The Changing Staus of Women

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Digital History ID 3815

The Changing Status of Women

Interpreting Statistics

Man is or should be woman's protector and defender. The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many of the occupations of civil life....The paramount destiny and mission of fulfill [is] the noble and benign office of wife and mother. This is the law of the Creator. And the rules of civil society must be adapted to the general constitution of things, and cannot be based on exceptional cases.

Supreme Court, 1873, upholding an Illinois law which prohibited women from becoming attorneys

Under the operation of this amendment what will become of the family...? You will have a family with two heads--a "house divided against itself." You will no longer have that healthful and necessary subordination of wife to husband, and that unit of relationship which is required by a true and Christian marriage.

Senator Thomas Bayard, 1874, attacking women's suffrage

Housewives! You do not need a ballot to clean out your sink spout. A handful of potash and some boiling water is quicker and cheaper....Control of the temper makes a happier home than control of elections....Good cooking lessens alcoholic craving quicker than a vote on local option.

Women's Anti-Suffrage Association of Massachusetts

In a crowded city quarter, however, if the street is not cleaned by the city authorities no amount of private sweeping will keep the tenement free from grime; if the garbage is not properly collected and destroyed a tenement house mother may see her children sicken and die of diseases from which she alone is powerless to shield them, although her tenderness and devotion are unbounded. She cannot even secure untainted meat for her household, she cannot provide fresh fruit, unless the meat has been inspected by city officials, and the decayed fruit, which is so often placed upon sale in the tenement districts, has been destroyed in the interests of public health....If women would effectively continue their old avocations they must take part in the slow upbuilding of that code of legislation which is alone sufficient to protect the home from the dangers incident to modern life.

Jane Addams

This government is menaced with great danger....That danger lies in the votes possessed by the males in the slums of the cities, and the ignorant foreign vote which was sought to be brought up by each party, to make political success....There is but one way to avert the danger--cut off the vote of the slums and give to woman, who is bound to suffer all, and more than man can, of the evils his legislation has brought upon the nation, the power of protecting herself that man has secured for himself--the ballot.

Carrie Chapman Catt

Questions To Think About

1. Identify the arguments advanced to justify a second-class role for late 19th century American women?

2. No group of American men opposed extending the vote to themselves; why did some women oppose extending the vote to women?

3. What were some of the arguments used by supporters of women's suffrage?

The Changing Lives of American Women

Interpreting Statistics

The Changing Family 
  Age of First Marriage 

Average Household Size
  Male Female
1790 -- -- 5.79
1890 26.1 22.0 4.93
1900 25.9 21.9 4.76
1910 25.1 21.6 4.54
1920  24.6 21.2 4.34
1930 24.3 21.3 4.11
1940 24.3 21.5 3.77
1950 22.8 20.3 3.52

Age of Mothers at Various Stages of the Family Life Cycle
1880 1920 1950
Age of first marriage 22 21 20
Birth of first child 23 23 23
Birth of last child 34 31 30
Marriage of last child 55 54 51
Death of one spouse 56 65 66

Questions To Think About

1. Describe the basic changes that have taken place in the timing of key events of women's lives.

2. How have these changes in your view altered the nature of family life?

Interpreting Statistics

Changes in Birth Rate and Divorce Rate
Birth Rate


7-8 children per mother


3.5 children per mother

Changes in Divorce Rate

Percentage of those married in that year that eventually divorced
1870 8%
1890 10%
1900 12%
1920 18%
1930 24%
1940 26%
1950 30%
1960 39%
1970 48%

Questions To Think About

1. What factors, in your view, contributed to the decline in the birth rate?

2. Has the divorce rate risen sharply or gradually? What factors might have contributed to the increasing divorce rate?

Interpreting Statistics

Women in the Labor Force
  1900 1930
Percentage of women in the labor force 20.6 % 24.8 %
Proportion of labor force made up of women 18.1 % 21.9 %

Occupational Distribution of Women Workers
1900 1930
Professionals 8 14
Managers 1 3
Clerical and sales 8 28
Skilled artisans 1 1
Operatives and laborers
Domestic Servants
Other Service Workers
Farm Laborers 


Questions To Think About

1. What proportion of women worked in 1900? in 1930?

2. How did the occupational distribution of women workers change over time?

Study Aid

Woman Suffrage
Before 1920
Wyoming 1869
Utah 1870
Colorado 1893
Idaho 1896
Washington 1910
California 1911
Arizona 1912
Kansas 1912
Oregon  1912 
Alaska  1913 
Montana  1914 
Nevada  1914 
New York  1917 
Michigan  1918 
Oklahoma  1918 
South Dakota  1918 

Questions To Think About

1. Which states gave women the vote first?

2. Why those particular states?

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