Feminism 19th And Early 20th Century America Term Paper

Length: 8 pages Sources: 8 Subject: Literature Type: Term Paper Paper: #92213425 Related Topics: Feminism, 20th Century, Status Quo, Devil In The White City
Excerpt from Term Paper :

¶ … Feminism 19th and Early 20th Century America

Writing and woman suffrage were inextricably intertwined in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Suffrage gave them a voice, and they used that voice to challenge the early American patriarchal status quo. By examining those works, new light can be brought to bear on suffrage activists, who at the time were thought to be an unimportant fringe group. Through a study of their work, we can learn more about their day-to-day lives.

According to Sandra Harding in McClish and Bacon (p. 28), one's own knowledge depends on one's position in society. When one is a subordinate in the social hierarchy, one understands life differently than someone at the top of the social hierarchy. However, as the most powerful write history, it tends to be rather one-sided. Since that is the case, Harding argues that these different viewpoints are equally valid. By looking at what is often termed social history, one can find information about more than just dates of wars and conquests. Other information is helpful in understanding our current social makeup. In addition, because traditionally oppressed people write some literature, it can be even more revealing than the history written by the top of the social hierarchy. Minority literature includes the viewpoints of not only those at the top of the social hierarchy, but also those who survived underneath. Because their very survival depended on understanding the overarching society, the disenfranchised are keen observers (McClish and Bacon, 28).

This can be revealing in many ways. Readers who acknowledge the values of these different points-of-view can better understand texts. Rather than simply taking the patriarchal point-of-view for granted, questioning the normative interpretation can lead to new knowledge. How does one do that? Harding suggests that readers should ask questions based on their own experiences, (McClish and Bacon, 28) assuming of course that one is not a member of the privileged class.

In the 1800s in the United States, the privileged class was primarily white men of Anglo-Saxon, Protestant descent. White women could not vote, or even own the clothes on their backs. Black men were not considered people until after the Civil War, and black women were burdened with the prejudice directed at both blacks and women. They were of the lowest possible class, being subservient to white men, white women, and black men, in that order.

Since white men had all the power, they tended to have the most disposable income, and thus were the primary sources of funding for writers who made a living from their writing. Even for writers who didn't depend on their writing for income, the white male was still an influential reader. One would have had to make one's writing palatable, or at least non-offensive, in order not to be banned, quashed, or even prosecuted. One of the oldest types of writing is the story, and one can couch much in fictional tale that one could not express in a strident pamphlet, though suffragists used those too. After all, it is merely a hypothetical situation. As a result, marginalized individuals often chose a narrative because of the subtlety involved (McClish and Bacon, 34). Another advantage of posing one's challenge to society in fiction is the ability it gives the writer to demonstrate something from someone else's point-of-view. Minority authors can show their mainstream readers new horizons.

One of the earliest narratives to point out a problem with women's position in society was Charlotte Temple by Susanna Rowson. This novel depicts the fate of a young, presumably well-to-do white girl. Though first published in England in 1791, it was published in the United States in 1794, to immediate popularity. This novel has had over 200 editions published in the United States, in continuous print since it was published. Unlike modern romance novels with their happily ever after template, Charlotte Temple was a young girl who was seduced by a soldier, taken to the United States, impregnated, and then abandoned to her eventual destitution and death. While modern readers may find this story to be repugnant, the "seduction novel" was a popular genre for decades (Rust).

Superficially, this novel has nothing to alarm the patriarchy. While at the same time warning girls not to stray from socially mandated standards of acceptable behavior, it also legitimizes the licentious behavior of the upper class white male -- after all, he suffers no ill effects from his behavior. Women who succumbed to seduction were so ostracized that family friends would shun them, banishing them from society to starve on the street, as happened to Charlotte. However,...

...

This book made the bitter choice slightly more palatable: girls could choose virginity, a husband, and subjugation; or choose sex, homelessness, and martyrdom for the sake of an infan (Rust).

One could even say that Charlotte Temple was the 19th century version of the long-running Seventeen magazine "It Happened to Me" column. Depending on your inclination, these are thinly fictionalized or allegedly true tales of horrifying or humiliating incidents in the life of a teenager. The very deliciousness of it is based in schadenfreude, or a sort of vicarious delight in the misfortunes of others. It was widely known at the time that Charlotte Temple was a roman a clef about the author's first cousin, who was the male character in the story, making the similarity more pointed. Rowson reinforced this belief by using the phrase "a tale of truth" in the subtitle, preface, and novel itself. Young girls learned lessons about society's expectations from the book, without sermons or their own painful mortification.

For decades, young girls put flowers at the grave of Charlotte Stanley at Trinity Churchyard in New York City, knowing that they could have been Charlotte but for a slight twist of fate. In fact, the author specifically implores her readers to feel that way when she tells them to "feel the woes of Charlotte" (109) and to "reflect how many errors we are ourselves subject to, how many secret faults lie hid in the recesses of our hearts, which we should blush to have brought into open day" (80). Many 19th century girls probably read Charlotte Temple, thoroughly enjoyed their relative good fortune -- and learned of the grim choices inherent in their social status.

