It has taken centuries but the number of people who are allowed to vote in the political process has continued to expand since the inception of this country. There were a large number of American citizens who were formally left out of the political process. Women, a segment America who make up 51% of the population, were not allowed to vote until 1920. When studying the importance of the women’s movement from 1877, the suffrage movement is perhaps one of the most important aspects of the increase in women’s rights that are enjoyed in this country. The women’s movement since 1877 has enjoyed a number of important advancements which have been brought on by a number of important and fearless women. 1877 is one of the most important years in American history.
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It is the year that Reconstruction ended in the South. A defiant South, coupled with a defeatist North who no longer felt obliged to continue to push for the rights of African Americans, agreed in one of the most lopsided political agreements in American history, to elect as president, Rutherford B. Hayes in exchange for the exit of all Northern troops from the South. Neither the African American, nor the female could hope for a continued expansion of their rights. Even though Colorado had given their women the right to vote in 1870, a formal amendment which protected a woman’s right to vote on a national level, was not be passed for another fifty years. The passage of the 19th amendment was the result of such actions. Elizabeth Caty Stanton and Susan B. Anthony had worked tirelessly for the right to vote for all women. Although, this would be a battle that would have to be fought in the court of public opinion and not on the battlefield where results are often gained at a quicker, though deadlier pace. In 1913, Illinois governor Edward Dunne signed a bill that gave the right to vote to women.
Women in Illinois were allowed to vote in presidential elections. Carrie Chapman Catt, another towering figure in the feminist movement of the early 20th century commented on the role that women were now having in the political process. “The effect of this victory upon the nation was astounding. When the first Illinois election took place in April of 1914 the press carried the headlines that 250,000 women had voted in Chicago and proved with its twenty nine electoral votes, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the fact that women were gaining genuine political power.” This certainly was the case and has continued to be the case. The actions of Catt and Ida B Wells, a champion of both women’s and African American rights, organized, in 1913, more than 5,000 supporters in Washington D.C. Organized a march. They were able to show that they believed that women’s rights was important Despite such shows of force by the police, the movement would not be stopped. In 1915, a suffrage bill was introduced in Congress but did not gain passage with a vote in the House of 174 to 204.
Once President Wilson came out in strong support for the bill, eventually the bill passed with necessary 2/3 majority after a number of near misses in the Senate. The 19th amendment reads: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United Stated or by any state n account of sex. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” Every American politician from now on, would have to contend with the female vote and would have to speak to the needs of women if they wanted to retain their power in Congress. This however would not resonate within Congress as in the immediate decades after the passage of the 19th amendment, women were still underrepresented in Congress. This is even the case today.
The next time women would enjoy a rise in the influence and independence was during WWII. Women went overseas as nurses and two hundred female nurses lost their lives in the process. The Second World War also had the lowest rate of deaths from disease in comparison to such deaths in the First World War or in the Civil War. This was due in part, to the care, skill and attention that hundreds of thousands of female nurses had upon the fighting American forces all over Europe and Asia. This was also true on the home front. Throughout the entire war, more than sixteen million American soldiers went off to fight. That was a high percentage of the total American work force and as a result, women who had previously been barred from securing employment in jobs that were seen as unfit for women, were now encouraged to get a job themselves. Millions of women were now employed in factories all over the country in the production of tanks, planes, bombs and bullets to list a few. There was also more than three thousand members of the Women’s Auxiliary Core serving in North Africa as well. Women proved that they could work just as well as the men. The success of the war depended upon such truths.
These gains would not last as men coming home from the war, received to a large degree, their jobs were made available for them. Women, to a large degree, returned to a role of compliance and domesticity within the home. Women were expected to keep the home and raise the children as the husband went off to work in order to provide for the family. This all began to change in the mid 1960’s as the feminist movement began to take hold to a great degree, along with the anti war and civil rights movement. The number of women who worked outside of the home began to rise steadily and continued to do so until the late 1990’s when a portion of those women, returned home voluntarily in order to care for their family and to raise their children. However, from the middle 1960’s and even which continues to this day, women are enjoying an increase in their freedoms. “Not only were women not ostracized for working outside of the home, but a sexual freedom also accompanied women at this time. Sexual intercourse was now something that was to be enjoyed by both genders.” Some aspects of the women’s movement took this a step further with the sexual revolution with various sexual partners, in which most or all were with somebody who was not their spouse, became sought after and a source of what was perceived to be liberating.
Also, within the home, women no longer felt obliged to stay in a marriage in which they did not feel fulfilled. As a result, the divorce rate rose by more than 600% and has remained, at least in comparison to the rates of the last 90% of the history of this country, very high.. However, a more positive aspect of the women’s movement in the past few decades is the increase in the earning power of women. Despite the fact that women earn less than 76 cents for every dollar than men make, it is still a far cry from most of the 20th century in which women would barely get their foot in the door. Now, an individual cannot be discriminated against when applying for a job based upon whether or not they are a woman. Also, even though the time given is very short in comparison to most European countries, American women cannot be fired from their job for taking time off in order to have a child. There is still a great deal of progress to be made in order to offer total equality among the genders in America. However, with the strength that comes from the tremendous strides that American women have made in the last century, the next century promises to offer a number of advancements for the female gender.
One of the most recent and inspiring advancements within the women’s movement is that currently, the frontrunner in the next presidential election is Hillary Clinton. Even though it is more than a year between now and the presidential election in November 2008, most political thinkers believe that Senator Clinton will be a formidable opponent for anyone who is wanting to become the next president of the United States and that she could even win herself. Scarily anyone could have imagined, even the figures of the feminist movement of the 19th and early 20th centuries that at the beginning of the 21st century, a woman is being favored as the next president of the United States. The women’s movement has come a long way and promised to offer additional positive advancements in the years and decades to come.
The advances which women enjoy today in America, are steeped in the past struggles of others who bravely fought for the rights which are enjoyed to this day.
I. The SUFFRAGE MOVEMENT
A. Until 1920, there existed no formal and national laws which gave and protected the right of
women to vote.
B. The 19th amendment, passed in 1920, accomplished that.
II. WORLD WAR II
A. Women were not only allowed but encouraged to enter American factories all over the
country in order to give the more than 16 million fighting men, the machines and materials
needed to win the war.
B. This display of unity and hard work showed the American people that women could
accomplish and be successful in the work force.
C. However, once the war was over, for the most part, women were returned to the home.
III. THE FEMENIST MOVEMENT
A. Began in the 1960’s and its effects continue to this day.
1. Women began to work outside of the house and to feel free to do what they wanted.
2. Divorce rates rose dramatically as women were no longer forced to stay in unwanted
B. Women fought for equality in the work force and their rise within the corporate world was
C. Women since the late 1990s have returned to the home in order to raise their family in what is
regarded as a more fulfilling role. However, this change is entirely self imposed.
The gains that were made in the 20th century, continue to lay the groundwork for more advances for women. At the formation of this paper, the front runner for the next president of the United States is a woman. Women are still underrepresented in Congress and are not paid the same wage as men but gains continue to be made in both areas.
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