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Women's Struggle for Equality in America


Beginning before to the civil war women fought hard for equal rights that included rights to vote and was granted with the passage for the 19th amendment and during the eras of progressivism as well as the New deal women continued to struggle for change in their various families sexual and social more and struggled for the participation both in the workforce and in the political arena. During the 1940’s women continued to gain ground particularly when they were given the rights to serve in military as well as becoming significantly more involved in labor force. 1960s especially with the advent of feminism focus on women rights became even more pressing and women fought very hard fro the social equality as well as equal pay and while its correct that women of this era have achieved both the legal and the economic progress many still face many challenges that included un equal pay and the balancing of demands of career and the needs of their families.

Both scholars and the feminists have divided  the history of the moment for feminism into  three wave where the first wave refers to the activities of the movement especially the women’s suffrage movements that occurred in nineteenth century and in the early 20th  century and they were mainly concerned with women rights to vote. The movements second wave refers to ideas and actions that are associated with women’s liberation movement that begun in the 1960s and campaigned for social and equal equality fro women.  Finally the third wave refers to the continuation of as well as the reaction to the perceived failures of the second wave and it begun in the 1990s.

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Back Ground

In the United States today men and women are often offered a wider range of higher education options. However, historically women’s access to higher education has been limited where as men have been offered an great quantity of higher knowledge possibilities. As a result of this apparent inequalities women’s colleges started to take root in American history in the mid-1830s.

In the years proceeding as well as the reform organizations formed new institutions such as the prisons, asylums and orphanages, sought to transform the public schools to help eradicate social ills like the prostitution and drunkenness in order to reinforce family life and to reform the system of support for the unfortunate. Many of these reform agendas have contemporary counterparts in attempts to redefining the welfare attack drug addiction and spousal abuse as well as to contain crime. But the two most controversial reform movements and the ones which struck deepest at the foundations of American society include the campaigns for the elimination of slavery and the equality of women.

Several of the issues these two movements grappled with are still with us nowadays. The United States today is a significantly less racially unequal society as it was in the nineteenth century or at the stop of the Second World War  but Americans still fight back with the meanings of justice and equality as well as how to implement them in society. The status of women in American has changed in problematical ways since the achievement of the vote in 192 that included the emergence of a very powerful feminist movement amid much resistance and criticism. Changing attitudes coupled with other forces of change in the economy and in the family have transformed the roles of millions of women at work, at home and in the public life. Today, women occupy positions as well as enjoy personal freedoms that the early on advocates of women’s rights could only dimly imagine, but Americans remain divided over a lot of questions about woman’s role in society.

Significance of topic

The women’s struggle for equality in America plays a critical role in understanding the events, influential  people as well as the achievement that characterize the long time struggle for the presence equality in America. This is crucial in that by the year 1890, less than one of the one percent of women was employed and was also able to gain outside of the home. In the following hundred years women have not only  gained and access to jobs  especially outside their homes but have also fought for an equality in the work place. As a matter of fact these struggles were not by any means easy thus women have overcome numerous obstacles in their journey into the workforce none greater than were the piers of their counter parts male as many of them continued to think that  no place fro women existed in the work place. Consequently women started to wok in the strides of their courageous pioneers in the work force and also they did so banding together to show their strength.

Literature Review

1865-1876: Suffrage

After the Declaration of independence was penned in the year 1776 it claimed that all men were created equal but never mentioned of women rights or even their equality. This prompted the leading advocates of women rights l with the likes of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan Anthony to act as they considered it unacceptable and together with other like minded women created what was termed as ‘womanifesto’ that was modeled after the declaration for independence.  Furthermore this idea got conveyed at one of the first women rights conventions in Seneca Falls, New York in the year 1848.

One of the most significant resolutions contained within the document was the demand for equal voting rights for women and surprising some of the participants in the convention found it shocking but women like Stanton had a strong believe that suffrage was the only way that could make women to be truly equal. She said that she believed’ the power to make laws was the right through which all other rights could be secured’. The Seneca’s convention had to wait for the next seventy two years before it became part of the United States constitution after the passage of the 19th amendment in the year 1920.

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Women suffrage is the right for women to vote as well as to run for office and the term is often used to refer to political and economic reform movement that is aimed at extending these rights of women and with no restrictions or qualifications like the property ownership, marital status and payment of tax. The early fore runner in colonial America to be allowed to vote in the three New England town meeting is Lydia Chapin and begun in 1756, at Uxbridge in Massachusetts.

Following the America revolution women were allowed to vote in New Jersey and in no other states from 1790 until 1807 as long as they met properly requirements in place at the time. In the year 1807 women were again forbidden from voting in these states and in 1848 Gerit Smith made woman suffrage a planning the liberty party platform. The same yea also saw Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Candy start a seventy year struggle by women to help them secure the right to vote and it begun at the Seneca Falls convention in New York. During the convention attendees signed a document called the declaration of rights and sentiments and Stanton was the primary author.  After that equal rights became the rallying cry of the initial movement for the women rights and therefore equal rights meant claiming of access to the prevailing definitions of freedom.

