Modern US History

All the modern US history fit to print

Category: Alyssa Martin


Women’s suffrage movements have historically played a significant role in obtaining rights belonging to US citizens, and, throughout the decades, has been a large source of contention. Throughout the 1900s, women’s roles are traditionally thought to be in the domain of the private sphere, acting as wives and mothers, while men played the more predominant role in the public sphere, working and partaking in politics and economics. Women’s empowerment played an important role on the creation of the modern-day United States. The transition from the private sphere to the public sphere is one that women, predominantly white, middle class women, fought for and an issue that encapsulated movements throughout many years. (Landes 1984, 22-23)

Controversy and debate surrounding gender roles is a continuous issue in contemporary times. In order to fully understand the view of gender roles today, it is important to trace back the ideology of gender roles to their roots and understand the historical progression of the changing gender stigmas throughout time. This digital exhibition on Women’s Suffrage and The Move from the Private to Public Sphere shows the progression of women’s rights, the movements behind the transition between the spheres, and the methods used by young, middle class white women to achieve their goals throughout the mid-19th century into the mid-20th century.

Women suffer from the “problem that has no name” (Friedan 1963) Women are told to be the happy housewife seen in magazines and advertisements. The idealized version of femininity that emerged during the 1950s and 60s had been around for years, was given the name the “feminine mystique”. According to the feminine mystique, women should only have one simple goal. That goal should be to fulfill her role as a woman through leading a successful domestic life as a homemaker, mother, and wife. For years’ women are told they must go to college, get an education, and obtain a degree. While in college, or directly after, women are expected to get married and abandon their professional goals. When married, women lose their public rights, and their intellectual lives are taken away. Due to being assigned to the private sphere women are made invisible and their voices, lives, and rights were regarded as not worthy of being heard. (Friedan 1963) Sick of being invisible, women began to fight back and fight for their rights. Women pushed to leave the domestic sphere and to enter the working world, for suffrage, birth control and abortion rights, and the acceptance of women’s sexuality.

Beginning in the 1890s and continuing until 1985 the participation of women in the work force began to soar. Perpetuated by the image of Rosie the Riveter, women are driven to join the working world and partake in jobs typically dominated by men. (Colman 1995) “If women want to work, well let them learn and conform; otherwise, they should keep quiet.” (Henshel, Vale 1975, 66) This mindset is what advocates for women rights are working to move away from. Like Rosie the Riveter, women should have power in the work place, and even more importantly, a voice that will be heard. Dramatic shifts in the gender roles are illustrated by women exiting the private home sector and entering the working world. This change in societal norms was contested by many, but ultimately women came out successful and became integrated into the working world.

The women’s suffrage began in 1848, with a women’s rights convention held in Seneca Falls, New York. The movement is a decades-long fight to achieve the right to vote for women in the United States.  The suffrage movement is led by Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Catherine Esther Beecher, Isabella Beecher Hooker and other women’s rights pioneers. (Boydston 1988; Hooker, Stanton, Anthony 1872) In 1920, the fight for the right to vote is finally achieved with the ratification of the 19thAmendment. This victory is considered one of the most significant achievements for women in the Progressive Era and gave women a voice in the public sphere.

As head of the birth control movement, Sanger dedicated her life to making birth control universally available for women. The birth control movement was a social reform movement that began in the year of 1914. This movement’s goal was to increase the availability of contraception for women. (Zorea, 2012) Building off the fight for women’s rights came the fight for abortion rights. In the Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, abortion was legalized, marking a groundbreaking victory in women’s rights. (Kelly 1996)

“New women” emerged from the 1920’s. The Progressive Era brought about many changes including how women’s sexuality is viewed by both women and society. (Freedman 1974) The flapper exemplifies the change in sexuality during the 1920’s. (Zeits 2006) No longer are women quiet, voiceless housewives. Women are becoming both vocal about their rights and along with that the way they shall express themselves. The push for acceptance of women’s sexuality changes the view of women in the world. Traditional views of women were being broken and women were carving the pat for way they wanted to be viewed.

