American Feminists

American Feminists

American Feminists

American Feminists

Excerpt

The changed position of women in American society has been one of the most important developments of the past century and a half. The appearance of America has been transformed as women have invaded business, the professions, sports, politics, and education, feminizing many occupations. The American home has been altered radically with the expanded activities of women.

This change in the occupations of women has been credited frequently to the Industrial Revolution, which freed women from a portion of their household work, provided opportunities for employment, and furnished the surplus wealth to permit many new activities. This analysis has the drawback that the earliest advocates of greater rights for women appeared before the Industrial Revolution had any important impact, and apparently were only slightly if at all aware of any such event. If the pioneers had significance, then factors other than economic changes were involved. Apparently there were two interdependent lines of development, occurring to a considerable extent at the same time. One was the ideological approach, which derived directly from the ideas of the Enlightenment, and which was of prime importance to the first feminists. The other was the economic changes that made possible in fact the objectives for which the feminists fought.

The first American feminists, like the harbingers of any important change, were greeted with suspicion and hostility by the vast conservative majority, which felt dire forebodings as to the effects of the new doctrines on the American family, and in fact on all American civilization. These conservatives may well have been wrong, as we have come later to believe, but their point of view is understandable, and they performed a service in forcing the reformers to justify their claims, in . . .

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