Isolation of certain groups of people has been a common feature in most societies. Minority groups have faced discrimination on the basis of race, physical ability, or gender for many centuries. For a long period in the history of humanity, women have experienced isolation and have been occupied with domestic roles in almost all societies. This has been a common feature for any geographical areas on earth and is still the norm in some countries (Bowles, 2001). In the United States of America, isolation of women and domestication of their roles was the norm until some events made a turnaround in the matter of things. At the moment, women have the possibility to involve in social, economic, military, and technological aspects of life.
Before the American Civil War in 1860, slave trade and discrimination of minority groups in the society was a common thing. Women did not have any other vital role to play in the society except executing domestic duties. Their work, as the society laid expectations, was to be restrained at home; to raise children and take care of the family. The situation was aggravated and caused social unrest. During the American Civil War, about seven hundred and fifty soldiers and an undetermined number of civilians lost their lives fighting for equality and freedom for all citizens of the United States. Women played a particular role in this fighting. After the war, women, just like other civil society groups, went on upholding their rights, and requested for involvement in other spheres of the social life, apart from the initial domestic ones. The war became a catalyst in the process of fighting for rights and freedoms of a woman. The paper will study the sources and history of the females’ isolation in the American society from the period of the Civil War up to flourishing of feminism in the twenty-first century.
Development of Women’s Rights
Isolation of women has started since the ancient times. The females usually assume the excuse to be the weaker sex as compared to men, and even some religions support this point of view. In the Greek mythology, for example, it was a woman, Pandora, who made the mistake by opening the forbidden box that led to all the misery faced by humanity in the future. In the Bible, it was a woman, Eva, who gave her man, Adam, the forbidden fruit. The Holy Bible also states that a woman’s creation took place after the creation of a man, and she was given the role to be a man’s helper. Concerning the information presented above, it is obvious that the role of women in society has been kept down and sidelined. In many countries of the world, women do not enjoy the privilege to have the same rights as men do, especially in terms of access to quality education and other basic human rights (Middleton, 2011).
In England, the first equity law was initiated, in the year 1830. Within a short time, the influence of the Equity Law quickly spread to other countries. As a result, the same rights were guaranteed for women in the United States of America soon. By 1839, a woman was allowed to sue her husband, in the state of Mississippi. A few years later, in the late 1840s and early 1950s, the states of New York and Massachusetts set laws where women were allowed to own property, separate from their husbands. As a rule, however, in case of a divorce, the man assumed the privilege to have the legal and physical custody of the children and property the couple had owned together. These changes in the law were an enormous step towards the change in the situation of women’s isolation. Initially, a man literally took ownership of all property and even his wife was treated as his property.
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During the Industrial Revolution, the world experienced a shortage of labor force. The United States of America, being among the countries leading the Industrial Revolution together with Britain, resulted to employing women to work in some industries. This move revolutionized and changed the role of women from the domesticated to the industrial one. Therefore, women could work at a plant, factories, and other industries, although under harsh conditions. They had to spend long work hours in poorly ventilated rooms. Such harsh conditions were similar to those that slaves had worked under before the abolition of the slave trade.
In the nineteenth century, there was no such option for women, as education. Formal education was only available to males and a few females from the elite families. Carriers in medicine, law, engineering, economics, and other fields were considered to be reserved for men only. Women could work in the industries as manual laborers and at home performing domestic work. By about 1870s, women received a chance to get an education. The civil rights groups started judicial fights with the government for the rights of women in terms of education. The high demand of professionals in the society needed a contribution from women for the equilibrium to be attained (Foner, 1970).
In 1890, five percent of all doctors of science were women. This sharp increase was a direct result of the education of women. The number of women- lawyers, engineers, and doctors has continued to rise with each and every year. Ironically, the role of teaching became a source of employment to many women. In the next few years, after allowing women to attend and qualify in college and university education, there were more female teachers and tutors that the male ones. However, the high number of female teachers was seen in elementary, and high school, while remarkably few of them were teaching in colleges. Even today, there are more male than female teachers and lecturers in the higher educational institutions.
By the time the Civil War took place, women still faced discrimination and, therefore, women did not get a chance to participate in the war as fighters. However, a few women had a possibility to enroll in the military, where they served the male soldiers as nurses. Surprisingly, the state of women in the armed forces changed during the First World War drastically. The women served noncombat roles, such as secretaries, nurses, typists, and doctors. About three hundred thousand women took an active role in the Second World War, in the United States defense forces. Later on, Anna Mae McCabe Hays got the appointment as the first female general in the United States of America armed forces.
By 1970s, women constituted about forty-five percent of the employed people in the United States of America. However, in most cases, the women did not have an influence on the decision-making processes in the society and at their job places. They also were not assigned any tasks that were deemed to be important or beneficial (Foner, 1970). Working women get forty-five percent less pay than their male counterparts, working in the same job group. This mode of pay was very unfair; thus, the situation caused the eruption of the Fair Pay Act in 1963. There were also acutely many cased filed in court by women seeking for fair and equal treatment at work.
Since the year the United States of America attained its independence, women had not had the right to vote. The women voted for the first time only in the year 1920, when the electoral right for all women was proclaimed to be their constitutional right. This right to vote had influenced the political situation of the time significantly. Since the number of the women population was higher than that of the men, the results of the elections were determined by women to a considerable degree. The political candidate, whose strategies managed to touch the hearts and minds of women through their ideologies, would win the elections.
