Role of Women/ Women’s Right Movement

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Role of Women/ Women’s Right Movement

This theme explores the role of women in American society and the gains women have made in securing their full rights as American citizens.

Kareli Mendoza

Ricardo Almaraz

Nathaniel Herrera

Garrett Jordan


  • 1600’s

  • 1700’s

  • 1800-1850

  • 1851-1900

  • 1901-1950

  • 1951- Present day

  • Key Terms and Definitions


A major incident during the first half of the seventeenth century demonstrated Puritan religious intolerance. Anne Hutchison was a prominent proponent of antinomianism, the belief that faith and god’s grace—as opposed to the observance of moral law and performance of good deeds—suffice to earn one a place among the “elect”. Her teachings challenged Puritan beliefs and the authority of the Puritan clergy. The fact that she was an intelligent, well-educated, and powerful woman in a resolutely patriarchal society also turned many against her. She was tried for heresy, convicted, and banished. The Salem Witch Trials took place in 1692. These were not the first witch trials in New England. During the first 70 years of English settlement in the region, 103 people (almost all women) had been tried on charges of witchcraft. Never before had so many been accused at once, however; during the summer of 1692 more than 130 “witches” were jailed or executed in Salem.


Abigail Adams wrote a famous letter to her husband pleading the case for women’s rights in the new government; she reminded John to “remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors”. The Declaration of Independence failed to address women. It was the culture of the time for men and only men to be involved in politics. Women were not considered to be equal to men, they were weaker both physically and mentally, and hardly anybody in those days took seriously the idea of equal rights for women. Enlightened thinkers knew that a republic could only succeed if its citizens were virtuous and educated. Who were the primary caretakers of American children? American women. If the republic were to succeed, women must be schooled in virtue so they could teach their children. The first American female academies were founded in the 1790s. This idea of an educated woman became known as Republican Motherhood. During the American Revolution the role of women was to be nurses, cooks, maids, laundresses, water bearers and seamstresses for the army. This was the first time women held these jobs in the military since these positions were usually reserved for male soldiers. Many of them were originally camp followers: wives, daughters and mothers of male soldiers who followed the army looking for food and protection because they were no longer able to support themselves after the men left for war.


During the early 1800’s up to the 1850’s there was a greater determination to acquire women rights, many steps were taken to make it possible such as the Cult of Domesticity. The cult was also known as the cult of true womanhood because it began to alter the idea of the role of women. Women had also because a major part of the Abolitionist Movement due to their similar lack of rights and possibility of achieving them for both African Americans and Women. The Fight for female rights later expanded when the Seneca Falls Convention which was a convention held to discuss the social, civil, religious condition and rights of women. The convention was organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, an American Social activist and strong supporter of women suffrage, and Lucretia Mott, an American Quaker and abolitionist, and provided The Declaration of Rights and Sentiments which was signed by 100 of the 300 attendants and was one of the first steps to achieve Women Suffrage.


The spark of Women Suffrage had grown into a fire that inspired the creation of the National Women Suffrage Association which was formed in 1869 by an already well known supporter of women’s rights, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony who was an American social reformer and a strong supporter of women’s rights as well. The NWSA opposed the 15th amendment unless if women were included along with the African Americans but were opposed by the American Suffrage Association who thought the amendment would not pass if the women were included, leaving both women and African Americans without rights. At the end of the 19th Century women began to receive more and more hope on winning the right to vote in state elections due to the vast amount of things done to support women rights.


The early 20th century brought immediate yet gradual change to women’s’ rights. During the Progressive Era, which began in 1900, women began to form organizations such as the National Women Suffrage Association. Women’s groups continued to campaign for suffrage throughout the next two decades. Thus, their conservative opposition they faced gave birth to the feminist movement. One early advocate of the feminist movement would be Margaret Sanger, who faced tremendous opposition for promoting the use of contraceptives. Also, the prohibition movement had its roots in the reform campaign since the 1830’s and was one of the priorities of the feminist movement. Their goal was achieved in 1917 through the Eighteenth Amendment which outlawed the American liquor industry. Finally the movement’s greatest success came in 1920 with the Nineteenth Amendment, granting women the right to vote. 

