The Great Shift: Women of the 1920s

The Great Shift: Women of The 1920’s

During the 1920’s the roles of women changed due to discontent and defiance leading to women’s right to vote, the use of birth control, and seeking better jobs as well as education. There were many women who spoke loudly about these issues but not all of their voices were heard. It took the right women, at the right time, with the right words to get each of these jobs done. All though there may have been consequences, fighting for what they believed in seemed more important. The Great Shift of the women of the 1920’s had begun.

Prior to the 1920’s, times were hard. A person had to suffer and sacrifice to get by and after that was over they just wanted to enjoy their lives. Women no longer wanted to be stay at home mothers and wives. They wanted to do something with their lives and be fulfilled. Women began to do the things only men could do according to their society’s terms. They began to redefine themselves and redefine what society said a woman should be. Men were outraged with this change and some women were as well. The general appearance, behaviors, and what women knew and had access to had taken a wide turn in an entirely different direction. Some believed that this change was unnecessary. That wasn’t enough to stop these women. The new women felt that they should have a say in what went on in their country. This is what brought forth women’s right to vote.

“All men are created equally” (“U.S. Department”). The word “men” is used to generalize both male and female citizens of our country; it’s not suggesting that only men were equivalent to each other. Because of this women felt that they, as well as men, should have the right to vote. Women believed that they had a say on who ran this country just as men did. They were citizens too. Times were changing and it had come to a point where women were ready to be leaders. It would be impossible for women to be leaders in the country if they didn’t even have the right to select their leaders. After many efforts from activist such as Susan B. Anthony, in the year 1920, the 19th amendment was ratified to the constitution giving women the right to vote (“U.S. Department”). This was one huge step forward in the direction that women, as a whole, were striving to go.

In 1923, the Equal Rights Amendment or ERA was proposed before congress (“U.S. Department”). This stated that women should have the exact same rights as men. Women had the right to vote but they were still not looked upon as a man’s equal. Women wanted to be treated the same in all aspects of life. The ERA was meant to give that to them. All though this wasn’t actually the amendment that was passed, it was the first of its kind to be introduced to Congress. The idea that men and women should have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction came from the women but was formally stated in this proposal (“U.S. Department”). This is now applied to factors such as gender, race, or ethnicity. Every citizen of our country, by law, must be given the same rights.

Women had the right to vote and were granted the same rights as men. The next step for them would be to hold some political offices. Men had always run our country; the first political office held by a woman was governor. Nellie Taylor Ross was the first female governor in the United States. She served as the governor of Wyoming in the year 1925 (U.S. Department). Women’s right to vote had led to this great accomplishment. This opened up many doors for women to gain different political and company board positions and would one day lead up to almost having a woman president.

In 1925 Mary Belle Harris was appointed superintendent of the first women’s prison located in West Virginia (“1920’s”). This was a result of Nellie Ross’ achievement as governor. Women felt empowered and believed that they could go out and gain these powerful positions, and they did. Elizabeth Ross defied two odds in 1924 when she was elected to the YMCA board (“1920’s”). Not only was she a woman, but she was a black woman. She was the first black woman on a YMCA board. Although these are all great triumphs, politics weren’t the only thing women conquered during these times. They also wanted other freedoms such as being able to legally use contraceptives.

It was believed that if you committed an act that would cause you to bare child, you must deal with the consequence, if one is presented. This was obviously an idea thought of by a man because women definitely believed that they had the right to choose what went on in their bodies. They did not have access to any thing that could control whether or not they were with child. It was illegal to even have information on birth control because the spread of this information could have caused more of this illegal activity (“Birth”). If you were a spreader of this information you could be arrested and possibly fined. This did not matter to Margaret Sanger; she was very bold and dedicated.
Margaret Sanger was a nurse. She saw so many women who were pregnant but did not want to be. A lot of these women decided to induce abortions because abortions were illegal at the time. Twenty five percent of all maternal deaths were due to self induced abortions (“Birth”). Her heart went out to these women because if they had just been allowed to use contraceptives or had access to abortion clinics they would not have been filled with so much discontent. Married couples weren’t even allowed to use condoms. In 1916, Margaret Sanger opened a birth control clinic in Brooklyn, New York (“Birth”). She was arrested for creating a public nuisance. Still, Margaret Sanger was a headlining birth control activist.
For having a birth control substance, you could land in jail for one to five years or receive a one to five thousand dollar fine (“Birth”). In some cases, both punishments are enforced. Countless Doctors and nurses were arrested on account of this. After several arrests and speaking out from activist, in 1938, birth control was finally legal (“Birth”). The goal of Margaret Sanger had been achieved. Birth control was not the only area forced to change by women; they also took the work force by storm.

