The Role Women Played in the Social Reform Movements of the Antebellum Period
Comprehending the lives of American women and their roles is
fundamental for understanding the entire antebellum period in America.
The period 1820 to 1870 in the United States was marked by a forceful
and widespread debate on woman's roles and their proper vocation
whether this be in the home or outside the home and becoming wage
earners.This was, however, still a time in which females were
encouraged to be pure, dutiful, domestic and compliant by men and the
government. On the other hand, due through this, the evident truth was
ignored that was that women’s roles were steadily beginning to reach
outside the family and home, their were gaining confidence in
themselves and their independence was growing.
As female roles changed, the patriarchal and chauvinistic society
that was America was beginning to be noticed, women’s rights advocates
in particular became aware of the gender inequalities present in their
society, chafed under these limits, and established a movement which
is still present in America today.
Women in early American history were assigned and in some manners even
restricted to the domestic sphere of the family, women being the
‘homemaker’ made them clearly inferior to men and were never thought
of as being socially equal.
However, this began to change during the antebellum period which
witnessed many of America’s most shameful barbarities but also some of
its noblest efforts at social justice. It witnessed the “suppression,
withdrawal, and westward removal” of tens of thousands of Native
Americans; the movement of hundreds of thousands of African American
slaves into the cotton kingdom of the Southwest; and the invasion of a
vast empire of land from Spain and Mexico. More positively, it saw the
beginning of the American reform tradition and the first phase of the
fight to overcome the "American dilemma,- the fundamental moral
disagreement between American society's commitment to freedom,
justice, and opportunity for all, and the truthful reality of
inequality in race and gender and was marked by the crusade for
women’s rights.” (American women’s history-Nancy A.Hewitt)
Two hundred years ago, the traditional roles of leadership were not
open to women.
Their status was, at best, confining. Nonetheless, their presence was
felt and their
opinions were brought to bear when those opportunities presented
Many of the women who grabbed these opportunities were close to the
movers and shakers of the early republic, while others took direct
action on their own.
The expansion of the participation of women in American culture
occurred within the limits of the home and family, but formed
nonetheless one of the streams of social development within which