The Role of Women in American History

The Role of Women in American History

The history of the United States is full of diverse changes, the changes has brought around opportunities which has changed the roles of women in the society. It can be argued that the changes has been for the better on the side of the women, while some of the men in the society argue that the changes has been negative on their part of men, since it has generated stiff competition for limited resources (Cott, 2004). The roles of women in the American society have drastically evolved, where women over centuries had faced messages that are contradictory on their position in the society. Women in the twenty first century are embracing equality among men and women in the society, where equal roles in the households and in the workplaces are expected in the society; as both men and women contribute equally to the economic growth of the community (Hymowitz & Weissman, 2004).

Industrial Revolution

Industrial revolution is characterized with the transition from the earlier manufacturing processes to new manufacturing processes. The period is believed to be from 1760 to 1840 (National Women’s History Museum, 2007). Hand production methods were replaced with machine production methods. Water power was mainly used in the industrialized nations, which was later replaced with iron production processes and chemical manufacturing. The period was characterized with improved machine tools and steam power to fuel machineries. Wood was replaced by coal considering bio-fuels. Industrial revolution was initiated in the England, which later spread to the Western Europe and finally landed in United States (National Women’s History Museum, 2007).

Labor related to non-industrial wages increased drastically which led to the growth of urban centers, outwork occupations, commercial agriculture and farming areas that in the overall transformed the labor market in the rural areas. Surveys have indicated that the changes in the economic orientation resulted to the changes in the family life with increased life expectancy and reduced family sizes (Weatherford, 2004). Women were involved more and more in the labor force, reform activities and in the contemporary politics.

Industrial revolution in US highly depended on transatlantic movement of the British technology and the British movement, mainly in the textile industry; English manufactured products had a ready market in the American market (National Women’s History Museum, 2007). Revolutionary limitations and changes altered the relationship between men and women. Revolutionary re-thinking on the society rules led to different views considering the roles played by men and women in the society (Navarro et al, 2009).

In the earlier times, women were inferior as compared to the men in the society, a model that was supported by lack of laws supporting women. The laws at that particular time never recognized the independence of women in matters of economic, civic and political matters in relations to the eighteenth century Anglo-American society (Dublin, 2013). The first ladies at that time did not have an influence in matters involving men.

Notable women in the industrial revolution identify with Dolley Todd Madison, Abigail Adams and Judith sergeant Murray among others (, 2013).  Dolley Todd Madison lost her husband and had to fight back for the estate. It was noted that Abigail Adams was an advocate specializing in the rights of women in the society, in which she was influential to the federal government in making sure that its developed laws that protected women in the society. Abigail Adams had no rights as a woman participating in matters of the government. Judith Sargent Murray was a poet, playwright and essayist and advocated the rights of women in the United States (, 2013).

Judith Sargent Murray drafted a systematic expression defining the feminist position in the society in the period 1779, although publications were made in 1790. The essay touched on the equality of the sexes (, 2013). The essay indicated that both men and women had equal intellectual capabilities. Murray went ahead to state that women are disadvantaged as a result of discrimination and prejudice in the society. Women were discouraged from sharing male experience and privilege. She argued that nature supported equality between men and women, although male domination had constantly corrupted natural principle (, 2013).

Men considered arguments of Murray as radical in the Revolutionary Era, her arguments on the equality of men and women was met with disapproval and shock among the male counterparts (, 2013). Early national United States and the Revolutionary Era supported male domination and men had the most privileges. The period was under diverse forces basing on relationships between men, women and on the public world. Republican revolutionary politics considered self disciplined and intelligent citizens, which later shaped the new republic (Weatherford, 2004).

Wives in America were considered as the ‘republican mothers’ with responsibilities of advising sons and daughters on the need of being reasonable and intelligent individuals. The roles of women had changed as women were accorded roles of female education and building equality in the family setups (, 2013). Republican motherhood led to equality between wives and husbands, aligning to the vision of Judith Sargent Murray. Elite families had the expressive rights of republican motherhood; enslaved women did not access republican motherhood (, 2013).

