Women's Role in American Revolution: Changing of Standards

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Although women have been subject to societal roles structured by men since the beginning, they have been able to greatly affect American History for the better. Women were treated poorly and held up to ridiculous standards, but they have evolved to break free of those roles and they made improvements to society through reforms, of their own accord.

What were the main roles forced onto Early American Women, women's role in American Revolution? The main roles and expectations forced onto women were ideas like Republican Motherhood and The Cult of Domesticity. Republican Motherhood was the idea that women were expected to instill values and morals into their children. Republican Motherhood was still expected to be maintained during Westward Expansion. These ideas and values were a reflection of the American Revolution. The Cult of Domesticity was the idea that women had to be pious, pure, submissive, and domestic. Separate spheres also play a part in the Cult of Domesticity and Republican Motherhood. Separate spheres were another construct, women were expected to stay in the house and cook, clean, take care of the children, and educate them without delving into the men’s sphere. This would profoundly limit women’s ability to exist outside of the home and be able to provide for themselves. If their husband had died in the war they would be left with nothing. Women had only created clothing and reused old materials to sew and teach their daughters how to sew on their own. They did this to not support or buy anything from England, as an act of rebellion. The women’s sphere was considered “domestic” because they were meant to be inside all the time, and the men’s sphere, considered to be “public”, involved politics, economy, and labor outside of the home. Gender roles just like the Republican Motherhood and the Cult of Domesticity affected women's gender roles affected, including men. In a scholarly paper regarding T. Hall’s gender, Hartman discusses gender roles in Early America and how they affected people, specifically T. Hall. In “Gender roles in Colonial America” Hartman says, “The focus on clothing indicates that the colonists needed a visual symbol of what gender group this individual belonged to. In a belief system that hypothesized women were inferior to men, any inferior man; one who could not function in sexual terms was a woman. Identity of individuals relied heavily on gender roles-”.  This shows how men thought that they were better than women in every way, and were seen as the superior gender. They had constructed a set of rules and expectations for women that had lasted for hundreds of years and even used these against other people to define them based on the stereotypes they had created.

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In the nineteenth century, the marriage did not benefit women. All of the women’s belongings were now their husbands. They could not do anything for themselves. Anything that involved things outside of women’s expectations, was taken away from her once she was married. When they would try and divorce their husbands it would damage their reputation and leave them with almost nothing. How have Colonial Relationships changed during different periods and what specific movements or revolutions had affected them? At first, people would marry to benefit each other in terms of social status and for money. Around the time of The First Great Awakening relationships were focused more on love and marriage was not used for economic gain. Couples getting divorced or separating became much more common during that time as well. Then during the Market Revolution marriage became very non-negotiable and getting a divorce was not as simple as it used to be. Women’s roles in their family and their relationships with their husbands were very harsh and binding. It left women with little flexibility to exist or work on their own without every aspect of their life being controlled, or told what to do, by their husbands. Now, women and men are not stripped of their rights, their belongings, or any property they had when they are married or divorced.

Women played a big role in various movements in America that involved themselves and African Americans. What specific movements were women involved in and how did they impact them? Women were involved in the fight for suffrage, abolition, and other rights like the right to own property and work outside of the home. Women gaining the right to vote was a very big moment in history and it helped give women a stronger voice than before because they now held the power to represent their state and voice their opinions without backlash. Women advocating for the right to vote was seen in “The Declaration of Sentiments”, the declaration states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among those rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, this was the opening statement of The Declaration of Sentiments. It mimics the Declaration of Independence but alters it by adding ‘men and women, to reinforce the idea that men and women should be equal and have the same rights, such as the right to vote. (Declaration of Sentiments... 2014) Women fought for their rights, such as the right to vote at the same time they fought for abolition. The two movements coincide because they were happening at the same time. Women of every class and race became very involved in the abolition of slavery and by joining the fight they strengthened the movement. Abolition was the fight for African Americans to be free and no longer held as slaves. The movement had practically lasted for hundreds of years, but the united front of the Northern states and the support from middle-class women and men helped bring it to light and it grew to be a successful movement. It had a larger impact and more people were involved in the mid-1800s. “Lucretia Mott was one American Delegate to attend the Anti-Slavery Convention in London...the convention’s organizers refused to seat the female delegates or allow them to vote during the proceedings.”  This incident helped spark the Seneca Falls Convention. The Seneca Falls Convention was held in New York on July 19, 1848, and lasted for two days. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her husband had organized the convention. Both men and women came together and signed The Declaration of Sentiments. The Declaration of Sentiments was created by Stanton to “-capture the wide range of issues embraced by the early women’s rights movement. (The Declaration) outlined fifteen grievances and eleven resolutions. They championed property rights, access to the professions, and, most controversially, the right to vote.” The convention had formed a close-knit group of men and women willing to fight and advocate for women’s rights. Women had tremendously grown to become more of an independent, functioning role in society and political life. Especially after they had fought for the right to vote, the right to own property, the right to have jobs, and the abolition of slavery.

