Alabama: The History of a Deep South State

By William Warren Rogers; Robert David Ward et al. | Go to book overview

TWENTY - THREE
Women in Alabama from 1865 to 1920

THE culture of those Americans who came to settle in Alabama was premised on the legal and social sanctions of a male-dominated society. Yet there was a world of activity and action in which women, under a host of cultural disabilities, influenced the nature of life and the direction of the state's affairs. The female journey was not a straight line of progression that started with complete legal inferiority and culminated in the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. It was a thing of twists and turns, of advances and retrogression that started long before and continued long after women acquired the right to vote. In Alabama, as in the rest of the South, family was the central unit of society, and Southern women were central to the family.

Before 1861 males were de facto and de jure heads of households, but the Civil War was a strong influence on Alabama's patriarchal society. The abolition of slavery, military defeat, and economic impoverishment lessened the power of men and especially the influence of the planters. Such events compelled white women, most clearly seen in the case of widows, to assume the role of family provider and head of the household. Battlefield casualties and migration out of the South by men left Alabama in 1870 with 255,023 white males and 266,361 white females (the total white population was down 4,887 from 1860).

On plantations slave women had often headed households, and with freedom, women-dominated families were evident. In 1870 Alabama had 233,677 black males and 241,833 black females. In contrast to the white population, the total number of blacks increased from 1860 to 1870 by 37,740 people. Thus by 1870 the state had almost a million people (996,992), and while this was an increase from 1860 (964,201), Alabama's white population had declined, its black population had increased, and there were more women than men in both races.

Despite the growing inroads of urbanization and industrialization, most of Alabama's men and women were dependent upon agriculture until well into the twentieth century. In 1900, 58.5 percent of Alabamians over the age of ten were engaged in a gainful occupation, and of

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