During World War I, the role of women transformed from housewife to industrial worker. Although there were only 15% of women entering the workforce, 20% of factory workers consisted of women. With the sudden rise of women entering the workforce and the efforts of the National Labor Relations Board, (one of the programs established by the First New Deal which mediated labor disputes), women fought against the fact that they were given lower wages than men based on sex rather than merit. It wasn't until 1923 in Adkins v. Children's Hospital, where the Supreme Court ruled that a minimum wage law for women violated the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment because it abridged a citizen's right to freely contract labor.  
After the war, the nation’s culture transformed with the advancement of innovation and technology. Such products included the automobile and the radio. Because of the fact that single income households could not afford the luxuries of the time, women began to return to the workforce, however women continued to work in female-dominated professions, such as school teaching and office-assistant work, and earned much less than men, disregarding the Supreme Court's decision in 1923. Despite the traditional roles of women, a new image of American women emerged and became a symbol of the Roaring Twenties – the flapper. World War I, the attractions of the big city, the Nineteenth Amendment, and new attitudes opened a whole new world for the generation of emancipated women. In order to apply themselves with the new trends, flappers risked ruining their reputation by smoking or drinking in public.  
A popular image during World War II was that of Rosie the Riveter. Rosie symbolized the millions of women that worked in war-related industrial jobs during World War II. This propaganda encouraged many women to join in the effort of the war. However, for the cause of feminism, most women were expected to take off the coveralls and put the apron back on when the soldiers returned home.

1951-Present Day

Women have been fighting for their rights since the early days of industrialization, and gradually they have been earning more and more of these rights and with every right that is earned, their role in society increases as well. For example in 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, there was a segregation system put in place for the seating arrangement on the buses. All whites were to sit in the front while all blacks were in the back of the bus. But on December 1, 1955 Rosa Parks boarded the bus after a hard day of work, soon after a white man boarded the bus and expected Ms. Parks to give up her seat; she refused and was arrested for violating segregation laws. By doing so Rosa Parks helped to get the Civil Rights movement in full swing and forever embedded her name in U.S History as an example for both African Americans and women everywhere.

Due to women like Rosa Parks, women rights were gaining attention just as Civil Rights were. In 1961 President Kennedy appointed former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt to Chair Commission on the Status of Women. This is remarkable not only because it demonstrates how much attention women were drawing toward their growing demand for equal rights, but also that Eleanor Roosevelt was the first woman to be appointed to a position such as this in political history.

Then between the years 1964-1972 a series of discrimination laws were passed to protect women’s rights in the working environment. In 1964 the 7th of the Civil Rights Act banned discrimination in employment based on race and sex. Then in 1972 the 9th of the Educational Amendments banned sex discrimination in public schools. Due to this the number of women being enrolled in athletic programs substantially increased.

Beginning in 1977 there was an increasing role of women in politics. Starting with the presidential term of Jimmy Carter, President Carter nominated Graciela Olivarez the Director of Community Services Administrations. She was the first of many women to come who helped lead some of the major organizations in politics. Soon after in 1981 President Ronald Reagan nominated Sandra Day O’Connor to become the first woman to serve on the U.S Supreme Court, showing the increased trust and realization of women’s role in politics. Not only were women beginning to make a huge splash in politics but now also in the entertainment industry. In 1986 Oprah Winfrey became the first woman to host a nationally televised talk show. Positively influencing others to tackle their dreams and showing them that nothing was impossible. The role of women in politics just kept rising, in 1993 President Bill Clinton appoints Janet Reno to be the first female U.S Attorney General. Then again in 1997 President Bill Clinton nominated Madeleine K. Albright as the first female U.S Secretary of State.

The 2000s also welcomed a new era of women taking part in politics, specifically Hillary Clinton. In 2000 Hillary Clinton became the first female to be elected into the United States Senate. And in 2007 Nancy Pelosi became the first woman speaker of the U.S House of Representatives becoming one of the most influential pieces in how the United States was being run. And finally in 2008 Hillary Clinton ran for president. This was really the peak of the pyramid as far as working for women’s rights as this displays how women have become just as important in today’s society as men.