In 1850, Lucy Stone help in organize for a larger rally with a wider focus that is national women’s convention in Worchester and other women including Susan Anthony joined the cause in 1852 after the of the stone’s speech in 1850. At this time the women pointed out that the black and had been grated the franchise and had not been include in the language of United states constitution 14th and 15th amendment that gave people equal protection under the law as well as the right to vote regardless of one race.

Despite the victories that were worn in Wyoming in 1869 and in Utah in 1870, women in Utah were disenfranchised by the provisions of the federal Edmunds-Tucker act that was enacted by United States congress in 1887. The government disenfranchised the Utah women particularly after these women exercised their suffrage rights in favor of the polygamy that it has been believed that after given the right to vote women would use it to dispose the polygamy. By the end of the nineteen century other states including Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and Utah had enfranchised women state level efforts by the suffrage association.

During the begging of the twentieth century the women suffrage faced several federal votes and the portion of the movement the national women’s party that was led by suffragette Alice plan became the fits cause to picket outside the white house and considering the manner that the suffragists protested they became subject to arrests and jailing. 1918 saw the congress passed the ratified nineteenth amendment which prohibits the federal and sate agencies from the gender based restriction on voting.

1877-1920: Social Reform

The progressive era from the 1890’s to 1920’s was a very important period as it regards to the growth fro women movement especially in the areas concerning social reform. During this period many women started to seek what Jane Addams termed as ‘the larger life’ of the public affairs and this includes the many social activities that were generally considered as the traditional roles including raising of children, housekeeping and preparation of meals but were then expanded to encompass making of decisions about as well as becoming more involved in various community affairs.

In addition to that this era also saw activist extend their activities to include broader social politics and reform and they sponsored policies that helped cerate a kind of social democracy for the poor mothers, the impoverished women, exploited handworkers as well as the victims of industrial accidents.

However despite the fact that social reform was a crucial aspect of this era the most pivotal event that occurred with regards to women rights was undoubtedly the passing of the 19th amendment that gave women the right to vote. The first state in the united sates to make the suffrage permanent fro women was the sate of Wyoming in the year 1869. During the year 1878 saw the amendment introduced in congress but was declared later in 1887 especially after being neglected for a period of nine years. By the year 1919 twenty eight states had ratified that amendment and with the support of then country’s president Woodrow Wilson by 1920 ‘35 of the required thirty six sates had voted for the ratification’. Finally in the year 1920 after the two roll calls and the tied vote, the republican Burn Harry switched sides and thus voted for ratification which is now termed as the ‘war of the roses’.

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During the time between after the passage of the 19th amendment in the year 1920 and the feminist movement that happened in 1960s its usually thought that the women movement had ceased but according to Taylor (1969) after the victory of suffrage the feminist activism was transformed as a consequence of organizational success, social changes, internal conflict that served to alter women’s common interest. As a result of that transformation of social changes the two major organizations involved with women’s movement got split into opposing directions (Stevens &O'Hare, 1995).

The national Women’s party(NWP) was to a greater extend the most radial of the two groups started to focus strongly on the passage of the equal rights amendments (ERA) which then played a critical role in alienating the mainstream activists. On the other hand, the more cooperative national American Woman Suffrage association considered a take in different direction and consequently formed the league of women voters which diverged from passing the ERA and got focused on education of women as well as in the advocating for a broader rage of reforms. Although the feminist activism continued all the way through 1920s and into 1930s, there was an increasing hostility between the two camps of the suffrage movement and therefore cooperation developed on only very few issues (O’Neill, 2001)

During this time race was also an issue as it pertained to the ongoing struggle for women’s rights and therefore many suffrage groups consisted of the white women had fear for the black participation in the movement which would serve to confirming the southern perceptions that the expansion of the suffrage to women would help in disrupting the well established black disenfranchisement in the region.

In addition to that this era also was an important time for women who were serving both in the labor force and in the military because in 1943 Women Army Corps was formed prompting women to be given a full army status, equal pay as well as equal rights. However men continued to dominate the ranks in the military and this is evident by the fact that throughout the Second World War II as many as twelve million men were enlisted in the military.

The era also aw the demand for women employees soar and this was coupled with the significant growth regarding their participation in the workforce and this is attributed to the fact that women were seen as unused source of labor.

On the other hand, even though the status of women and their economic status improved somewhat with their advancements in the military and in the labor force most of their attitude regarding to gender remained mostly unchanged. After the Second World War needed the birth rate soared forcing many women to return to working at home. More than decade went by after which the Americas stance on women rights and attitudes pertaining to gender underwent a revolutionary change.