Susanna Haswell Rowson drafted the 1791 Charlotte Temple that was a tale of seduction, which sold substantial copies in the nineteenth century. The books were influential in expanding literacy and education among the underprivileged women in the society. Women champions involved in the writing of the female oriented publications showed how women suffered in the hands of males (, 2013). The works of Rowsan were mainly dedicated to the daughters of misfortune who had no rights in the society as compared to their male counterparts.

Revolution presented changes in United States that in return changed the way women operated in the region. Attention to politics faced changes with matters of equality and liberty taking a center stage. Eliza Wilkinson was noted asserting that women were the weaker sex in the society and that they were assigned to the domestic concerns, hence being negated the liberty of thought (, 2013).

Revolutionary War

Women were influential in the revolutionary war, it was noted that men looked down at women particularly in the supply of products and services during the times of war. Women in the earlier times were considered weak to understand the strategies involved in the military that was considered complex in nature (Hymowitz & Weissman, 2004). In the American Revolution war, men coordinated with women in fighting off the aggressors. Women were used as great spies, peddling wares and providing food to the camps of the aggressors while listening for any clues leading to critical information that would be used in bringing down the enemy (Cott, 2004).

An example of the influential woman is Ann Bates; Bates was a schoolteacher in Philadelphia who was loyal to the crown. Bates was influential in pretending and using false names as she peddled while supplying the British Troops and at the same time pretended to count the troops of the continental army (Pavao et al, 2013). There are other women who did the same work of spying although they were not documented.

Another example is Miss Jenny who used a fake name in spying on the British general by the name Sir Henry Clinton, the letter originated from Baron Ottendorf (Pavao et al, 2013). Women did not only act as spies, but played other critical roles in revolution. Abigail Adams the wife of John Adams was involved in nursing soldiers that were injured; she was also involved in providing necessary ammunition and supplies. Other influential women were Hannah Blair who delivered secret messages, gave food, gave medical health and was involved in mending uniforms. Other influential women in the revolutionary war were Margaret Corbin, Lydia Darragh, Mary Draper, Deborah Read Franklin, Dicey Langston and Sybil Ludington among others (Pavao et al, 2013).

Roles of women in the industrial revolution and in the revolutionary war took a new turn, considering the period in the late colonial period, the roles of women were categorically restricted to home care. In early American, roles associated with women were pegged on working along their husbands in the plantations, or farms and also running the household (Navarro et al, 2009). Women spent substantial time in cooking; other customized roles were making garments, weaving cloth, spinning yarn, mending clothes and sewing clothes (Dublin, 2013).

In conclusion, women in the American history have had challenges identifying with their roles in the society. Complicated demands that has changed with time has influenced changing roles of women in the society, an example is during the revolutionary war and in the industrial revolution (Dublin, 2013). Circumstances in those two periods influenced the perceptions of women to the overall American women. The current generation supports equality between men and women in the family setups, society and in the workplaces.


Cott, N. F. (2004). No Small Courage: A History of Women in the United States. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Dublin, T. (2013). Women and the Early Industrial Revolution in the United States. Retrieved November 11, 2013, from

Hymowitz, C. & Weissman, M. (2004). A History of Women in America. Uxbridge Road, Ealing: Bantam.

National Women’s History Museum. (2007). Industrial Revolution (1800-1880) . Retrieved November 11, 2013, from

Navarro, M, et al. (2009). The Reader’s Companion to U.S. Women’s History. Boston, Massachusetts: Mariner Books.

Pavao, P. et al. (2013). Revolutionary War Women. Retrieved November 11, 2013, from (2013). 13e. Revolutionary Changes and Limitations: Women. Retrieved November 11, 2013, from

Weatherford, D. (2004). American Women’s History . London: Macmillan publishers.


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