The political role of women in the society was not emphasized in the early nineties. The situation remained the same until 1984, when a leading political party chose a woman to run for a political seat. This woman was Geraldine Ferraro from the great city of New York, who received support for the post of the vice-president of the USA.
The role of women in politics began to increase in the late nineties. The first woman to be elected to the House of Representatives was Jeanette Rankin from Montana, in the year 1917. This was a game changer that influenced other women to take up political roles and make a difference in the society.
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With time, women did learn from the men about politics and took up political roles. This is evident by how the wives of the former governors became the first female governors in the United States of America. Among these women were Miriam A. Ferguson, who became governor for Texas, and Nellie Taylor Ross, who took the post for governor for Wyoming. The appointment of Sandra Day O’Connor by President Ronald Reagan as the first woman in the United States Supreme Court was a momentous merit for all females. This gave the motivation and inspiration to women to escape isolation and influence the life of their societies. The involvement of women in political roles in the society was the ultimate move in eliminating isolation of the women (Randall, and Donald, 1961).
The first Women’s Rights Convention took place in Seneca Falls, in the New York City. This event was organized in the year 1845. A declaration came to birth. This declaration was based on and borrowed the idea that all men and women were created equal by God from the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America. After signing of the Convention, the country witnessed many fights for civil rights. The fourteenth and fifteenth amendments to the Constitution of the United States of America that lead to the acknowledgement of the rights of black people in the society took effect. The black race people became citizens of the nation of the United States of America. They have been called the African Americans since then. These rights and the Women’s Rights Convention constituted a vital and pivotal role in reducing the isolation of women in society.
There were various women associations and groups that were founded to support the females in the society. These organizations were created to ensure that women got full Constitutional rights, as their male counterparts did. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton decided to take a step to form National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) in the city of New York. Lucy Stone organized and led the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) that ran its operations from Boston. The formation of these two groups was as a result of a conflict between individuals running women association on the rights that they were fighting to gain.
In the nineteenth century, there was a massive fight led by women leaders to improve education status for women in the society, reform prisons, ban alcoholic drinks, and free slaves in the period before the Civil War. Initially, the isolation in the United States of America was so severe that women could not address public gatherings where there were only men or both the males and females were together (Randall, and Donald, 1961). However, there were truly courageous women, who went ahead and fought for these rights. They included Sarah and Angelina Grimke from South Carolina, who spoke boldly about the discrimination of women in the public gatherings and other meetings. Furthermore, there were men who supported women in fighting for their right to speak. Among these men were William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, and Wendell Phillips, who advocated for the rights of women to participate freely, equally with the men, in the mission of building the free society. Such associations and rights for free speech played a crucial role in reducing isolation of women and changing their roles from the initial domestic ones.
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Many women and a few men, who advocated for the rights of the females, found frightfully few differences between women and the slaves. These two categories were both subjected to inhumane treatment and were to obey all the instructions given by their husbands or masters respectively. The other event that led to the end of the isolation of women was the involvement of women in the process of writing books, authoring articles on human rights, and other factors affecting people in the society. In the twentieth century, the word “a woman” became more common to the society and the press in a positive way. Women were the proponents of change and progress in the society. As such, isolation of women and domesticating their rights became a thing of the past.
Before the education of the female children became a prominent thing in the society, women had got married at a tender age of about eighteen-nineteen years old. The society expected these young girls to carry out all the roles a woman was to perform. This made women not get involved in the development and progress of the society, which the world demanded. When having the right for education in place, the women received a chance to associate with men at schools and workplaces where they could develop themselves and society, as a whole. There was no longer any limitation on what the women in the American society could do as the got opportunities to make a difference in all fields, whether it was engineering, medicine, education, religion or any other. Earlier, these fields were male-dominated.
In the year 1921, the Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers was founded. This provided an avenue for women to get opportunities to learn and make the best out of life. The writing of numerous books and articles on the rights of women, especially by men, also helped reduce isolation of women in society. For instance, the books about the ladies, published in the early seventies, were of considerable significance (Foner, 1970). These books acted as an eye-opener to the men and society as a whole that was discriminating women all over the world. Some people were isolating women unconsciously; thus, they need to be made aware of the inconsistency in the society.
Favorable conditions were created for the Newark Female Charitable Society. It helped educate people on the isolation of women and the basic human rights that were to be given to them. It also provided funds to improve the status of women in society. Such charitable organization helped advocate for the rights of women and fund their education. These charitable societies got directions and support both from male and female citizens, who believed in the eradication of the isolation of women.
In conclusion, the isolation of women has been a common problem in every society for a significantly long time. In the United States, important steps were made in the mission of solving this problem. The occurrence of certain events in the long history of the United States of America helped to end the isolation of women. The Civil War, the rise of women’s and human rights societies, development of education opportunities for women, the First World War, the Second World War, election of certain male leaders, who advocated for the rights of women were just some of the events that led to the creation of a society where there was no isolation of women.
The end of this isolation was a result of a long struggle. It was not easy to amend the Constitution and various laws that were to be made to work for the success of the end of isolation. The Industrial Revolution provided a substantial background for the change in the society. It is clear and evident that much involvement of women in important roles to be played in the society brings about more positive causes and development than their exclusion.