During the progressive era in the United States from 1783 to 1836, the women’s roles and lives changed remarkably. Women started to fight for equality during this time, and tried to persuade American society in their ability to offer new opportunities to their country. They managed to create a lot of public institutions and policies that exist nowadays, improve educational opportunities and promote suffrage despite the fact that they were not even able to vote at this period of time. They implemented a lot of social welfare measures and public programs. It is known that the main catalyst for women in order to proclaim freedom was the American Revolution.
The Negative Impact of the American Revolution on White Women
Joan Hoff in her “The Negative Impact of the American Revolution on White Women” disputes the fact that proclamation of freedom for women was caused by the Revolution. At that time the opportunities for women were not that big to change the whole social attitude. Before the late 18th century women did not take part in conflicts, local politics or religion to simply be prepared for such changes. Hoff claims that the effect of the American Revolution was more negative as women were not able to take advantage of the opportunities given at that time. She shows examples of the other powerless colony groups as African American people or Native Americans that also were not able to even their positions in society at certain times in American history. Of course, the African American slaves received the opportunities to escape the slavery and join the army.
But there were no chances for new privileges to these slaves in the American army. They were considered just as extra support against the British army.
Despite the known fact that republican motherhood depicted a move toward the equality between wives and husbands, this effort was not that big as setting the equality by Judith Sargent Murray and other activist women of that period. In fact, the advantages that were ruling with this new motherhood ideals were largely restricted to certain circles of elite families that were able to give the proper education to their daughters and were able to prevent wives from being employed out of the household. At that time the known republican motherhood did not significantly give rights to white working women also as there was not expected to have any place for enslaved women.
The more global impact on fundamental changes in the patriarchal attitude gave the necessity for increasing reproductive roles in society. The society was suffering from economic and labor shortage, and this aspect was more effective for equality rights.
The legal status of free women in every state was strictly dependent upon the status of marriage. Widows or unmarried women were called “women alone” or “femes soles”. Marriage status was changing women in dramatic way. When women were getting married, just like the vast majority did, they were completely losing their autonomy despite the fact that they still had legal rights. They were stepping into positions of absolute dependency on their husbands. This dependency was called coverture by the law. William Blackstone, the famous English jurist, puts this term in his Commentaries on English Law (1765–1769).
The equality and liberty ideals did not come to fully embrace women. During the Revolutionary War women were able to freely show their opinions on politics and were considered as a part of the Revolutionary effort. Despite Republican ideals and the freedom of speech, women were still essentially relegated to the sphere of domestic problems and society was limiting women's role even in more narrow way. Of course, a role of women in the household was of a bigger importance. By the Republican regulations of the duties of women were to create a virtuous, supportive environment and they were valued for doing this. From the other side of the domestical importance, the definition became more strictly defined. Outside the domestic sphere women became less acceptable and less feminine. And as a result, women were only accepted outside the domestic sphere in activities that would fit widely into the domestic situation, such as missionary or a teacher. These known facts would generalize the opinion that American Revolution had no impact on freedom, but changed society standards and general attitude to females in different but the same narrow way.
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