Other interpretations exist. As Marion Rust points out in 'What's Wrong with "Charlotte Temple?'," Rowson's story may have been so popular because it depicted a young woman's struggle to maintain the standards of behavior expected of an upper-class white woman (104). Readers could empathize with Charlotte's initial situation, and fantasize about not adhering to society's dictums. In that sense, it was escapist fantasy, with the emphasis on escape. While 19th century U.S. men were to choose "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," women's roles became increasingly constrained (Rust). Young Charlotte escaped the stifling finishing school with a dashing lover, something her readers could not do. Like Caesar's wife, women of the powerful men in the new republic had to be above reproach. While single colonial women (and abandoned married women) could and did own their own businesses, enter into contracts, and bring lawsuits, ironically this era faded in the new republic (Salmon). 19th century upper class women were expected to remain within the sphere of the home and hearth, not go dashing across oceans (Rust). To lower-class readers (though surely there were fewer of them), the details involved in Charlotte's life would have been escapist fantasy too. Just as modern day romance novels always involve a wealthy suitor or timely inheritance, a dashing, wealthy suitor would have tempted women in Charlotte's time, when they could no longer own property or their own businesses. They too could easily end up pregnant and destitute, on the streets.

Furthermore, while abortifacients were readily available to colonial women, abortions and abortifacients were criminalized in the increasingly repressive new republic (Bullough). In 1803 Britain Lord Ellenborough's Act imposed formal punishment for both pre and post quickening abortion (Keown, 2002). In 1829 New York performing an abortion was made illegal (Bullough, 2001). In 1873 the federal Comstock laws were passed to criminalize the information about how to have an abortion under the guise of public indecency (Bullough, 2001). So, as abortions and abortifacients became increasingly difficult to obtain, pregnancy became increasingly dire for single young women. Pregnancy became a literally fatal mistake in Charlotte Temple (Rust).

One of the rare 19th-century women who made a living from her writing was Sara Payson Willis. She was known for social satire, right down to her pen name. "Fanny Fern" mocked the trend to assign floral names to popular female writers (Ross). Her first book was called "Fern Leaves," again a play on words and the floral trend. Ross argues that by using the negative in such a different way, she is investing…

Sources Used in Documents:

Works Cited

Bullough, Vern, ed. Encyclopedia of Birth Control. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2001.

Laffrado, Laura. Uncommon women: gender and representation in nineteenth-century U.S. women's writing. Columbus, OH: The Ohio State University, 2009.

McClish, Glen and Jacqueline Bacon. "Telling the Story Her Own Way": the Role of Feminist Standpoint Theory in Rhetorical Studies." Rhetoric Society Quarterly (2002): 27-55.

Porche, Amy S. "The Fashioning of Fanny Fern: A Study of Sara Willis Parton's Early Career, 1851-1854." 2010. Georgia State University Digital Archive, English Dissertations. 6 December 2011 <http://digitalarchive.gsu.edu/english_diss/58/>.


Cite this Document:

"Feminism 19th And Early 20th Century America" (2011, November 26) Retrieved June 22, 2021, from
https://www.paperdue.com/essay/feminism-19th-and-early-20th-century-america-47893

"Feminism 19th And Early 20th Century America" 26 November 2011. Web.22 June. 2021. <
https://www.paperdue.com/essay/feminism-19th-and-early-20th-century-america-47893>

"Feminism 19th And Early 20th Century America", 26 November 2011, Accessed.22 June. 2021,
https://www.paperdue.com/essay/feminism-19th-and-early-20th-century-america-47893

Related Documents
Feminism 19th and Early 20th Century America
Words: 1283 Length: 4 Pages Topic: Literature Paper #: 51152133

Feminism 19th and Early 20th Century America Writing and women's roles were unavoidably mixed in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It was a time in which many women protested their restrictions through novels, poetry, pamphlets, and speeches. By analyzing those creations, readings can begin to understand the lives of those forward-looking women. In their own time, people dismissed them as inconsequential complainers. Minority authors, like blacks and lesbians were

20th Century Humanities or Modernism Is the
Words: 830 Length: 2 Pages Topic: Black Studies - Philosophy Paper #: 57766551

20th century humanities or modernism is the assumption that the autonomy of the individual is the sole source of meaning and truth. This belief, which stemmed from the application of reason and natural science, led to a perpetual search for unique and novel forms of expression (Keep, McLaughlin, & Parmar). Thus, it is evident that modernism discarded the Renaissance period's interest in the classical tradition and universal meaning, in

America in the 20th Century
Words: 2037 Length: 7 Pages Topic: Women Paper #: 19557075

Significant Political, Social, and Economic Changes in America from the 1930s to the 1970s From the 1930s to the 1970s, America modernized. Women gained suffrage in 1920 with the 19th amendment (The American Yawp, 2018), and America as a country was on the move, having just asserted itself abroad by helping to end WWI. Now with peace restored, America began to metamorphose. It transitioned from being a traditionally-minded country of various

19th Century Women's Suffrage in Europe
Words: 3056 Length: 10 Pages Topic: Sports - Women Paper #: 23764623

Europe Women's Suffrage Most countries in Western and Central Europe, including Great Britain granted women the vote right after World War I, and only in the Scandinavian nations of Norway and Finland did they receive it earlier than that. France stood out as exceptional, however, no matter that it was the homeland of democratic revolution and of the idea of equal rights for women. It also had a highly conservative side

Feminism Impact on Liberalism
Words: 1354 Length: 4 Pages Topic: Government Paper #: 53836064

Feminism and Liberalism The world of philosophy, political science, and social theory has come a long way since the times during which ancient Greek philosophers created theories according to which the best city state should be constructed and run. The beauty and joy of being human lies in the fact that humanity is constantly evolving. The same is true of social and philosophical ideas and theories. In the views of some,

Science Fiction & Feminism Sci-Fi & Feminism
Words: 13761 Length: 50 Pages Topic: Mythology Paper #: 33926429

SCIENCE FICTION & FEMINISM Sci-Fi & Feminism Origins & Evolution of Science Fiction As with most things including literature, science fiction has progressed and changed a lot over the years. Many works of science fiction were simply rough copies and following the altready-established patterns of prior authors. However, there has always been authors and creators that push the envelope and forge new questions and storylines that have not been realized or conceptualized before.