For centuries, the traditional roles of men and women have been slowly changing, but as of recently women have demanded such equal treatment in the forms of allowance to enter the work force, the right to vote, the right to birth control and to choose abortion, and the right to embrace their sexuality. With these simple, yet controversial, demands, women have stepped outside their traditional domain of the family and home life, and into the life dictated as not welcome to women. In doing so, women created a shift that would disrupt the traditional pattern of gender roles in the western world.

This project will define women’s suffrage and the move from the private to public sphere. As such, this project will focus on young, white, middle class women and their influence on the movement. Beginning with the exiting of the domestic sphere into the working world and ending with women’s sexuality, this project will address many ways in which women moved from the home into the visible world.

Exiting the Domestic Sphere, Entering the Working World

Join Us in a Victory Job

Throughout World War Two, imagery is used to encourage women to join the workforce in order to help the country succeed. “Join Us in a Victory Job” is an image that shows six women who work in industrial jobs that help the country in its wartime efforts. As a labor shortage took hold in the country, women are recruited to take on jobs left behind by men when they went to serve. Recruitment of women workers skyrocketed during World War Two and a field that was once dominated by men became run by women. The exit from the domestic sphere was welcomed during war time yet shunned when the Unites States was at peace. War had a large impact of the leave from domesticity, and after the war was over, women did not want to return to the domestic sphere, instead fighting to stay in the working world.

We Can Do It

What came to be known as Rosie the Riveter, the “We Can Do it!” cartoon is created by Miller J. Howard in 1943 during World War Two for Westinghouse Electric as a way to boost women worker morale. During World War Two, the United States faced a labor force shortage since many men were serving overseas. Due to the wartime labor shortage, women are needed to take jobs they had never held before. There are many public campaigns encouraging women to join the workforce in times of war. War had a large impact of women leaving the domestic sphere and entering the working world. In war times, women workers are essential to economic survival, whereas working women are looked down upon when America was at peace.

A Woman’s Workplace

A typical job a woman is able to get was in a factory making clothing. Many women had industrial jobs during wartime, but after the men returned home, are forced to either return to the private sphere or find a job elsewhere. This did not sit well with women and they fought to keep their jobs. A common wartime job for a woman is making uniforms for soldiers oversees. Through protests, women are able to remain working in the factories like they had while the men were fighting abroad. War had a large impact of women leaving the domestic sphere and entering the working world. Instead of being pushed back into the private sphere after the war, women fought back and continued to work in the public sector alongside men.

Women’s Suffrage

Declaration of Sentiments

Modeled after the Declaration of Independence, The Declaration of Sentiments is written to show the parallels between the struggles the Founding Fathers dealt with to those of the women’s movement. The Declaration of Sentiments emerged from the Seneca Falls Convention that is held in New York in July of 1848. The document outlined the rights American women should have as citizens of the United States. This document received harsh backlash and is often mocked in the media. In reaction to this response, while some are frightened, women, particularly Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucretia Mott, pushed even harder to make suffrage come about.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Elizabeth Cady Stanton

National Women’s Suffrage Association

Founded by Susan B. Anthony, the National Women’s Suffrage Association works for women’s suffrage and to obtain the right to vote for women. Modeled after the United States Constitution, the Constitution of the National Women’s Suffrage Association outlines both members names and a series of articles describing the organization and its goals. Instead of solely focusing on the right to vote, the NWSA also supports a multitude of reforms aimed to make women equal members of society. In order to achieve suffrage, women had to clearly express what they wanted and fight continuedly for it. Through the Constitution and Declaration of Sentiments, women made their wants clear and worked to achieve those wants.

NWSA Constitution


Votes For Women

In reaction to women’s suffrage, people began to argue that suffrage fails of will bring down a state. In response to these statements, a poster is created and distributed throughout the nation as a counter argument against this notion. In the year of 1915, women’s suffrage is expanding throughout the United States and many states have been adopting suffrage. The spread of women’s suffrage is slow due to being faced with opposition, but while the spread is slow, it is steady. As suffrage spread and is adopted in more states, women became more impowered and began to push for other rights, such as the right to vote. Suffrage was beneficial to society and gave women the platform to build and fight for their rights off of.

