Lives of Women in the Late 19th Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

lives of women in the late 19th and early 20th century, including Susan B. Anthony and Ida B. Wells. Specifically, it will analyze the private lives of American women in the late 19th and early 20th centuries - as daughters, wives, and mothers. Did their lives mesh or clash with their participation in the wider public world of education, work, and politics? How so? Women in Victorian times and beyond were expected to conform to society's mores, which did not include rights for women. If a woman stepped outside the norm, she did not "fit" in polite society, and she was often ostracized and abandoned by those around her.


Women in the Victorian age, which lasted from1880 to 1900, were placed on pedestals, as long as they managed to conform to society's dictates about how women should act and dress, took care of their family and their home, and did not make any waves, socially or politically. Women like Susan B. Anthony, who campaigned vocally for women's rights, especially the right to vote, and Ida B. Wells, who campaigned tirelessly for anti-lynching laws, were outside the norm, and suffered because of it. Society ostracized them because they had "masculine thoughts." Anthony was arrested for committing the "sin" of voting in an election, and Wells had to leave her native South and flee to the North to escape persecution and violence because of her stand on black rights. Even Elizabeth Cady Stanton, mentor and dear friend of Anthony, could not convince her own father of the worth of her work for women.

She [Stanton] was an admirable housekeeper, a loyal wife, and the devoted mother of seven children, but that did not prevent her from becoming a writer, a public speaker, a pleader before law-making bodies, and a leader of women. To the day of his death his rebellious daughter was a thorn in the stern old man's side.

This short paragraph more than illustrates how men felt about their women taking up the cause of women's rights. Often, the women became an embarrassment to their families, and received no support from their husbands, families, and children. They had to continue with their "wifely" duties of house and home, while making time to work for their cause. Victorian writer John Ruskin could have been speaking for a majority of men in the early 1900s when he wrote in "Of Queen's Gardens" "There never was a time when wilder words were spoken or more vain imagination permitted respecting this question [women's rights].'"

Thus, women who fought for the right to vote often had to choose between their work and having a family. Susan B. Anthony never married; she did not have time for a conventional Victorian life, and neither did Ida B. Wells. Thus, these very vocal women's private lives, of which they had virtually none, obviously clashed with their very public lives. The two simply could not survive together during this time, and society suffered for it.

The Victorian Age was one of the most prosperous in American history. As such, more people moved into the middle- and upper-classes, and many women had more free time on their hands, which gave women more time to attain "perfect woman" status with their friends and neighbors.

Once married, the perfect lady did not work; she had servants. She was mother only at set time of the day, even of the year; she left the heirs in the hands of nannies and governesses. Her social and intellectual growth was confined to the family and close friends. Her status was totally dependent upon the economic position of her father and then her husband.

Society had extremely strict mores when it came to what women could and could not do, as the above paragraph clearly shows. She could socialize with women of her own class, and she could even do charity work for those who were "less fortunate," but upper-class women could not work outside the home, enjoy a career, or even closely interact with their children. Daughters grew up knowing their nannies better than their mothers. They were also groomed to make successful marriages, so they could live the same lives as their mothers - unfulfilled and unfulfilling for many.

Susan B. Anthony saw the problem with this lifestyle, and hoped to change it. Interestingly enough, Anthony saw the fight for women's rights as benefiting men as much as it would women. Emancipating women would free men of the "burden" of not speaking their feelings, and always having to provide everything for the family. An emancipated woman could also have a career outside the household, and become a partner with her husband, rather than a helpmate and servant who took care of the house, but never participated in the husband's triumphs or failures. "In the weak and helpless, dependent women of her youth Susan saw something worse than mere chattels of men; she saw a burden that had to be lifted from the shoulders of men."

Women would no longer be "weak and helpless," and dependent for everything from their husbands or fathers, they would be viable and joyful partners in loving and mutually respective relationships.

Working-class women during this time had their own set of strict societal mores, but they were not as confining as the upper class mores, because these women had to work for a living to help support their families. "Whether a product of the working-class or the middle-class, she was always curious, rebellious, and high-spirited. If she discovered sweatshop conditions from first-hand experience, she became outraged, joined a union, and began organizing other women."

Daughters often began work at a young age, and often marriage was not a way to better themselves, it was simply a way to move into a different home and begin raising a family. These women worked incredibly long hours at backbreaking jobs, often 10 to 12 hours a day, then had to return home and take care of preparing meals, doing laundry, and cleaning house, which the men did not participate in at all.

Women with jobs also united during these years to demand better working conditions. In 1909, a general strike called by shirtwaist workers took thousands of employees, mainly women, away from their factory jobs. The Women's Trade Union League, organized in 1903 by middle- and working-class women, publicized the plight of strikers, enlisted the financial aid of wealthy women, and helped draft favorable workers' contracts.

Ida B. Wells was perhaps one of the bravest outspoken women at the end of the 19th century. She took matters into her own hands when she saw Southern white men lynching blacks for any number of "offenses." Because she spoke her mind bluntly, she had to leave the south, and spend the rest of her life in the north, crusading for anti-lynching laws. She wrote, "If Southern white men are not careful, they will over-reach themselves and public sentiment will have a reaction; a conclusion will then be reached which will be very damaging to the moral reputation of their women," which of course enraged Southern men.

As the Victorian age ended, more and more women fought for women's rights. They also began to attend colleges and universities. Vassar College, the nation's first "academically superior" college created entirely for women was established 1865.

The founder of Vassar, Matthew Vassar, a wealthy brewer, said one of the reasons he created the college for women was, considered that the mothers of a country mold the character of its citizens, determine its institutions, and shape its destiny. Next to the influence of the mother is that of the female teacher, who is employed to train young children at a period when impressions are most vivid and lasting.

Even as he created a college where…

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