History of Women in The United States - 1800–1900

1800–1900

During the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804–1806), which was the first overland expedition undertaken by Americans to the Pacific coast and back, the Shoshone woman Sacagawea was the only woman to accompany the 33 members of the permanent party to the Pacific Ocean and back. She joined the expedition in November 1804, after the explorers (Lewis and Clark) made winter camp at Fort Mandan in present-day North Dakota. The two captains hired her husband, the French-Canadian fur trapper Toussaint Charbonneau, as an interpreter, with the understanding that she would come along to interpret the Shoshone language, which she did. Sacagawea was only about 16 and was pregnant at the time.

The Cult of Domesticity, a new ideal of womanhood was also created at this time. This ideal rose from the reality that a 19th century middle-class family did not have to make what it needed in order to survive, as previous families had to, and therefore men could now work in jobs that produced goods or services while their wives and children stayed at home. The ideal woman became one who stayed at home and taught children how to be proper citizens. Nevertheless, many women of the time did work outside the home; for example, in the War of 1812 (1812–1815) Mary Marshall and Mary Allen worked as nurses aboard American commodore Stephen Decatur's ship United States. Furthermore, during the War of 1812, in 1814 when the British army was advancing to the White House, First Lady Dolley Madison insisted on staying until the Gilbert Stuart painting of George Washington was rescued, and personally took the Declaration of Independence with her before leaving. With the help of volunteers and a wagon, she also took with her President Madison’s working papers from his desk, his books, some paintings, and the White House silver and china.

Many women in the 19th century were involved in reform movements, particularly abolitionism. In 1831, Maria Stewart (who was African-American) began to write essays and make speeches against slavery, promoting educational and economic self-sufficiency for African Americans. The first woman of any color to speak on political issues in public, Stewart gave her last public speech in 1833 before retiring from public speaking to work in women's organizations. Although her career was short, it set the stage for the African-American women speakers who followed; Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Tubman, among others. Since more direct participation in the public arena was fraught with difficulties and danger, many women assisted the movement by boycotting slave-produced goods and organizing fairs and food sales to raise money for the cause. To take one example of the danger, Pennsylvania Hall was the site in 1838 of the Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women, and as 3,000 white and black women gathered to hear prominent abolitionists such as Maria Weston Chapman, the speakers' voices were drowned out by the mob which had gathered outside. When the women emerged, arms linked in solidarity, they were stoned and insulted. The mob returned the following day and burned the hall, which had been inaugurated only three days earlier, to the ground. Furthermore, the Grimke sisters from South Carolina (Angelina and Sarah Grimke), received much abuse and ridicule for their abolitionist activity, which consisted of traveling throughout the North, lecturing about their first-hand experiences with slavery on their family plantation. Since more direct participation in the public arena was fraught with difficulties and danger, many women assisted the movement by boycotting slave-produced goods and organizing fairs and food sales to raise money for the cause. To take one example of the danger, Pennsylvania Hall was the site in 1838 of the Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women, and as 3,000 white and black women gathered to hear prominent abolitionists such as Maria Weston Chapman, the speakers' voices were drowned out by the mob which had gathered outside. When the women emerged, arms linked in solidarity, they were stoned and insulted. The mob returned the following day and burned the hall, which had been inaugurated only three days earlier, to the ground. Furthermore, the Grimke sisters from South Carolina (Angelina and Sarah Grimke), received much abuse and ridicule for their abolitionist activity, which consisted of traveling throughout the North, lecturing about their first-hand experiences with slavery on their family plantation. Even so, many women's anti-slavery societies were active before the Civil War, the first one having been created in 1832 by free black women from Salem, Massachusetts Fiery abolitionist, Abby Kelley Foster, was an ultra-abolitionist, who also led Lucy Stone, and Susan B. Anthony into the anti-slavery movement.

Another important reform movement was the struggle of American women for education. In 1821, Emma Willard founded the Troy Female Seminary in Troy, New York, which was the first American educational institution to offer young women a college education equal to that given to young men. The first three women in the United States to earn and receive their bachelor's degrees – Mary Hosford (later Fisher), Elizabeth Smith Prall (later Russell), and Mary Caroline Rudd (later Allen) – received them from Oberlin College in 1841; Oberlin College had become the first coeducational college in the United States in 1833. Furthermore, Oberlin was also the first college to grant a degree to an African-American woman, Mary Jane Patterson, in 1862.

Another reform movement women were heavily involved with was the rights of those confined in institutions. Dorothea Dix was one of the most notable such reformers. Prior to the Civil War's beginning in 1861 (when she became the Union's Superintendent of Female Nurses), she investigated the conditions of many jails, mental hospitals, and almshouses, and presented her findings to state legislatures. Due to her work, many hospitals were built, along with additions and improvements made to existing facilities. In contrast to popular attitudes of the time that such things were not necessary, she insisted on a therapeutic setting for the curable insane and a humanely comfortable setting for those regarded as incurable.