The Nineteenth Amendment

Termed the Susan Anthony Amendment, the Nineteenth Amendment is passed on June 4th, 1919 and ratified on August 18th, 1920. The Nineteenth Amendment guarantees that all American women have the right to vote. For many years, as the right to vote is pushed for by women, it had been mocked by others and in the press. Even after Congress passed the amendment, many southern states are adamantly opposed to it. Ultimately, the ratification of the amendment came down to one, singular vote in the state of Tennessee. Finally, the Nineteenth Amendment is ratified, yet it continued to be opposed and disapproved of within the southern states.

“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

Suffrage Sentiment

Women’s rights had to be fought for throughout the country, but in comparison to the South, the North is much more accepting of women’s suffrage. On February of 1919, just a few months after the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, a map is published showing the popularity and support for women’s rights throughout the country. Through passages and articles, advocates of women’s suffrage spread the idea of women’s suffrage throughout the nation, bringing the countries attention to the cause. Even after the successful fight and ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, women’s rights continued to be something not fully accepted throughout the country, especially in the Southern regions.

Birth Control Movement

The Morality of Birth Control

The birth control movement is a reform campaign that began in 1914 and worked to increase the availability of female birth control through legalization. Margaret Sanger both opened the birth control clinic in the United States, as well as, advocated vocally for the legalization of birth control. The Morality of Birth Control discusses why birth control should be legalized. As people fought against the legalization of birth control, claiming women should have children and raise a family, Sanger and other advocates fought back explaining women had the right to choose whether they want a child or not. A theme surrounding all aspects of the birth control movement, whether it be talking about contraception or abortion, is a woman has the right to choose whether or not she wants a child.

Margaret Sanger, lead birth control advocate

Eugenics and Birth Control

Margaret Sanger used eugenics as a way to promote the women’s birth control movement. Many people, men in particular, were worried about how white, middle class women are having less and less children while other women, immigrants, were having many. People worried this would corrupt the genetic makeup of the United States, and Sanger used this worry to promote a new viewpoint supporting the allowance of birth control. Eugenics became a branch of the birth control movement to advocate birth control through the notion of cultural betterment through placing restrictions on who could procreate and how many children one would have. Birth control and the movement allows women to choose to procreate and alleviated the worries of those concerned with the gene pool in America.

Roe v. Wade

Roe v. Wade is a Supreme Court ruling that was handed down on January 22ndof 1973. The Supreme Court ruled that unreasonable restrictive state regulation of abortion is unconstitutional. This decision is premised on the ruling of 1965 Supreme Court case, Griswold v. Connecticut, and ones’ right to privacy granted by the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. Roe v. Wade is a landmark decision for women’s rights. Through both Roe v. Wade and other birth control legislation, women gained control of their own bodies. Women becoming more vocal and fighting for their rights, and coming out successful, is a large part of both the suffrage movement and the move from the private to public sphere. Roe v. Wade allowed women to have control over their own bodies and granted them the power to choose to have a family, rather than being forced to be a homemaker.

“State criminal abortion laws, like those involved here, that except from criminality only a life-saving procedure on the mother’s behalf without regard to the stage of her pregnancy and other interests involved violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which protects against state action the right to privacy, including a woman’s qualified right to terminate her pregnancy.”


Shave ‘Em Dry

The 1920’s began an era of change for women’s sexuality. As women gained rights and became more empowered, women became more vocal about themselves and more open about things such as sexuality and the idea that sex can be for pleasure purposes rather than for solely reproductive purposes. The idea behind “Shave ‘Em Dry” is about embracing sexuality and that sex is enjoyable, it’s not only for building a family. The song details the female anatomy, dirty talk, and prostitution, all things that were to not be spoken about previously. The 1920’s are a time of change. Women are beginning to receive rights and due to becoming more empowered, were more open about other topics that went unspoken about for years.

1920s Liberation

As women became empowered, they began to break the mold of what was previously expected of them. Overtime women showed their sexuality through less modest clothing, flirting and close dancing. In the 1920s viewpoints surround women, particularly white, young, middle-class women, are changing and progressing. Women are regarded as almost equal to men, after obtaining the right to vote, and are able to express themselves much more openly in the public sphere. As sexuality became more open and discussed, a woman solely residing in the private sphere began to dissipate. Women gained rights and with those rights pushed for true equality in every aspect of the word.