Women were also involved in movements that had a large impact on social norms and how the country would move forward, not including abolition. The Temperance movement was a reform intended to stop men from drinking alcohol and was heavily endorsed by the church. Temperance is the idea of eliminating drinking alcohol. The temperance movement was initiated by the church and largely affected the amount of alcohol consumed by the country. The church stated that alcoholism was destroying families and that there were several stages of alcoholism you could go through. The last of which was suicide. Women were an essential part of the movement and helped encourage men to stop drinking along with the influence of the church.

The Market Revolution had a large impact on Women. The Market Revolution was the evolution of America’s economy, and the technologies we used. The Lowell Mills was a large event involving women during the Market Revolution. The Lowell Mill was created by Francis Cabot Lowell. Lowell had “stolen” knowledge on how to make textile mills from observing other engineers in Britain. The Mill system was created and local women would agree to work there but then have to endure long hours and low pay. The women had gone on strike and eventually created the “Lowell Female Labor Reform Association”. The association started with Sarah Bagely. Sarah Bagley had worked in the Mills and had encouraged other mill girls, women working in the Lowell Mills with harsh conditions, to sign a petition for better working conditions. How were mill girls, and men, affected by the creation of the Lowell Mills during the Market Revolution? In “Loom and Spindle, Or, Life Among the Early Mill Girls: With a Sketch of 'the Lowell Offering' and Some of Its Contributors,” Harriet Jane Hanson Robinson, stated, “Our working-people have their intellectual freedom, as well as the wage-question, to fight for, just as the ancestors of the early factory-operatives fought for their social and constitutional liberty. They will carry on the warfare in their way; and if employers are wise they will try to prevent strikes, riots, and labor unions, which are the working man's weapons of defense, and so to ‘lock the door before the horse is stolen.’” This quote shows us how they were ready and willing to fight for their rights as laborers in the mills. Another quote from 'Loom and Spindle, Or, Life Among the Early Mill Girls: With a Sketch of 'the Lowell Offering' and Some of Its Contributors' shows how the harsh conditions of the mills affected the young mill girls, 'No one can grow mentally, who has not time to read or think, and whose life is a constant struggle to get enough clothing and food for himself and his family...The hours of labor are now less, it is true, but the operatives are obliged to do a far greater amount of work in a given time. They tend to so many looms and frames that they have no time to think. They are always on the jump, and so have no opportunity to improve themselves. They are too weary to read good books and too overworked to digest what they have read. The souls of many of these mill-girls seemed starved, and looked from their hungry eyes as if searching for mental food.'(Robinson 203,205) These excerpts were written in real-time accounts from Harriet Robinson who once was a mill-girl herself. These women and men worked hard to learn, improve their lives while working in the mills, and change their working conditions throughout the nineteenth century. The Labor laws and outrageous working conditions had corrupted the Market Revolution, but women found a way to escape the harsh treatment after signing many petitions and convincing the state to improve working conditions for men, women, and children.

Women had made the largest change in how they function in society during the Civil War. How were women involved in the Civil War, what is women's role in American Revolution? Before the Civil War women were not given jobs that they were wishing to pursue, but because there were so many injuries and deaths in the Civil War women were needed as nurses on both sides. Women had claimed this field of work as their own during that time and even after the war, it became a workforce dominated by women. Dorthea Dix and other women are prime examples of this.“Dorthea Dix, who was the Union’s Superintendent for Army Nurses. Additionally many women were members of the United States Sanitary Commission and helped to staff and supply hospitals in the North.”(Locke and Wright 394) Many women would ensure that the doctors were giving soldiers the correct amount of medication and that they kept their workspaces clean. Women, on both sides of the war, had found other ways of being involved in the war, some women worked as spies. One of the most memorable women spies was Pauline Cushman. She had worked for the Union as a spy. She would steal Confederate military plans and hide them in her shoes...eventually she was caught but saved by Union forces days before her execution date. The spies would collect intel on the other side and smuggle it over with the risk of being caught and sentenced to death. After the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, freed slaves would also be used to map out the land of the South for the Union, and help give intel on the other side. Women had finally gained some sort of independence in the workforce, and they were not expected to just clean the house, instill values into their children and stay at home. “Women were able to support the cause by working as spies, nurses or textile workers.” They finally had created their way of life and it stuck even after the war.

Overall Early American Women have helped make tremendous contributions to American society through reforms and movements. They were even able to overcome the limitations put on them by rich white men. Women have been subject to societal roles structured by men since the beginning, but they have evolved to break free of those roles and made improvements to society, through reforms, of their own accord.


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