During the Mexican War (1846–1848) Elizabeth Newcom enlisted in Company D of the Missouri Volunteer Infantry disguised as a man, calling herself Bill Newcom. She marched 600 miles from Missouri to winter camp at Pueblo, Colorado, before she was discovered to be a woman and discharged. Also, in 1846 Sarah Borginnis resupplied American soldiers with food while they were under fire, and was therefore nicknamed "the heroine of Fort Brown"; then-General Zachary Taylor rewarded her with the rank of brevet colonel.

The first wave of feminism began with the Seneca Falls Convention, the first women's rights convention, held at the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, New York, on July 19 and 20, 1848. This Convention was inspired by the fact that in 1840, when Elizabeth Cady Stanton met Lucretia Mott at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London, the conference refused to seat Mott and other women delegates from America because of their gender. Stanton, the young bride of an antislavery agent, and Mott, a Quaker preacher and veteran of reform, talked then of calling a convention to address the condition of women. An estimated three hundred women and men attended the Convention, including notables Lucretia Mott and Frederick Douglass. At the conclusion, 68 women and 32 men signed the "Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions", which was written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the M'Clintock family. The style and format of the "Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions" was that of the "Declaration of Independence"; for example the "Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions" stated, "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men and women are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights." The Declaration further stated, "The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man towards woman." It went on to specify female grievances in regard to the laws denying married women ownership of wages, money, and property (all of which they were required to turn over to their husbands; laws requiring this, in effect throughout America, were called coverture laws), women's lack of access to education and professional careers, and the lowly status accorded women in most churches. Furthermore, the Declaration declared that women should have the right to vote. Two weeks later a Woman's Rights Convention was held in Rochester, New York on August 2. It was followed by state and local conventions in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York. The first National Woman's Rights Convention was held in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1850. Women's rights conventions were held regularly from 1850 until the start of the Civil War.

In 1849 Elizabeth Blackwell, born in England, graduated from Geneva Medical College in New York at the head of her class and thus became the first female doctor in America. In 1857 she and her sister Emily, and their colleague Marie Zakrzewska, founded the New York Infirmary for Women and Children, the first American hospital run by women and the first dedicated to serving women and children.

Women continued to be active in reform movements in the second half of the 19th century. In 1851 former slave Sojourner Truth gave a famous speech, called "Ain't I a Woman?," at the Women's Convention in Akron, Ohio. In this speech she condemned the attitude that women were too weak to have equal rights with men, noting the hardships she herself had endured as a slave. In 1852 Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote the abolitionist book Uncle Tom's Cabin. Begun as a serial for the Washington anti-slavery weekly, the "National Era", the book focused public interest on the issue of slavery, and was deeply controversial for its strong anti-slavery stance at the time it was written. In writing the book, Stowe drew on her personal experience: she was familiar with slavery, the antislavery movement, and the underground railroad because Kentucky, across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, Ohio, where Stowe had lived, was a slave state. Uncle Tom's Cabin was a best-seller, selling 10,000 copies in the United States in its first week; 300,000 in the first year; and in Great Britain, 1.5 million copies in one year. Following publication of the book, Harriet Beecher Stowe became a celebrity, speaking against slavery both in America and Europe. She wrote A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin in 1853, extensively documenting the realities on which the book was based, to refute critics who tried to argue that it was inauthentic; and published a second anti-slavery novel, Dred, in 1856. Later, when she visited President Lincoln, legend claims that he greeted her as "the little lady who made this big war," meaning the Civil War, but there is no proof this happened. Campaigners for other social changes, such as Caroline Norton who campaigned for women's rights, respected and drew upon Stowe's work.

In the years before the Civil War, Harriet Tubman, a runaway slave herself, freed more than 70 slaves over the course of 13 secret rescue missions to the South. Furthermore, in June 1863, Harriet Tubman became the first woman to plan and execute an armed expedition in United States history; acting as an advisory to Colonel James Montgomery and his 300 soldiers, Tubman led them in a raid in South Carolina from Port Royal to the interior, some twenty-five miles up the Combahee River, where they freed approximately 800 slaves.

During the American Civil War (1861–1865) at least 240 biological women are known to have worn male clothing in order to serve; however, some of them, such as Albert Cashier, were transgender men. Dorothea Dix served as the Union's Superintendent of Female Nurses throughout the war, placing her in charge of all female nurses working in army hospitals, which was over 3,000 nurses; women provided casualty care and nursing to Union and Confederate troops at field hospitals and on the Union Hospital Ship Red Rover. Furthermore, Dr. Mary Edwards Walker served as assistant surgeon with General Burnside's Union forces in 1862 and with an Ohio regiment in East Tennessee the following year; imprisoned in Richmond as a spy, she was eventually released and returned to serve as a hospital surgeon at a women’s prisoner-of-war hospital in Louisville, Kentucky. After the war, President Andrew Johnson awarded her the Medal of Honor, making her the only woman ever to receive it.

