Role of Women

Role of Women in the USA: 1910-1929

Overall Shift

  • The period from 1910 to 1929 marked a significant shift in women’s roles and rights in the USA.
  • Women were increasingly seen in public roles outside of the home, moving into employment sectors which had been traditionally male-dominated.
  • This shift is often associated with the birth of the ‘New Woman’ - educated, independent, and striving for equality.

Suffrage Movement and the 19th Amendment

  • The suffrage movement gained traction during this period; millions of women campaigned for the right to vote.
  • The passage and ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920 granted women the right to vote throughout the country.
  • However, the implementation of this right was often marred by discrimination, particularly against African-American women in the South.

Women in the Workforce

  • Economic necessity during World War I saw many women entering the workforce, taking up roles traditionally held by men.
  • Post-War, many women continued to work; however, they were typically given lower wages and were often forced into ‘female’ jobs such as clerical work, teaching, or nursing.
  • The number of women working in factories, offices, and shops doubled between 1910 and 1929.

Changing Social Norms and the ‘Flapper’

  • The 1920s saw the emergence of the ‘flapper’ culture – young women who defied traditional norms by wearing daring attire, indulging in drinking, smoking, and dancing, and asserting their sexual freedom.
  • The flapper culture showcased a more liberated womanhood and aided in breaking down many societal norms and conventions.
  • However, the image of the flapper was also criticised as superficial, focusing more on appearance and frivolity rather than on the intellectual and political capacities of women.

Family and Birth Control

  • The period saw a shift in family structures and dynamics, with a move towards the companionate family model.
  • Women’s roles in the family also evolved, from only a home-maker to a partner contributing financially to the household.
  • There was an increased awareness and availability of birth control, symbolising a control over reproductive rights and a change in societal attitudes towards sex.

Limits to Progress

  • Despite progress, women continued to face significant gender inequalities across social, economic, and political spheres.
  • Women were often denied opportunities for education and professional advancement. They were also expected to conform to certain societal ideals of femininity and motherhood.
  • Moreover, non-white women faced further discrimination due to the intersection of gender and racial inequalities.