Comments Off on Introduction

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.