Roaring ’20s

The roaring ‘20s. A decade that redefined the role of women in the United States. Women are now fully in the public eye. As time went on, women became more promiscuous and flirtatious. In the 1920s it became more widely accepted that women are not only around to raise a family. In the 1920s women openly flirted, danced and had sex with men. The influence of jazz and new music largely influenced women’s sexual coming. Women are no longer confined to the private, domestic sphere. The 1920’s became a time of change, primarily for white middle class women. Women are in the public eye and are not going to exit it.


Primary Sources

  1. “Suffrage Sentiment of Country Shown in Vote of Congress.” The Suffragist, Vol. VII, no. 1, 1919, p. 14. Nineteenth Century Collections Online, Accessed 27 November 2018.
  2. “Votes for Women A Success. Imitation Is the Sincerest Flattery!” Digital image. Nation Women’s History Museum. Accessed November 20, 2018.
  3. “The Constitution of the United States,” Amendment 19.
  4. Stanton, Elizabeth Cady. Declaration of Sentiments. Saint Louis: Printed at the Gazette Office, 1841.
  5. Preserving American Freedom: The Evolution of American Liberties in Fifty Documents. Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Accessed 20 Nov. 2018.
  6. Bramley, Maurice. “Join Us in a Victory Job.” Digital image. Join Us in a Victory Job. Accessed November 15, 2018.
  7. Miller, Howard J. “We Can Do It!” Digital image. We Can Do It! Rosie the Riveter. Accessed November 18, 2018.
  8. “1900s Women Factory Workers,” YouTube video, 0:23, posted by “thekinolibrary,” 16 June 2018. 18 Nov. 2018
  9. Bogan, Lucille. “Shave ‘Em Dry.” Recorded March 5, 1935. 1935, Vinyl recording.
  10. “1920s Women’s Liberation and Sexuality in USA,” YouTube video, 1:37, posted by “Clipes & Footage,” 22 Jan. 2015. Accessed 16 Nov. 2018
  11. Bateman, Kristie. “Flapper Girl.” Digital image. The Roaring Twenties. 2016. Accessed October 30, 2018.
  12. Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973)
  13. Sanger, Margaret. “The Morality of Birth Control.” Speech, New York, November 18, 1921. 2003. Accessed November 20, 2018.
  14. Sanger, Margaret. “The Eugenic Value of Birth Control Propaganda.” Birth Control Review. October 1921.

Secondary Sources

  1. Birth Control by Aharon W. Zorea. Published Santa Barbra, Calf.: Greenwood 2012
  2. “ROE v. WADE.” InApplications Of Feminist Legal Theory, edited by Weisberg D. Kelly, 953-61. Temple University Press, 1996.
  3. Freedman, Estelle B. “The New Woman: Changing Views of Women in the 1920s.”The Journal of American History 61, no. 2 (1974): 372-93
  4. Zeits, Joshua. Flapper: A Madcap Story of Sex, Style, Celebrity, And The Women Who Made America Modern. Broadway Books, 2006.
  5. Boydston, Jeanne, Mary Kelley, and Anne Throne Margolis.The Limits of Sisterhood. University of North Carolina Press, 1988.
  6. Stanton, Elizabeth Cady, Isabella Beecher Hooker, and Susan B. Anthony. Memorial of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Isabella Beecher Hooker, Elizabeth L. Bladen, Olympia Brown, Susan B. Anthony, and Josephine L. Griffing, to the Congress of the United States, and the Arguments Thereon Before the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. Senate,. Washington, DC: Chronicle Publishing Company, 1872.
  7. Henshel, Anne-Marie, and Michel Vale. “Ideological and Sociological Questions about Women in the Working World.”International Journal of Sociology 5, no. 4 (1975): 62-78.
  8. Colman, Penny. Rosie the Riveter: Women Working on the Homefront in World War Two. New York: Crown Publishers, 1998.
  9. Landes, Joan B. “WOMEN AND THE PUBLIC SPHERE: A Modern Perspective.” Social Analysis: The International Journal of Social and Cultural Practice, no. 15 (1984): 20-31.

© 2019 Modern US History

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