Also in 1866, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony formed the American Equal Rights Association, an organization for white and black women and men dedicated to the goal of suffrage for all. In 1868 the Fourteenth Amendment was passed, this was the first Amendment to ever specify the voting population as "male". In 1869 the women's rights movement split into two factions as a result of disagreements over the Fourteenth and soon-to-be-passed Fifteenth Amendments, with the two factions not reuniting until 1890. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony formed the more radical, New York-based National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA). Lucy Stone, Henry Blackwell, and Julia Ward Howe organized the more conservative American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA), which was centered in Boston. In 1870 the Fifteenth Amendment enfranchised black men. NWSA refused to work for its ratification, arguing, instead, that it be "scrapped" in favor of a Sixteenth Amendment providing universal suffrage. Frederick Douglass broke with Stanton and Anthony over NWSA's position.

From 1870 to 1875 several women, including Virginia Louisa Minor, Victoria Woodhull, and Myra Bradwell, attempted to use the Fourteenth Amendment in the courts to secure the vote (Minor and Woodhull) or the right to practice law (Bradwell), but they were all unsuccessful. In 1872 Susan B. Anthony was arrested and brought to trial in Rochester, New York, for attempting to vote for Ulysses S. Grant in the presidential election; she was convicted and fined $100 and the costs of her prosecution but refused to pay. At the same time, Sojourner Truth appeared at a polling booth in Battle Creek, Michigan, demanding a ballot; she was turned away. Also in 1872, Victoria Woodhull became the first woman to run for President, although she could not vote and only received a few votes, losing to Ulysses S. Grant. She was nominated to run by the Equal Rights Party, and advocated the 8-hour work day, graduated income tax, social welfare programs, and profit sharing, among other positions. In 1874 The Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was founded by Annie Wittenmyer to work for the prohibition of alcohol; with Frances Willard at its head (starting in 1876), the WCTU also became an important force in the fight for women's suffrage. In 1878 a woman suffrage amendment was first introduced in the United States Congress, but it did not pass.

American women achieved several firsts in the professions in the second half of the 1800s. In 1866 Lucy Hobbs Taylor became the first American woman to receive a dentistry degree. In 1878 Mary L. Page became the first woman in America to earn a degree in architecture when she graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In 1879 Belva Lockwood became the first woman allowed to argue before the Supreme Court; the first case in which she did so was the 1880 case "Kaiser v. Stickney". Arabella Mansfield had previously become America's first female lawyer when she was admitted to the bar in 1869. In 1891 Marie Owens, born in Canada, was hired in Chicago as America's first female police officer. Due to women's greater involvement in law and law enforcement, in 1871 the first state laws specifically making wife beating illegal were passed, though proliferation of laws to all states and adequate enforcement of those laws lagged very far behind.

In 1889 Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr established the first settlement house in America (a settlement house is a center in an underprivileged area that provides community services), in what was then a dilapidated mansion in one of the poorest immigrant slums of Chicago on the corner of Halstead and Polk streets. This settlement house, called Hull House, provided numerous activities and services including health and child care, clubs for both children and adults, an art gallery, kitchen, gymnasium, music school, theater, library, employment bureau, and a labor museum. By 1910, 400 settlement houses had been established in America; the majority of settlement house workers were women. Jane Addams was also a noted peace activist who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Nicholas Murray Butler in 1931

In 1891 Queen Liliuokalani, the last reigning monarch of the Hawaiian islands, ascended the throne. The McKinley Tariff (passed in 1890) had begun to cause a recession in the islands by withdrawing the safeguards ensuring a mainland market for Hawaiian sugar, and American interests in Hawaii began to consider annexation for Hawaii to re-establish an economic competitive position for sugar. In 1893, Queen Liliuokalani sought to issue a new constitution through an edict from the throne, but could not as a group led by politician Sanford B. Dole overthrew her. They had the help of the American minister in Hawaii, John L. Stevens, who called for troops to take control of Iolani Palace and various other governmental buildings. In 1894 the Queen was deposed, the monarchy repealed, and a provisional government was established which later became the Republic of Hawaii In 1895, Liliuokalani was arrested and forced to reside in Iolani Palace after a cache of weapons was found in the gardens of her home in Washington Place, although she denied knowing of the existence of this cache and was reportedly unaware of others' efforts to restore the royalty. In 1896, she was released and returned to her home at Washington Place where she lived for the next two decades. Hawaii was annexed to the United States through a joint resolution of the U. S. Congress in 1898.

During the Spanish-American War (1898) thousands of US soldiers sick with typhoid, malaria, and yellow fever overwhelmed the capabilities of the Army Medical Department, so Dr. Anita Newcomb McGee suggested to the Army Surgeon General that the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) be appointed to select professionally qualified nurses to serve under contract to the US Army. Before the war ended, 1,500 civilian contract nurses were assigned to Army hospitals in the US, Hawaii (not a state at that time), Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines, as well as to the hospital ship Relief. Twenty nurses died. The Army appointed Dr. McGee as Acting Assistant Surgeon General, making her the first woman ever to hold the position. The Army was impressed by the performance of its contract nurses and had Dr. McGee write legislation creating a permanent corps of Army nurses.

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