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How Far Did Separate Spheres Dominate from 1865-1915?

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It is true that from 1865-1915, some activism was existent in regards to women and their pursuit for rights and equality. However, this period failed to distance itself from the influence of “separate spheres”. Women had demonstrated an ability to organise, be methodical and be successful, which helped finally give themselves a sense of visibility. From the period 1865-1915, some level of activism was precipitated by influential women of this period who were no longer prepared to be shackled by the restraints imposed by men and believers in the “separate spheres”. In 1889, Jane Addams established the Hull house project, which helped to house immigrant families; this was one of her significant influences in the quest for female rights. The National Women’s Suffrage Association led by Stanton and Anthony campaigned more aggressively for Federal constitutional amendment for the vote for women. In 1890, both the NWSA and AWAS merged to form the National American Women’s suffrage association (NAWSA). The marches, moderate campaign of lobbying politicians and the distributing of leaflets allowed for steady progress to be made; in 1905 the group had 17,000 members.

However, “separate spheres” was still prominent. This led to support from mainstream women in particular to be limited during this period. Furthermore, there was a division of Women’s reform movement splits. In 1870, the 15th Amendment had extended the right to vote to all men, but failed to establish the vote for even the wealthy educated women, further evidencing the idea that politicians held of separate spheres and how women had no place in politics. In 1913, the more radical wing emerged by Alice Paul, the Congressional Union for Women’s suffrage had emerged; by 1915 they had 100,000 members. However, there concerns delved into consideration of temperance and prohibition rather than women’s rights. Despite the idea of “separate spheres”, women still made some developments in the world of work from 1865-1915. In 1865, some women were nurses, some went to medical college, women replaced me in rural areas and the Civil War sped up industrialisation giving the chance for un-married women to expand into factory work.

The changing economy throughout this period brought women benefits in the developments of the manufacturing industry, big business and urbanisation, there were also better education prospects. Furthermore, the changing lifestyles of upper and middle class women was apparent; the increasing availability of consumer goods transformed the home by providing relief from time consuming domestic drudgeries. In 1870, 13% of un-married women worked outside the home, by 1900, this had increased to 17%. Finally, there was a sharp increase in the amount of secretaries, librarians and telephone operators. Although there were some developments, this was only to an extent. Firstly, the idea of women being ‘nurses’ was not seen as a profession, but merely an extension of appropriate domestic work for women. In 1865, the chance for married women to work outside the home was only brief.

Furthermore, later developments failed to divulge any career pathways. Again, owing to the idea of ‘separate spheres’, once women were married it was expected for women to leave and this attitude affected their future progress. Conclusively, it is undeniable there was some level of activism in the period under question. The focus was heavily centred on “female” family and social issues. However, the “separate spheres” ideology heavily overshadowed any form of development, and, coupled with the divisions between female group’s approaches, ultimately limited progress. Women generally struggled to break free from the ideology and from 1865-1915 and only some sectors of women made developments, particularly those of the upper and middle classes. Nevertheless, the period 1865-1915 formed a platform for women to become politically active (in terms of the vote) and pursue the agenda of women’s rights.

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