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What was the Social Status of women during Ben Franklin's era in Philadelphia?...

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gamefaceguy | Honors

Posted July 22, 2013 at 8:49 PM via web

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What was the Social Status of women during Ben Franklin's era in Philadelphia?

Specifically, what was the treatment they received, their civil rights, and the way men thought of them compared to today's woman.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted July 23, 2013 at 12:51 AM (Answer #1)

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In discussing women that Franklin encountered in Philadelphia, one can make the argument that their social status was secondary to men.  Certainly, White women in the Colonies experienced a better existence than women of color, who were battling the issue of racial subjugation as well as gender discrimination.  Yet, women, on the whole found themselves secondary to men.  Naturally, the wealthier a women was in terms of the life she married into, the better her life was.  Poorer women worked more and received less than their share as opposed to men who were financially challenged.  "Constant toil and hardship" defined the life for women in Colonial America, and certainly would have defined existence for women that Franklin met in Philadelphia.

From a social standpoint, women of the time period were charged with carrying out the domestic labor element.  Education was denied to women, who, as young as early teens, were expected to perform the housework responsibilities.  Political rights were not embraced as women's identities were "constructed" for them to remain in the domestic realm.  Men looked at women as being responsible for the domestic needs, such as food, basic supplies, and ensuring that the home front was addressed. In addition to this, women were seen as being responsible for delivering children.  In many cases, women were expected to have as many children as possible. While upper class women were able to "enjoy" the benefits of servants, their lives were still filled with immeasurable work and "toil."

Certainly, things are different today.  For the most part, women have more opportunities in front of them today than in Colonial times.  Women enjoy relative political equality in terms of their abilities to possess political autonomy.  At the same time, socially, women are able to experience more that the world has to offer. Social "construction" of identity for women still occurs, but there are greater opportunities for most women to activate their own voice. Education opportunities are much greater today than in colonial times.  Due to her choice, opportunity, and ability to define her own narrative, Franklin might not recognize the vision of the modern woman today than what was present in Colonial times.

That being said, I think that you can find many parts of the world where the Colonial "construction" of women's identities has not changed.  Despite advances in technology, social understanding, and individual perception, there are still plenty of places in the world where women are expected to focus their lives on the domestic realm, get married, have lots of babies, and provide a son in the process.  There are still places in the world where schools for women are discouraged or even burned to the ground, where women are denied to go to school and even assaulted or shot for trying to go to school. There are still places where women are seen as secondary to men.  These are areas that Franklin might be easier to recognize the condition of women, while we, in the modern setting, would not. The challenge is to ensure that we are able to use the historical record to assess where the issue of women's rights were, where they are, and where they need to be for all women.

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gamefaceguy | Honors

Posted July 23, 2013 at 6:38 PM (Reply #1)

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thanks for such a clear + precise answer.  appreciate the time.  

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