The Lives of Women in the Early 1900s

by Lexa W. Lee

The early 1900s in the United States was a time of change in many ways. Until that time, women had been confined to the home in the traditional roles of wife and mother, but their lives began to reflect the growing trend of industrialization and technological change. As a result of these developments, women started entering the workforce in larger numbers, demanding better working conditions and wages, seeking higher education and demanding the right to vote.

Women in the Workforce

At the start of the 20th century, 18.8 percent of women were employed outside the home, with many working in factories, as retail sales clerks, typists, nurses and schoolteachers. They often worked very long hours, were poorly paid and their daily working environment could be difficult and even unsafe. This led to the establishment of the Women's Trade Union League in 1903, according to the Discovery Education website.

Women's Suffrage

The women's suffrage movement was making more inroads in the early 20th century. More than 20 states had already granted partial suffrage to women. That typically meant that voting rights were only granted to certain classes of women, who could only vote on certain matters, such as local issues concerning schools and bonds. They were barred from voting in congressional and presidential campaigns. More states began to grant women full voting rights later in the 1900s, according to the Library of Congress.

World War I

Greater numbers of women started working during World War I. They began to work in nontraditional jobs as mechanics, police officers and truck drivers as necessary replacements for men who had left to fight in the war. The end of the war and the return of the men displaced women from these jobs, but only after they had gotten a taste of new opportunities.

Resistance to Reform

Many women breaking out of their traditional roles in the early 20th century faced enormous resistance from all levels of society, not the least of which came from other women who insisted they should remain in their traditional roles. Women who demonstrated and fought for labor reform, voting rights and birth control often faced arrest and discrimination. In 1916, Margaret Sanger was arrested after opening the first birth control clinic in the country.

About the Author

Lexa W. Lee is a New Orleans-based writer with more than 20 years of experience. She has contributed to "Central Nervous System News" and the "Journal of Naturopathic Medicine," as well as several online publications. Lee holds a Bachelor of Science in biology from Reed College, a naturopathic medical degree from the National College of Naturopathic Medicine and served as a postdoctoral researcher in immunology.

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