The democratic order of the United States has been regarded as an illustration of equality and justice, although various issues still persist. Society was very different in the 17th century since slavery, as well as the distribution of gender roles, was often seen as the plague that could have destroyed the country before it was created. Modern women enjoy equal rights with men, but there are still some inequalities. Females who lived three hundred years ago would regard these issues as irrelevant. It took several hundred years for women to earn their right to contribute to the development of the nation. One of the opportunities females did not waste the Civil War. This paper includes an analysis of some of the major milestones in the process of women empowerment that took place between 1607 and 1876.
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It is necessary to start with the discussion of the values and beliefs that reigned throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. The vast majority of “colonists brought to America deeply rooted convictions about the inferiority of women” (Shi and Tindall 112). Religion played a central role in the development of such views on gender. Puritanism was deeply rooted in patriarchal values that were regarded as the only way to survive in quite a hazardous environment. Both men and women believed that females had to follow their men’s lead.
Women managed their households and took care of their children, which was the only area of life where they could have a certain power. Only an insignificant number of women were involved in the trade, and they were shopkeepers, doctors, or even silversmiths and tavern hostesses. However, the majority of females were widows who took up their husbands’ businesses. Female painters and writers usually came from wealthy families.
Many women coming from poor families were employed as servants. At that, one of the “most lucrative trades” among women of that time was prostitution (Shi and Tindall 114). Women had almost no power in the social life of the colony as they could only be engaged in some kinds of charitable projects. It is noteworthy that many attempts of women to play even a slight public role beyond the scope mentioned above were severely punished. For instance, those who dared to serve as midwives or try to question the distribution of power were often hanged for practicing witchcraft.
However, the 18th century became the period of certain changes since there was a shift towards more equality. One of the premises for such gradual changes was the flow of poor immigrants who came to America in their quest for a better life. The newcomers were mainly males, which led to the shortage of women, and this, in its turn, made men reconsider their attitude towards the opposite gender. This first improvement paved the way for more empowerment.
For example, women started to voice their concerns regarding slavery. They stressed that Christians could not tolerate slavery that had to be abolished. Wealthy females arranged various gatherings where they had an opportunity to discuss the most urgent, in their opinion, issues.
The growing tension between the colony and Great Britain, as well as the American Revolution, can be seen as a significant milestone in the process of females’ empowerment. The resistance of the American society took many forms, and ladies played quite a meaningful role during that period. Women participated in the movement against the British monarchy and stopped buying British goods, “calling themselves Daughters of Liberty” (Shi and Tindall 170).
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This activism was acknowledged and appreciated by American men who started to understand that females’ input was beyond families and women could make a difference on a larger scale. Nevertheless, there were still no dramatic changes in the view on gender roles since women were still regarded as somewhat inferior to men. However, the process of the new nation creation put to the fore questions related to the role women had played in the process and could play in the future.
The Civil War was one of the most significant facilitators of major shifts in society. The North was more progressive when it came to people’s rights. For instance, people living in Northern states had more liberal views and believed that African Americans, Native Americans, and women had to be given more rights and play a more pronounced public role. In the South, people still cherished patriarchal values. The cluster of beliefs and values was one of the reasons for the war that gave way to further empowerment of American women.
During the war, men had to fight and die for their convictions while women were left behind trying to manage their husbands’ businesses. It is important to note that life and the path to equality were different for wealthy and poor women. Elite groups were involved in fundraising and encouraging men to fight for the country they believed in. Privileged women joined the movement stressing that they, proud American daughters, would marry brave and patriotic men only.
Females often had to do business. All these efforts were considerable contributions that made men see that women could be a serious power. Poor women also played an important role, although their input was less seen. They had to maintain their men’s trades or join the labor force that facilitated the economic development of the country.
In conclusion, it is necessary to state that women earned their right to equality, gradually moving from inferior creatures to partners. Such major changes in the life of the country as population growth, the American Revolution, and the Civil War gave females the opportunity to contribute to the development of their nation. Although many contributions were taken for granted or even remained unnoticed, women used their chance and proved that they could play an active public role. Although women of the 19th century did not get the right to vote or any other rights, they managed to show that they were an important force that would shape the way society developed.
Shi, David E., and George Brown Tindall. America: A Narrative History, Volume 1. 10th ed., W. W. Norton & Company, 2016.