Aveneu Park, Starling, Australia

Throughout was over and the men began coming home,

Throughout World War II, the role of women in the United States was rapidly changing. While men were away fighting overseas, the women were left to fill jobs and support America’s war efforts. Women were encouraged to take on these new roles through advertisements for the war efforts. They were told that it was their duty to work, and they were really enjoying the feeling of independence and importance. However, once the war was over and the men began coming home, they were left in need of jobs, and this newfound sense of freedom for women would soon be stripped away from them. The ads that were once begging women to work were now forcing them back into the domesticity of the American home. Women were not willing to just give up their jobs to their male counterparts; they wanted an equal opportunity in not only the work place, but society as a whole. Women wanted to be thought of as parallel to men. All across the country, women were joining together in order to support the new feminist wave, this movement would change society for the better, forever. So, how exactly did the role of women change during World War II and how did it shift American culture and society for the better? The change in American culture was long overdue and there were many different reasons for the causation of female empowerment following the war, most notably were the new found senses of independence gained from the progressive era years earlier, the reciprocity between the government and women to fill jobs while the men were overseas, and lastly, the realization of the 2American people that women should not be disregarded for their importance in society and the roles that they can play in this world. The progressive era sparked many women’s rights issues and shed light on independence for women in many different aspects of their daily lives. This period of time would inspire the women during World War II and for many more years to come. Throughout the progressive era women began to gain greater political and economic opportunities. From 1880 to 1920, women began to see the first major changes for them on social issues and they were catching a small glimpse into the freedoms that their daughters would experience. The role of women in the United States during this time, was rapidly changing. The cult of domesticity stated that a woman’s place was in the home. Women were to provide for their husbands at home and to enable them to work and live a better life. Husband’s held authority over their wives, and they were often seen as property rather than actual human beings. The march towards equality was going to be a long one, women wanted to be seen as individuals and true citizens of the United States. True equality was seen as so radical that no one really embraced women’s rights besides the women fighting for them. With the creation of the 19th amendment, women slowly began to gain more freedom. The country was shifting from a producer society to a consumer society and this was including women in the market economy.The market revolution during the progressive era allowed women to move from working in their homes and for their families to working in the factories for a small wage, this gave women a sense of freedom and independence. As previously stated, the 1890s saw the beginning of the American mass consumer society and many of the new products made during the second wave of industrialization were aimed towards women, especially products labeled as labor saving devices, such as the washing machine, mass produced clothing, and the refrigerator. Many women realized that being the primary consumer and the one who was responsible for doing the shopping for their families and their households, gave them powerful leverage to bring about the change that they wanted if they ever felt inclined to do so. Women were given new legal changes for the first time in history during this time as well, like having the right to own their own property, wage increases, the right to make their own legal contracts and wills and gaining the right to vote. By 1900, almost five million women worked for wages, mostly doing jobs in domestic service or light manufacturing such as in the garment industry. In America, women have always been important contributors to the economy, playing the roles of both the producers and consumers; women always worked, whether for wages or doing their domestic duties for their families. Women were also playing an active role as reformers during this period, and have been since our nation was founded. Those reform movements in the progressive era brought women and their opinions into state and national politics before women were even given the right to vote. Prohibition and the fight for women’s suffrage were these reformers greatest achievements. These reformers greatest influence came from their leadership and membership in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, at the time they had 150,000 members, making it the largest female organization in the United States. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union incorporated a broad, feminist reform agenda and it included pushing for the right for women to vote. In 1985 Frances Willard boldly stated, “A wider freedom is coming to the women of America. Too long has it been held that woman has no right to enter these movements… politics is the place for woman.” Eventually the role of women in politics did vastly expand throughout the progressive era. In the previous decades many reformers were mostly middle and upper class women, but the growing economy of the country and the expansion of the upper-middle class social group meant that there were more educational opportunities available and a continuously growing group of college educated women were becoming more involved in these new movements during the era. There was also a subtle shift in gender roles at this time because more and more women started working outside of the homes and made it their mission to get an education for themselves. However, changes were not an option for many women during the progressive era. Black women continued to work primarily as domestic servants and in the agriculture industry, and sadly, there wouldn’t be any other options available to them for a while. Immigrant women often found themselves working in low paying factories. Whereas for women who were native born and white, new opportunities were springing up everywhere, especially in office work. New technology helped create these opportunities for women too, almost all telephone operators in the United States were women. By 1920, telephone operators and office workers made up twenty five percent of the female workforce while domestic servants only represented fifteen percent. As Charlotte Perkins Gilman once declared in her book Women and Economics, “The spirit of personal independence in the women of today is sure proof that a change has come… the radical change in the economic position of women is advancing upon us… the growing individualization of democratic life brings inevitable changes to our daughters as well as our sons… one of its most noticeable features is the demand in women not only for their own money, but for their own work for the sake of personal expression. Few girls today fail to manifest some signs of the desire for individual expression.” The notion that having a job is important for the sole reason that it brings independence and it is seen as a form of was “personal expression” was really profound. Most men and women were uncomfortable with the idea that being a housewife and not having a paying job was said to be similar to being a servant to one’s husband and children; but obviously that changes when being a stay at home mother becomes one of many choices rather than your only available choice. Being pregnant and having children in general made it very difficult for women to hold down jobs. Women who needed to work and bring in money wanted to limit the number of pregnancies so that they could have a steady income without worry of any surprises along the way. Margaret Sanger and Emma Goldman played huge roles in enlightening the public on birth control issues. Goldman was arrested more than forty times and eventually deported for sharing her ‘menacing’ ideas about the female body and birth control. Sanger made it her mission to educate working class women about birth control. She was sentenced to prison in 1916 for opening a clinic that secretly distributed contraceptive devices to poor immigrants and working women. The debate over birth control was important because of three different reasons: It put women center stage on arguments over free speech in America. It is still a public health issue and many women during the progressive era entered public life to introduce changes related to public health, leading to the fight against diseases that now have cures discovered because of these women. And finally, the issue of birth control cut across class lines. Having children is an issue for all women, regardless of social standing and education level; the birth control movement brought upper, middle, and lower class women together in ways that previous social movements never did. Woodrow Wilson, the president during World War I, semi-supported women’s suffrage in 1916, but the war split the movement further away from his support. Many suffrage organizations thought that wartime service would help American women earn respect and equal rights, but other activists and progressives opposed the war; they thought of the war as a potential threat to social reform. In the end, World War I did help women gain more attention for their cause. The patriotic support of the war by women, largely by their service working in wartime industries, persuaded many that they all deserve the right to vote. The progressive era was the pinnacle of women’s rights and political activism at the time and culminated in passage and ratification of the 19th amendment. Sadly, gaining the right to vote didn’t actually lead to significant legislation that really improved the lives of women at the time and it wouldnt for some time. There were no immediate changes in the roles that women were expected to play either. Much like other oppressed populations in American history, women were not just simply given these rights, they had to fight for them. And as a woman in 2017, I can say that America is very fortunate for these women, their fight, and their triumph.   Before World War II, the status of women was limited to the home. They were to take care of the house, their children and their husbands. Most women were not allowed to go out and make money on their own because they were told to focus on their duties at home. In spite of their role in the past, when the United States entered the war, everything changed for the women of America. More than six million women started working to help support the war,


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