What social factors influenced American women writers of the period 1865 -1912?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the social influences of American women writers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was the rise of feminism as they began questioning the role of women in the Victorian age. The Victorian era started with the reign of England's Queen Victoria in 1837 and lasted until her death in 1901; the Victorian era significantly influenced America as well as England. Many of the women writers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were raised during and wrote during the Victorian era and began rebelling against the "insufferable" social limitations placed on Victorian women. Among them were writers like Kate Chopin (Loyalo University New Orleans, "Kate Chopin"). Much of Kate Chopin's work can be seen as rebellion against the roles of women outlined by Victorian society, and she voices her rebellion by creating characters who appear like the ideal Victorian woman and juxtaposing those characters with characters who are the exact opposite of the ideal. We can see such a juxtaposition in her novel titled The Great Awakening, in which Madame Ratignolle exemplifies the model Victorian woman by constantly reminding Edna of her duties as a wife and mother, while Edna represents the exact opposite in her rebellion against her roles as a mother and wife.

As time progressed, farther into the 20th century near the start of World War I, women writers became even more experimental in their feminist approach to writing. Women like Gertrude Stein approached such topics as having affairs and lesbianism, all influenced by prevalent theories of psychology, just as many works from the Realist literary movement were influenced by psychology (Georgetown University, "Gertrude Stein (1874-1946)").

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that one of the most important social factors that influenced American women writers coming out of the Civil War was the emergence of industrialization and its implications.  The nation's movement from farms to factories carried significant social realities that impacted American women writers.  Conformity and a life devoted to commercial endeavors were significant social factors arising out of this process of industrialization.  

Such ideas can be seen in American women writers of the time period.  The poetry of Emily Dickinson examines what it means to be alone and how this casts an impression on the individual's view of themselves, the world, and their place in it.  In the writings of Kate Chopin, there is a critique of conformity and blind acceptance of social constructions, particularly in the way women are viewed and view themselves.  In works like Little Women, Louisa May Alcott presents how women can create their own consciousness, and how their thoughts can constitute an entire narrative.  In each setting, the conformity brought about as a result of Industrialization and commercial advancement played a vital role in crafting the approaches of American women writers between 1865 and 1912.