Movin' On: Bobbed Hair, Short Skirts, and the Right to Vote

Movin' On: Bobbed Hair, Short Skirts, and the Right to Vote
Woman on the production line in World War II Art by Norman Baugher

Early feminists at the Women's Rights Convention, Seneca Falls 1848

Early feminists at the Women's Rights Convention, Seneca Falls 1848

 

The First Feminist Movement 1848: Vote or No Vote

It would be nice to say that the first Women's Rights Convention, held in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848, changed everything for the American woman. It didn't. It would be nice to say that The Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions, issued at the Convention, achieved for women what the Declaration of Independence did for the nation. It didn't.  It would also be good to report that women came out of the convention with the right to vote. They didn't. That would not happen for another 72 years.

The press, with the exception of Frederick Douglass' North Star panned the Convention. Politicians and religious leaders ridiculed it. And most of the public ignored it. Even so, leaders of the feminist movement were not discouraged. For the first time, women's suffrage had gained national attention, and they were ready to move on.

 

American Women Enter the Twentieth Century

As the 20th century opened, women took baby steps toward  progress. They opened nursery schools and lobbied for conservation. They helped secure passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act. During World War I, they volunteered for the Red Cross, sold bonds, and drove ambulances. Finally, in 1920, the nation conceded that they had earned the right to vote and passed the 19th Amendment to the Constitution guaranteeing that right.

The American Woman, 1920

The American Woman, 1920

The Roaring Twenties: Bobbed Hair and Short Skirts

The new American woman, 1920s

The new American woman, 1920s

The twenties redefined the American woman.  She was freed from the worst drudgery of housework by the invention of the vacuum cleaner,  the washing machine, canned foods, and commercially baked bread. The automobile gave her a chance to leave her home and see something of the world outside her neighborhood.

The automobile took the American woman outside her neighborhood

The automobile took the American woman outside her neighborhood

The flappers, women in the twenties

The flappers, women in the twenties

She shortened her skirts, bobbed her hair, put on makeup and learned to dance the Charleston. She repeated the mantra, Every day in every way I'm getting better and better. She listened to the radio and went to the movies where Clara Bow, the "It" girl; and Rudolph Valentino, the Sheik, gave her a glimpse of a more glamorous life. In the end, however, she followed in her mother's footsteps: she married, set up her own home, had children, and settled down to live more or less happily ever after.

Clara Bow, the "It Girl"

Clara Bow, the "It Girl"

World War II: Enter Rosie the Riveter

When World War II broke out, our nation called for more workers to produce defense materials. With most eligible men serving in the armed forces, women answered the call. They hung up their aprons and marched to local defense plants. Rose the housewife became Rosie the Riveter.

 

The American woman goes to war: Rosie the Riveter

The American woman goes to war: Rosie the Riveter

The War literally transformed the American woman. She found she liked working outside the home. She became accustomed to the little luxuries a second income gave her. Her status at home increased (when one brings in a paycheck, one has something to say about how it will be spent). She appreciated the feeling of purposefulness a job provided--especially if she were over 40 and her children were grown. She enjoyed the companionship of co-workers; and she had the satisfaction of knowing that she had made a significant contribution toward winning the war.

Who Are You?

I really wanna' know, who are you, who who--who who? Pete Townshend, "The Who"

Her new-found freedom created problems for Rosie when she tried to make her short-term role a long-run performance. A majority of Americans believed that with the wartime emergency over and men returning to their old jobs, it was time for Rosie to go back home. If she tried to stay on the job, she would be going against public opinion, and she had serious misgivings about that. She really did not see herself as an agent for social change or, heaven forbid, a liberated woman. She was faced with a dilemma: who was she, and where exactly was her place?

Housewife or vamp

Housewife or vamp

Next: From Helen Gurly Brown to Buffy the Vampire Slayer

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