Key Terms and Definitions


Anne Hutchison- A Puritan spiritual adviser, mother of 15, and important participant in the Antinomian Controversy.

Salem Witch Trials- A series of hearings and prosecutions of people accused of witchcraft in colonial Massachusetts.


Abigail Adams- The wife of John Adams, the first Vice President, and second President, of the United States.

Declaration of Independence- statement adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, which announced that the thirteen American colonies, regarded themselves as 13 independent states, and no longer a part of the British Empire.

Republican Motherhood- Belief that the patriots' daughters should be raised to uphold the ideals of republicanism, in order to pass on republican values to the next generation.

American Revolution- Political upheaval during which the Thirteen American Colonies broke from the British Empire and formed an independent nation, the United States of America.


The Cult of Domesticity- A prevailing value system among the upper and middle classes during the nineteenth century in the United States and Great Britain. This value system emphasized new ideas of femininity, the woman's role within the home and the dynamics of work and family.

Activism in Abolitionist Movement- In the 1830s, thousands of women were involved in the movement to abolish slavery. Women wrote articles for abolitionist papers, circulated abolitionist pamphlets, and circulated, signed, and delivered petitions to Congress calling for abolition.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton- An American social activist, abolitionist, and leading figure of the early women's rights movement. Her Declaration of Sentiments, presented at the Seneca Falls Convention held in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York, is often credited with initiating the first organized women's rights and women's suffrage movements in the United States.

The Seneca Falls Convention- A Convention to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of woman", was the first women's rights convention. Held in Seneca Falls, New York, it spanned two days over July 19–20.

The Declaration of Sentiments- Is a document signed in 1848 by 68 women and 32 men—100 out of some 300 attendees at the first women's rights convention to be organized by women. The convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York, now known as the Seneca Falls Convention. The document was the grand movement for attaining the civil, social, political, and religious rights of women.


Elizabeth Cady Stanton- An American social activist, abolitionist, and leading figure of the early women's rights movement. Her Declaration of Sentiments, presented at the Seneca Falls Convention held in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York, is often credited with initiating the first organized women's rights and women's suffrage movements in the United States.

Susan Brownell Anthony- An American social reformer who played a pivotal role in the women's suffrage movement. Born into a Quaker family committed to social equality, she collected anti-slavery petitions at the age of 17. In 1856 she became the New York state agent for the American Anti-Slavery Society.

The National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA)- Formed on May 15, 1869 in New York City. The National Association was created in response to a split in the American Equal Rights Association over whether the woman's movement should support the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution

The American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA)- Formed in November 1869 in response to a split in the American Equal Rights Association over the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The AWSA founders were staunch abolitionists, and strongly supported securing the right to vote for the Negro.


Feminist Movement - women's group with an adamant, conservative opposition that continued to campaign for suffrage
Margaret Sanger - an early advocate of the feminist movement that faced wide opposition for promoting the use of contraceptives
Eighteenth Amendment - banned the manufacture, sale, and transport of alcoholic beverages
Nineteenth Amendment - granted women the right to vote
National Labor Relations Board - a program of the First New Deal which mediated labor disputes
Adkins v. Children's Hospital - Supreme Court ruled that a minimum wage law for women violated the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment because it abridged a citizen's right to freely contract labor
Flapper - the new image of American women that emerged and became a symbol of the Roaring Twenties 
1951-Present Day
Civil Rights- the rights of citizens to political and social freedom and equality
Chair Commission on the Status of Women- established to advise the President of the United States on issues concerning the status of women. It was created by John F. Kennedy’s executive order 10980 signed December 14, 1961.
Educational Amendment 9- No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.
Director of Community Services Administrations- a former independent agency (abolished 1981) that helped low-income persons attain economic self-sufficiency. Abbreviation: CSA
U.S Attorney General- Chief law-enforcement officer of a state and legal adviser to the chief executive
U.S Secretary of State- The head of the United States Department of State and, as leading member of the cabinet, fourth in line of succession to the presidency. The secretary of state is charged with formulating American foreign policy and conducting relations with other nations.
Speaker of the U.S House of Representatives- The presiding officer of the United States House of Representatives. The Speaker, a member of the House, is elected by a majority party caucus.

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