The Role Of Women In America

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The role of Women in America has changed drastically from the birth of the country. Throughout multiple times in American history, society has seen the value of women’s skills and abilities and that their skills can be very helpful. As time progressed a shift in the role of women is inevitable. It is clear, that women’s roles had played a significant part in American history. Women typically didn’t fight in the revolution, and the conventional status of women meant that they could not fully participate directly in the revolutionary debates. Nevertheless, women indirectly participated in the revolution in all the ways that their position and status permitted.

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In the texts; Give Me Liberty! By Eric Foner and Revolutionary Backlash: Women and Politics in the Early American Republican by Rosemarie Zagarri the different roles of women in America had been presented in different perspectives. In the textbook Give Me Liberty! historian Eric Foner likewise acknowledges the Revolution as a moment of change for American women. He, however, ultimately concludes that “Gender, nonetheless, formed a boundary limiting those entitled to the full blessings of American freedom.” If the concept of “Republican Motherhood” improved the condition of certain (white) women, “the subordination of women did not become a major source of public debate until long after American independence” (Foner, 246-251). On the contrary, Rosemarie Zagarri presents a thesis that female participation in politics expanded during and immediately following the Revolution. She likewise argues that these opportunities for women’s political involvement were increasingly restricted by the time of universal white male suffrage in the Jacksonian period. In short, there was a “backlash” against women’s political activism.

The American Revolution had an immediate impact and changed the mindset of the population regarding women’s political status and created a wide-ranging discussion over women’s rights. Women’s fundamental role in establishing an American victory had opened up many new opportunities for women to find ways to take part, mainly informally, through party and electoral politics. Majority of women took advantage of such opportunities and tried to seek out roles and engaged in American political life and culture. Backlash by conservatives emerged in the 1830s and threatened any political change for women.

Zagarri uses examples to highlight perceptions, from those in the elite class of women’s participation in political activities. The text reveals the evolution of ideologies on women’s rights, the roles of women in politics and life, and the responsibilities women held. “By studying women of all social classes and races, their works have fruitfully revealed, among other things, a thriving female domestic economy, sophisticated social reform movements, and diverse notions of womanhood in the early republic” (Zagarri 3). Zagarri started Revolutionary Backlash by indicating that the American Revolution was the main part in the development of opportunities and the start of female participation in politics. The value of the contributions made by American women became increasingly evident as the colonies fought for their independence. The war gave women the opportunity to demonstrate their capacity to assume responsibilities. Women took care of companies and fields, guarded their homes and neighbourhoods, collected information from the Patriots, boycotted imports and even served as nurses and maids for the army. Zagarri states that women’s contributions have often been appreciated and even praised. During the Revolution, colonists used the ideology of God-given natural rights to rationalize their rebellion in response to British colonial policies. This eventually questioned what these rights actually applied to in society.

Overall, the Revolution led to a great expansion of the right to vote. By the 1780s, with the exceptions of Virginia, Maryland, and New York, a large majority of the adult white male population could meet voting requirements. New Jersey’s new state constitution of 1776, granted the suffrage to all “inhabitants” who met a property qualification. Until the state added the word “male” (along with “white”) in 1807, property-owning women, mostly widows, did cast bal- lots. The new constitutions also expanded the number of legislative seats, with the result that numerous men of lesser property assumed political office. The debate over the suffrage would, of course, continue for many decades. For white men, the process of democratization did not run its course until the Age of Jackson; for women and non-whites, it would take much longer. (Foner 222) Women could not vote or take part in official movements of party politics. As a result, Federalists and Republicans saw the support from women as a positive sign. They believed that women generally embodied these attributes and that their personal support would take that perception to light in the context of party politics. The support of women provided a moral approval for a party’s platform and both parties sought out for favor among women. Zagarri argues that politics had surpassed the conversation of the elite and had entered itself into the domestic threshold.

Even though the Revolution didn’t succeeded in bringing about significant changes in women’s rights as citizens, there is proof of slight changes in the status of women in the immediate post-war years. For instance, Courts have started to look slightly more favorably on women’s claims to land and requests for divorce.

07 September 2020

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