How were women's roles changing prior to the passage of the 19th Amendment?

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The 19th Amendment became part of the Constitution in 1920.  In the two decades before that, women’s roles in society had been changing in important ways.  Let us look at three of those ways.

First, women had been coming to have somewhat more leisure time in the early 1900s.  This was largely because of the spread of labor-saving devices.  Women who had refrigerators, for example, did not have to spend a part of every day shopping for food.  Instead, they could shop less often and store the food.  This freed them up to do more things other than working as housewives.

Second, women, particularly from the middle class, had become more active in social causes.  The first two decades of the 1900s are called the “Progressive Era” because this was a time when many reforms were put forward.  Women such as Jane Addams were instrumental in pushing for these reforms.  This meant that women now were playing more of a public role.  They were working as advocates for social change.

Finally, there was the impact of World War I on women and work.  Women had already been working more as there came to be many white collar jobs in the large business firms of the time.  But WWI drained men off into the military and led many women to work in areas that had never had much in the way of female workers.  This, too, changed their role in society.

Thus, in the two decades before 1920, women were working more in paid jobs, were involved in social reform movements, and had more leisure time than previously.