Interpreting Primary Sources


Man is or should be woman's protector and defender.  The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many of the occupations of civil life....The paramount destiny and mission of fulfill [is] the noble and benign office of wife and mother.  This is the law of the Creator.  And the rules of civil society must be adapted to the general constitution of things, and cannot be based on exceptional cases.


--Supreme Court, 1873, upholding an Illinois law which prohibited women from becoming attorneys



Under the operation of this amendment what will become of the family...?  You will have a family with two heads--a "house divided against itself."  You will no longer have that healthful and necessary subordination of wife to husband, and that unit of relationship which is required by a true and Christian marriage.


--Senator Thomas Bayard, 1874, attacking women's suffrage  



Housewives!  You do not need a ballot to clean out your sink spout.  A handful of potash and some boiling water is quicker and cheaper....Control of the temper makes a happier home than control of elections....Good cooking lessens alcoholic craving quicker than a vote on local option. 


--Women's Anti-Suffrage Association of Massachusetts



In a crowded city quarter, however, if the street is not cleaned by the city authorities no amount of private sweeping will keep the tenement free from grime; if the garbage is not properly collected and destroyed a tenement house mother may see her children sicken and die of diseases from which she alone is powerless to shield them, although her tenderness and devotion are unbounded.  She cannot even secure untainted meat for her household, she cannot provide fresh fruit, unless the meat has been inspected by city officials, and the decayed fruit, which is so often placed upon sale in the tenement districts, has been destroyed in the interests of public health....If women would effectively continue their old avocations they must take part in the slow upbuilding of that code of legislation which is alone sufficient to protect the home from the dangers incident to modern life.


--Jane Addams



This government is menaced with great danger....That danger lies in the votes possessed by the males in the slums of the cities, and the ignorant foreign vote which was sought to be brought up by each party, to make political success....There is but one way to avert the danger--cut off the vote of the slums and give to woman, who is bound to suffer all, and more than man can, of the evils his legislation has brought upon the nation, the power of protecting herself that man has secured for himself--the ballot.


--Carrie Chapman Catt



Questions to think about:


1.  Identify the arguments advanced to justify a second-class role for late 19th century American women?


2.  No group of American men opposed extending the vote to themselves; why did some women oppose extending the vote to women?


3.  What were some of the arguments used by supporters of women's suffrage?                       






The Changing Family


Age of First Marriage               Average


                        Male                Female             Size


1790                --                     --                     5.79

1890                26.1                 22.0                 4.93

1900                25.9                 21.9                 4.76

1910                25.1                 21.6                 4.54

1920                24.6                 21.2                 4.34

1930                24.3                 21.3                 4.11 

1940                24.3                 21.5                 3.77

1950                22.8                 20.3                 3.52



Age of Mothers at Various Stages of the Family Life Cycle


                                                1880                1920                1950


Age of first marriage    22                    21                    20


Birth of first child                      23                    23                    23


Birth of last child                       34                    31                    30  


Marriage of  last child               55                    54                    51


Death of one spouse                 56                    65                    66


Questions to think about:


1.  Describe the basic changes that have taken place in the timing of key events of women's lives.


2.  How have these changes in your view altered the nature of family life?



Changes in Birth Rate and Divorce Rate


Birth Rate 


1800:   7-8 children per mother     

1900:   3.5 children per mother




1870                  8% of those married in that year eventually divorced

1890                10%

1900                12%

1920                18%

1930                24%

1940                26%

1950                30%

1960                39%

1970                48%


Questions to think about:


1.  What factors, in your view, contributed to the decline in the birth rate?


2.  Has the divorce rate risen sharply or gradually?  What factors might have contributed to the increasing divorce rate?



Women in the Labor Force


                                                                                    1900                1930


Percentage of Women  in the labor force                       20.6                 24.8 


Proportion of labor force made up of women                18.1                 21.9



Occupational Distribution of Women Workers


                                                1900                1930


Professionals                              8                    14

Managers                                   1                      3

Clerical and sales                        8                    28

Skilled artisans                1                      1

Operatives and laborers            26                    19

Domestic Servants                    29                    18

Other Service Workers   7                    10

Farmers                                      6                      2

Farm Laborers                         13                      6


Questions to think about:


1.  What proportion of women worked in 1900?  in 1930?


2.  How did the occupational distribution of women workers change over time?



Woman Suffrage Before 1920


Wyoming          1869

Utah                 1870

Colorado          1893

Idaho               1896

Washington      1910

California          1911

Arizona            1912

Kansas             1912

Oregon             1912

Alaska              1913

Montana           1914

Nevada            1914

New York        1917

Michigan          1918

Oklahoma        1918

South Dakota  1918


Questions to think about:


1.  Which states gave women the vote first? 


2.  Why those particular states?