Some of the major events that took place during this era regarding the struggle by women for equality in America include the following:  the founding of American birth control league by Margaret Sanger in 1921, the organization of the National Council of Negro Women by Mary McLeod Bethune, a coalition of black women's groups that lobbies against job discrimination, racism, and sexism. In addition to that the federal law in 1936 prohibited the dissemination of contraceptive information through the mail is modified and the birth control information was no longer classified and as obscene. The food and drug administration approved the birth control pills in 1960 (Flexner, 1996).


Starting in late 1950s the progressing changes in the social trends started to establish a positive climate that favored the growth of feminism and during this time the birth rte begun to decline significantly as the use of contraceptive methods like the birth control bill help in permitting a more sexual freedom as well as small family sizes. In addition to that American attitudes towards the issues like dating, abortion as well as marriage and health care begun to gradually change and these changes in social realm became part and parcel of the women’s liberation in America. However while some of these social concerns were significant to feminists the movement was all about establishing equal of opportunity and according to Hanson (2008) the most compelling arguments for the feminism was basically that women must receive equal pay for equal work and that they should not be just mere appendages of their husbands and the responsibility of having children should not hinder or be prelude a woman from pursuing a career.

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The case for feminism got further advancement with the passage of the civil rights act in the year 1964 and it prohibited sex discrimination in employment and also by the substantial legislation in 1970s which was passed with a great help from women who were serving in congress. This also included the freedom of choice in reproductive rights in 1973, the minimum wage protection for the domestic workers in 1974 as well as the prohibition of employment discrimination against pregnant women in 1978 (DuBois, 1997).

1976 – Present

 In the past few decades very significant step have been taken to ensure that there is an improvement in education, economic opportunity, family life as well as in the political empowerment of women, however  to ensure that women’s rights continue  to improve and expand there exists several problems that must be first overcome. One of the most significant of these tights is that of equal pay for equal work and while in united states 2005 census revealed that women accounted for  fifty nine percent of the  entire workforce they earn onl0 0.77 dollars for every one dollar that men area in performing similar jobs.

In addition to that balancing of the demands of career with those required to raising a family pose as another challenge in this decade. therefore with out the same support systems in place especially those that are available to men with children, the women who are working usually feel that in order for them to successful in an endeavor thy should do so at the expense of the other.  For instance a study that was conducted concluded that forty two percent of women that work in corporate setting were childless by the time they attain forty years of age where as only fourteen percent planned to be.

There has been an increasing struggle for equality especially in response to the perceived failures in the third wave of feminism as well to the backlash against movements as well as initiatives that played a role in the second wave, the struggle during his era struggles to challenge or avoid the previous definition of feminism and argued that it over emphasize on experiences of the upper middle class white women (Mathur, 45).

The currents struggle focuses on micro-politics and challenges what was previously seen as good for women and thus tend to use the poststructuralists interpretation of sexuality and gender and it also contains debates regarding to different feminists who believe in the existence of the significant differences between the sexes as well as those who believe that no inherent differences exists between sexes contenting to the idea that most of gender roles are as a result of social conditioning (Rhoads, 2004).

Some of the key events that took place during this era regarding the struggle by women for equality in America and rights movement include the following: establishment of EMLY’s list in 1984 as a financial framework fro pro-choice democratic women who run fro the national political office and the organization plays a very important role especially by increasing numbers of women are get elected to the congress. In 1986 the Supreme Court finds sexual harassment as form of illegal job discrimination and also same court in 1992 reaffirmed the validity of a woman’s right to abortion and successfully challenges the Pennsylvanian 1989 abortion control act which sought to reinstate restrictions that were previously ruled unconstitutional. In 1994 the Violence against Women Act tightens federal penalties for sex offenders, funds services for victims of rape and domestic violence, and provides for special training of police officers.

Other ruling made by the supreme court regarding women rights include the 1996 ruling that the all-male Virginia Military School has to admit women in order to continue to receive public funding holding that creating a separate, all-female school will not suffice, the ruling that women to sue for punitive damages foe sex discrimination if the anti-discrimination law was violated with malice or indifference to the law, even if that conduct was not especially severe. In 2005 the Supreme Court rules that Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on sex, also inherently prohibits disciplining someone for complaining about sex-based discrimination. It further holds that this is the case even when the person complaining is not among those being discriminated against. Finally in President Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, which allows victims of pay discrimination to file a complaint with the government against their employer within 180 days of their last paycheck. Previously, victims (most often women) were only allowed 180 days from the date of the first unfair paycheck. This Act is named after a former employee of Goodyear who alleged that she was paid 15–40% less than her male counterparts, which was later found to be accurate (Lind, 2002).

In conclusion since the mid 1880most advocates of women rights have struggled very hard to make sure that they achieve a significant advances in economic, social as well as political status of women and specifically these activist have rallied successfully for suffrage of women, help in gaining of advancements both in the military and in the labor forces thus pushing forwards the social reforms greatly increasing the equality of women. While it’s a fact that the rights of women have come a very long way over the pat one hundred and fifty years women still experience some difficulties to overcome in furtherance of a complete quality.