As a creative source of human life, she was confined to the home as a wife and mother. Moreover, she was considered intellectually, emotionally and spiritually inferior to man (Compton's 1995), even wicked, as in the case of mythical Pandora, who let loose plagues and misery in a box. This was the early concept of woman in the West as an adjunct to man, although the woman in the East was not without property and individual rights and freedoms. Just the same, a woman was subject to man and could not own property, could not remarry and boys were preferred to girls. But when allowed some rights, such as during the Middle Ages, a woman proved what she could achieve. A woman from an aristocratic family or line, for example, possessed power and prestige like a man in her class. England's Queen Elizabeth in the 16th century, Catherine the Great of Russia in the 18th century, and Queen Victoria in the 19th century made great strides in the history of women's rights.
But tradition refused to yield so quickly. A middle-class Western girl learned only from her mother and she was praised for knowing how to cook, clean and care for children as her best assets. In recent centuries, she began to demonstrate that she has virtually the same capabilities as a man, even if she is still expected to keep the home because of her biological role as mother.
Woman's Education in America - Historically, her education was secondary or inferior to that of a boy or man. She learned reading and writing at dame schools and was accommodated in master's schools only when there boys worked and there was room (Compton's). But more and more women desired to be formally educated by the end of the 19th century. This led to the establishment of more and more colleges for women and the admission of women students. Comparatively, only 1/5 of resident college and university students were women in 1870, but this grew to 1/3 in 1900. By the start of the 20th century, women acquired 19% of all college degrees. In 1984, this figure rose to 49%, in the undergraduate and graduate levels (Compton's) - 49% in the master's level and 33% in the doctorate level. And in 1985, roughly 53% of all college students were women, a quarter of whom were over 29 years old.
A woman's occupation traditionally dictated the kind of education she was allowed to secure. In colonial times, she worked typically as a seamstress or an operator of a boarding house. However, she also tackled professions and jobs mostly assumed by a man, such as medicine, law, preaching, teaching, writing and singing (Compton's). In early 19th century, she was allowed or preferred to work as a factory laborer or domestic helper and was also excluded from the professions, except writing and teaching. The attitude towards a woman's entering medical school fluctuated. Before the 1800s, there were no medical schools yet and virtually anyone could practice medicine (Compton's), and a woman could well study to become an obstetrician or gynecologist.
From the 19th century, requirements for medical study increased and this prevented a young woman from pursuing it because of (early) marriage and pregnancy. Even if home nursing was a woman's domain, hospital practice was also dominated by men. There continued the prejudice against women in the professions. The American Medical Association, for example, which was founded in 1846, refused membership to women practitioners. This problem was solved by the establishment of medical colleges for women, such as the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1850, so that in the first decade of the 20th century, many women were enrolled in such schools until the American Medical Association began to accept women members. If women doctors accounted for only 5% in 1890, they blew up to 17% in the 1980s.
Furthermore, her status also improved in the legal field. If in 1930, only approximately 2% of all American lawyers and judges were women, they were 22% in 1989. If there were practically no women engineers in existence in 1930, there were 7.5% of them against male engineers in 1989 (Compton's). The teaching profession, on the other hand, remained a woman's jurisdiction at work. Statistics showed that there were twice as many women teachers in the 1980s as men in the elementary and high schools. But women accounted only for a third of teaching positions in the higher educational levels, and these were mostly in education, social service, home economics, nursing and library science courses or subjects. And only a few women teachers handled physical science, engineering, agriculture and law subjects.
In the early 20th century, the concept of a "new woman" evolved in the media. This new woman was securing an education, holding a blue-and-white collar job and living on her own in city apartments (Compton's). Feminism developed and changed the traditional habits and values of the American woman. She was more educated, dated more often and drove an automobile to occasionally escape parental supervision, but most young women still became and functioned as traditional wives and mothers as before.
The right to equal education for women was among the resolutions in a list of grievances presented during the first women's rights convention in Seneca Falls in New York in July 1848 (Compton's). The declaration was patterned after that of the Declaration of Independence. It was written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and rooted in the conviction that "all men and women are created equal."
In the 19th century, women all over the United States organized themselves to urge for several reforms, such as the improvement of education for women. At that time, it was unacceptable and unusual for women to speak before mixed groups of men and women, yet the abolitionist sisters Sarah and Angelina Grimke of South Carolina spoke before these groups publicly and boldly against slavery (Compton's). There were male abolitionists too, like William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, and Frederick Douglass. They supported the cause of the abolitionists openly. The World's Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840, for example, refused to seat the abolitionists but Garrison gave his seat up and joined them in the balcony as a mere spectator (Compton's).
There were significant events and milestones that characterized these women's struggle. In 1833, the Oberlin College was founded and was the first university to accept women and blacks as students. In 1848, the Seneca Falls Convention was held and came out with a Declaration, considered the single most important document in the American women's rights movement in the 19th century. The Declaration of Sentiments stressed the man's monopoly of "nearly all of the most profitable jobs went to him, while she had to settle for the rest, which paid less; his reserving all the paths to wealth and distinction to himself; and her denial of thorough education, such as theology, medicine and law. The Declaration paved the way to woman's fight for education, although suffrage was not achieved until 1920.
Abolitionists denounced the parallelism between a woman and a slave, whom they viewed as identically passive, cooperative and obedient to her "master-husband." The leaders among the abolitionists included Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, Lucretia Mott, Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth. They believed that rights should be equal between whites and blacks. When the Union won in the Civil War, they had hoped that their massive efforts would lead to women's suffrage, as well as black suffrage. Unfortunately, the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution, adopted in 1868 and 1870, respectively, granted both citizenship and the right to vote to blacks, but not to women.
Internal division among the abolitionists resulted in the formation of women's groups in 1869. Stanton and Susan Anthony, who was a temperance and antislavery advocate, formed the National Woman Suffrage Association in New York; Lucy Stone, the American Woman Suffrage Association in Boston. They struggled long to win to the vote. Suffrage was granted gradually in only a few states, while the rest, especially the Eastern states, resisted. An amendment providing for it repeatedly failed to pass through Congress since 1878.
In 1877, Helen Magill received a Doctor in Philosophy, the first to be awarded in the United States. In 1880, 80% of all elementary school teachers were women and, in 1910, 39% of all collegiate undergraduates were women and 20% of all college teachers (Horany). At last, suffrage was allowed in 1920 and gave her a strong and secure position and voice in society. It was in 1945 that the first woman student was admitted at the Harvard Medical School, and in 1972, Title XI was passed and helped end sex discrimination in educational programs receiving federal financial support. By 1980, there were as many women as men enrollees in colleges at 51%.And, in 1996, the Supreme Court obliged the Virginia Military Institute to accept both male and female applicants. These are among the countless events along the…[continue]
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