A Large Role Played by Women in History
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In the 18th century women were not allowed to vote, run for president, fight in a war or be in the military, get divorced, leave the house for too long, or own any property. Throughout history, women have been viewed as less than men and have been given fewer work opportunities and careers than men. Those with the most power were white, wealthy men. Eventually, once women were allowed the right to vote, their job opportunities expanded by an increased amount but there has always been controversy between equal rights for men and women. Women played important roles in history not just by fighting for their rights but by taking on many responsibilities during the Civil War and taking charge of their households and families every day and night.
Women who lived in the 18th century were expected to focus on managing the household and taking care of the children. They were to milk the cows, make and churn butter, brew beer, wash the clothes, cook for everyone, clean up after everyone, mend clothing for the whole family and even act as doctors for the family. They would make home remedies and they grew trees for herbs and other necessities for health. Unlike today, hospitals were not around so using natural remedies and ingredients to make medicine was a large role women played in the household as well. In an article written by Dorothy W. Hartman, the typical week of a woman, “included laundry on Monday, ironing and mending on Tuesday, baking on Wednesday and Saturday, daily tidying of kitchen and parlor, and thorough cleaning on Thursday and again on Saturday. This was in addition to childcare, three meals a day, hauling water and keeping the fire burning in the stove, a chore that in itself took at least one hour each day” (Hartman).
Aside from helping in the house, when the war came, they had to do twice the work.
A large role played by women in history would be taking over the role of men during the Civil War. Women although they were not allowed to fight, over 400 women dressed as men and changed their names to be more masculine. The remaining women who did not chose to fight were sewing uniforms and clothing, taking over factory jobs, taking care of children in the house, packing food to send to troops, and working as nurses for wounded soldiers. Eventually the government decided to create the United States Sanitary Commission to prevent diseases and conditions in the army conditions and hospitals. Women would gather money and to do so, they would have fundraisers like fairs for medical supplies and anything else they could receive. There were food shortages and riots, and to provide food and health for their families, “confederate women led these mobs to protest food shortages and rampant inflation within the Confederate South. Exerting their own political control, women dramatically impacted the war through violent actions in these cases, as well as constant petitions to governors for aid and the release of husbands from military service” (Yawp, 14). On the other side of the war, were the slave women who also made an impact more than one might expect.
Slave women had to put in time, sweat, and tears while taking matters into their own hands. They were not allowed to have much to do with the war itself, such as fighting or nursing the wounded soldiers, so many of the slave women did the role of the men on the field. They would take care of their families and provide essentials for them after their husband was sent to war. “The Confederate Army frequently impressed male slaves, and slaveowners fleeing from Union troops often took their valuable male slaves, but not women and children, with them” (Women In the Civil War). Slave women were also used as spies, scouts, couriers and guides. Women were important in the war and in history, but there were a few women who made stood out more than others and made an outstanding impact.
The important women during the Civil War would include; Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton, Harriet Tubman, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Elizabeth Cady Stanton lead the women’s movement, and she thought that women should have the right to vote. She also wrote the Declaration of Sentiments which was a document that read the rights women should have as citizens. Susan B. Anthony was founder of the Suffrage movement and she was also part of the Temperance and Abolitionist movements.
She believed that women deserved all the same rights as men, along with education. Clara Barton was a war nurse starting with the Battle of Bull Run. She ended up establishing the American Red Cross. Harriet Tubman was a slave who escaped and was in charge of the underground railroad. The underground railroad was a route of safe houses and people who offered shelter and help to runaway slaves coming from the South. Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which was written about in a primary source on The American Yawp. The book was believed to be one of the causes of the Civil War (Lincoln). Another primary source from The American Yawp wrote about a woman of higher authority who tried to help women by writing a letter to her husband.
A woman by the name of Abigail Adams addresses her husband, John Adams, in a letter.
She sends this letter asking for him to remember all the ladies when he decides or tries to pass any laws. She writes, “Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If perticuliar care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation” (Yawp, 5). John Adams though, takes it as a joke and ignores it. She tried to help women because she was in relation with a higher authority, but failed to succeed.
On the topic of important women in history, a primary source read in class focused primarily on a woman named Martha Ballard. She had kept a diary later on in her life, which serves as an important document in history. She gives an unbiased idea of the life around her and the insight of an independent woman with a strong will and a mind of her own. She was a wife and mother and delivered babies as a midwife. Only women were to deliver babies, there were no hospitals and men especially did not deliver babies; therefore, Martha was a very important person to have around. Aside from delivering babies, she also helped people who were sick, such as children and attend autopsies as a medical assistant. Her diary stated the men worked outside the house and women stayed home and took care of the children. The majority of families had lots of children, and many had at least six or more! It was not uncommon to lose a child due to disease or illness, which was a hard concept to grasp. Death is tough on someone
especially when it happens to your own child, and women had to be strong when it came to children. Not only did they have to go through labor and bring their life into the world but there was a high chance that the child wouldn’t live too long so they would also have to go through sickness and watch them leave the world. Another eye opener in Martha Ballard’s diary was how the girls growing up were taught how to run a home and family and maybe even how to become a midwife, whereas the boys were educated and taught to work outside and do the mens work.
In a primary source in chapter 12 of The American Yawp, readers are introduced to a woman by the name of Amelia Stewart Knight who was a prime example of how strong women were in the 18th century. History discusses women taking care of children and the household, but this woman not only had 7 kids to take care of, she had to take them all the way from Iowa to Oregon during Manifest Destiny and even gave birth on the side of the road (Yawp, 12). The mentality she had was powerful, and any obstacle in the way was shortly overcome by those with a strong mindset. Even without fighting in the war and packaging supplies, women still showed a hard work ethic, and even if it did not seem to make an impact, people were still influenced one way or another.
For so long, women were quite underrated but looking back, history shows how every woman has lived up to their role and made an impact by fighting for equality, fighting for their country, and keeping their families and themselves in line. Through disguising oneself to fight in the war, sewing clothes and packing supplies to send to soldiers, helping and nursing the wounded soldiers voluntarily, running a household whilst taking care of children, helping slaves escape, and fighting for women’s rights, women have done so much to create a better world this time around. Today women have almost all the same rights as men, have equal jobs and work alongside men, are allowed to fight in wars and be in the military, and women are no longer scolded for leaving the house too long or for having a job. Women are no longer being forced to stay home, cook, clean, and take care of the children. Women are out making yet another impact on history by working hard and showing how powerful each and every individual woman can be.