The ability to work and having an education made women feel authoritative. The rate of working women was increasing at a consistent rate. Women made up twenty four percent of the work force and about twenty five percent of these women had white color jobs (“Women”). A white collar job is the same thing as an office job. Typically, white button down shirts are what is worn in professional work environments. A blue collar staff person usually works in a less formal profession. Twenty three percent of women worked in manufacturing (“Women”).
Numerous programs were begun, by women, to educate and train women workers (“Women”). This was set in place in order to make sure that women workers were just as capable to complete their jobs as the men they were to compete against. Even though women were trained, they still worked long hours and were under paid. They were given jobs that were under valued and were considered to be “women’s work” (“Women”). This occurred in all different spheres of the economy.

In 1920, the women’s trade union was started to improve the labor conditions of women. Women’s working hours were ridiculous and unfair. The women’s bureau, a new federal agency, was approved by Congress. In June of 1920 they were charged with reporting the conditions of women in industry and promoting the welfare of working women (“Women”). Working women had long hard working hours. Mary Anderson was the director of the Women’s Bureau. She worked very hard to try to decrease the fifty four hour work week of most young women. Mary Anderson released some details showing how difficult the life of a certain young lady was in order to encourage the states to regulate working hours. Forty five states complied dropping the working hours to fifty per week but the other five held on to the fifty four hour work week.
In order to prove that they were not just a piece of meat, women began to wear clothes that covered all parts of their bodies. They cut their hair short and became known as flappers (“Prelude”). The term flappers came from the type of shoes that they wore. It is believed that the legacy of the flappers was caused by the 18th amendment or prohibition (“Prohibition”). Women began to smoke and drink alcohol illegally, defying the law. Before this time this type of behavior from a woman was unheard of. The 21st amendment was anti-prohibition making alcohol legal in the United States. This was a victory not only for women but all drinkers through out the United States.

Women of the 1920’s were very tough and determined. Some headliners of this decade were Susan B. Anthony, Nellie Taylor Ross, Mary Belle Harris, Elizabeth Ross, Margaret Sanger, and Mary Anderson. All of these women were outspoken and raised their voices at the right time. The feeling of discontent caused them to defy what they were told. Everything that these women worked for are essential in our modern day lives. The right to vote gives us a voice, the use of birth control gives a choice, and the ability to work and be educated gives us power.

Works Cited

"The 1920s: Lifestyles and Social Trends: People in the News." American Decades. Ed. Judith S. Baughman, et al. Vol. 3: 1920-1929. Detroit: Gale, 2001. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 22 Mar. 2011.
"Birth Control." American Decades. Ed. Judith S. Baughman, et al. Vol. 4: 1930-1939. Detroit: Gale, 2001. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 22 Mar. 2011.
"Prohibition." American Decades. Ed. Judith S. Baughman, et al. Vol. 2: 1910-1919. Detroit: Gale, 2001. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 22 Mar. 2011.
"Prelude to the 1920s" Roaring Twenties Reference Library. Ed. Kelly King Howes. Vol. 1: Almanac and Primary Sources. Detroit: UXL, 2006. 1-16. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 22 Mar. 2011.
"Women Go to Work." American Decades. Ed. Judith S. Baughman, et al. Vol. 3: 1920-1929. Detroit: Gale, 2001. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 22 Mar. 2011.
“Woman of the Century” U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics Mar.2011