This made the United States the only Western nation to criminalize contraception at that time (Time). While women (and men) continued to illegally access birth control, often using devices labeled differently for contraceptive purposes, it would be decades before birth control could be openly used within the United States. In 1916, Margaret Sanger opens the first birth control clinic in the United States, but it is shut down in 10 days (Time). It was not until 1938 that the federal ban against birth control was lifted by a federal judge (Time).
While women did not enjoy an abrupt increase in civil rights following the Civil War, it is important to realize that there was a gradual increase in attention towards civil rights and support for women's rights after the Civil War. In 1868, the National Labor Union supported equal pay for equal work, which was the first real call for women to be paid the same rate as men for the same work (the Prism). In 1870, in the Wyoming Territory, women served on juries, which was a first in the history of jurisprudence (the Prism). In 1870, Iowa admitted the first woman to a state's bar association (the Prism). However, for every victory, there was a similar defeat. While some states were opening up professions to women, others were restricting women from professions, a practice the Supreme Court affirmed in 1873 (the Prism).
However, women were seeing some positive changes in their personal lives. Divorce laws in the United States had historically favored males. However, by 1900 two-thirds of divorce cases in the United States were initiated by wives (the Prism). This marked a significant difference, as women had historically lacked the right to even bring such suits. Women might still be unable to retain custody of their children at a divorce and often faced a tremendous financial burden when divorcing, a condition that persists in modern America, but they were actually able to attain divorces.
However, while women might be able to attain divorces, it would be erroneous to assume that domestic scenarios were improving for women in the period just after the Civil War. Domestic violence continued to be a rampant problem, with women having little recourse in their marriages. However, domestic violence did become a public issue in the time period following the Civil War, though child abuse and negligence were the main focus of domestic issues until the 1970s. For much of this time period, it was "legal" to beat one's spouse; not only were prosecutors and police reluctant to enforce assault laws against spouses, but many states also specifically made it an exception to a crime that the victim was one's spouse. The most widely recognized of these exceptions was the marital rape exemption, which meant that it was a total defense to a charge of rape, regardless of the brutality of the sexual assault, if the victim was one's spouse. It was not until 1993 that all 50 states had abolished their marital rape exemptions.
As the above overview makes clear, the status of women following the Civil War was complex. On the one hand, there was a growing awareness of women's rights and women's issues, and one can clearly see the roots of change emerging in the time period before the Civil War and gaining strength during and immediately after the war. On the other hand, one also sees a backlash against women beginning to occur during that time period, so that changes that seemed imminent took far longer than one may have imagined. In fact, the Equal Rights Amendment, which would basically do for gender what the 14th Amendment did for race, has still not been passed. What this makes clear is that women's rights changed in the time period following the Civil War, but have not yet changed to an extent that women are wholly equal, in the eyes of the law and of society, to men in the modern United States.
A&E Television Networks. "The Fight for Women's Suffrage." History.com. N.p. 2012.
Web. 16 May 2012.
The Prism. "The Path of the Women's Rights Movement: A Timeline of the Women's Rights
Movement 1848-1998." The Prism. N.P. Mar. 1998. Web. 16 May 2012.