Regarding society's view and expectations of women in the Progressive Era...I am doing an exam paper with the theme "freedom and gender." In it, I am analyzing American literature and primary...

Regarding society's view and expectations of women in the Progressive Era...

I am doing an exam paper with the theme "freedom and gender." In it, I am analyzing American literature and primary history sources (since the course name is American history and literature). In the literature part I am using "The Yellow Wallpaper" (which is part of the course reading), but I cannot find another short story from the late 19th to early 20th century that show society's views on women and their expectations of them such as submission, purity, domesticity, etc.

The author has to be American and the story has to be about American women.


Expert Answers
booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Progressive Era in the U.S. considered to have taken place between the 1890s and the 1920s. The political leaders of the time supported prohibition because of the power controlled by saloons and "bosses." The women's suffrage movement...

...was promoted to bring a "purer" female vote into the arena.

Besides the "purification" in government circles, this was also a time of reforms in areas such as local government, churches, the railroad, medicine, education, and many others. Many of those who supported this movement were of the middle class. The U.S. adopted practices already being used in Europe, and things that were considered "old-fashioned" were synonymous with "waste and inefficiency."

However, even though the Progressives supported women's suffrage, they had their own agenda, promoting a "'purer' female vote," indicating a wish to improve the vote by drawing an "improved" version of women to the cause. Perhaps we can infer that something that was not taking place was a concern for the welfare of women and their place not only in the family, but in society at large.

Of the many people who were deeply involved in the Progressive movement, from leaders of the women's suffrage movement to sociologists and statesmen, one name stands out for me. A playwright and novelist, Susan Glaspell was an actress and director, but she began as a journalist after graduating from college. It was her assignment to cover the murder of John Hossack, in 1900, allegedly by his wife. She was accused of violently killing him while he slept. Mrs. Hossack was first found guilty. An appeal produced a hung jury, and the charges were eventually dropped.

From this assignment, Glaspell wrote a short story, entitled "A Jury of Her Peers," and also a one-act-play called Trifles (1916). The play is the piece with which I am familiar.

Trifles clearly shows how trivialized women's lives were by the male-dominated society in which they existed. Two women in the play, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters, neighbors of the accused (Mrs. Wright), go to the scene of the murder (the house) to collect some things Mrs. Wright might use while in prison (such as clothing, etc.). Throughout the course of the play, they come to see the life of a woman—every woman (even their own lives)—in a very different light by studying Mrs. Wright's existence—by drawing inferences regarding her husband's treatment of her, and hearing the men's attitudes (as they search for evidence) that the things that fill a woman's life from dawn to dusk are "trifles." The women silently join with each other to make sure they provide no evidence to prove Mrs. Wright's guilt, erecting an invisible wall between themselves and the thoughtlessness of men regarding the sacrifices women make, the pain they endure, and the thankless lives they often lead.

I believe this would be an excellent play to use. It is very interesting, its message particularly clear, and it is based on a real event in U.S. history. It can be found at the following URL:

Read the study guide:
The Yellow Wallpaper

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