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Women's History Month, Part 1: American Women

March is the annual celebration of National Women's History Month, a time to honor the achievements and contributions of women. The theme for the 2002 celebration is "Women Sustaining the American Spirit." Get in the spirit and join the Homeschool Learning Network as we explore some of the many accomplishments of women in our two-part unit. In Part One, learn about some achievements of American women.

 

Women's History Month Throughout the history of the United States, women have overcome many obstacles to make important contributions to American society. Women faced discrimination in many areas, such as education, careers, legal rights and voting rights.

Education
During colonial times, girls and boys were educated differently. Girls went to "dame" schools where they were taught how to read and write. The "master" schools -- similar to today's high schools -- were for boys. Girls could attend the master schools, generally during the summer when boys worked and only if space was available.

In the 1800s, opportunities for women in education began to improve. High schools and colleges for girls were established. Some colleges and universities that accepted only young men began to accept young women. In 1833, Oberlin College became the first higher education institution for young women and men. At the beginning of the 20th century, more than one third of all college students were women.

Women and the Law
In early America, women had few legal rights. Married women could not own property or make contracts on their own.

During the 1800s, many states began to pass laws that gave women more control over their lives. Laws were passed that allowed women to own property, make contracts and have control of any money they earned. Other laws helped women who had been mistreated and abandoned by their husbands and women who became widows when their husbands died.

Women and the World of Work
During the colonial period, a few women had careers in fields associated with men, such as medicine,law, and ministry. Many women who earned wages worked in jobs they could do at home, such as run a boarding house or work as a seamstress.

As industry rose in the 1800s, women began to work outside of the home in factory jobs. Most worked for long hours with little pay in poor working conditions. In some families, children also worked in factories.

During the 19th century, women began to gain acceptance in certain professional careers, especially teaching and writing. Women faced discrimination in many other professions, such as medicine. Women were not accepted into medical universities attended by men. In the early 1800s, nearly all hospital nurses were men.

By the beginning of the 20th century, some conditions for women in work showed signs of improvements. The United States government passed laws that improved working conditions for women who worked in factories. More women entered the field of medicine as top medical schools began to accept women.

Increasing numbers of women entered the work force, mainly in clerical jobs, factories, service and sale positions. During World War II, thousands of women joined the military as nurses and office workers. Many women also worked in factories, building materials needed for the war effort.

Even though many women worked in the same jobs as men, women earned less money than their male coworkers. In 1963, Congress passed the Equal Pay Act, a law requiring companies to pay women the same wages as men for the same work. However, by 1970, women still earned only about 55 percent of what men earned.

Women's Suffrage
During the 1800s, women began to speak up and organize to gain women's rights. In 1848, the first women's rights meeting was held in New York. One important issue from that meeting was women's suffrage -- the right to vote.

Leaders in the women's suffrage movement included Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucy Stone. For many years, these women and thousands of others across America worked to get the vote for women. In 1919, Congress passed the 19th Amendment that granted women the right to vote. The bill became law in 1920.

Women slowly began to gain leadership roles in government. Today, women hold many different political offices, from local governments to advisors in the cabinet of the President of the United States.

Looking Ahead
Although women have made many gains since America's beginnings, there are areas relating to women that still need improvements. Some statistics from the United States Census Bureau for the year 2000 present a hopeful future for women.

 

  • Just over half of all Americans- -- about 143 million -- were women.
  • Most women in America completed high school. Eighty-four percent of women 25 and above earned a high school diploma.
  • Women outnumbered men in college. Fifty-six percent of all college students were women.
  • Women still earned less than men did, but the salary gap between women and men decreased. The median annual salary for full-time working women was $27,355 -- about 73 percent of what men in similar careers were paid. Sixty-one percent of American women 16 and above worked in paying jobs.

The Census Bureau also reported that in 1997, more than 5 million businesses in the United States were owned by women.

Learn More!
General Resources for Women's History

Online Resources

Books

  • Ash, Maureen. The Story of the Women's Movement. Children's Press, 1989. ISBN: 0516047248 (Ages 8-11)
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  • Cullen-DuPont, Kathryn. The Encyclopedia of Women's History in America. Da Capo Press, 1998. ISBN: 0306808684 (Parents)
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  • Fox, Mary Virginia. The Story of Women Who Shaped the West. Children's Press, 1994. ISBN: 0516447572 (Ages 9-12)
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  • Freeman, Criswell, editor. Mothers Are Forever: Quotations Honoring the Wisest Women We Know. Walnut Grove Press, 1998. ISBN: 188765576X (Ages 4-8)
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  • Guiteras, Gregory. Famous American Women. Dover Publications, 2001. ISBN: 0486415481 (Ages 4-8)
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  • Heinemann Sue. The New York Public Library Amazing Women in American History. John Wiley & Sons, 1998. ISBN: 0471192163 (Ages 9-12)
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  • Lafontaine, Bruce. Famous Women Aviators. Dover Publications, 2001. ISBN: 0486415503 (Ages 4-8)
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  • Lunardini, Christine. What Every American Should Know About Women's History: 200 Events That Shaped Our Destiny. Adams Media Corporation, 1996. ISBN: 155850687X (Parents)
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  • Nicholson, Lois P. Helen Keller: Humanitarian. Chelsea House. 1995. ISBN: 079102086X (Ages 9-12)
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  • Sills, Leslie. Inspirations: Stories about Women Artists. Albert Whitman & Company, 1989. ISBN: 0807536490 (Ages 9-12)



LESSON 1:
American Women Firsts

Concepts:
Your children will learn about some "firsts" achievements by American women.

Lesson:
Explain to the children that throughout United States history, women have made many "first" contributions in different fields. Tell the children to study the information from American Women Firsts. Then have the children complete our worksheet. Check the children's answers on our answer key.

After completing the worksheet, let the children try these online interactive women "firsts" quizzes:



LESSON 2:
The Right to Vote

Concepts:
Your children will learn about women's suffrage and create a woman's suffrage poster.

Lesson:
Review with your children the general information about women's suffrage presented at the beginning of this unit. Discuss the meaning of the word "suffrage". Ask: When did American women get the right vote? What amendment gave women the vote?

Let the children study some images of historical documents, buttons and other items related to women's suffrage from Political Culture and Imagery of American Woman Suffrage.
(Note: This online gallery contains 50 images. Click "next" at the bottom of the page to view the images.)

Discuss the words and images in the documents. Tell the children to create a poster relating to women's suffrage using construction paper, poster board, markers, paints or other materials of their choosing. Have the children create a slogan for their poster. When completed ask the children to explain their slogan and images.

Have the children research additional information about women's suffrage in the United States from one or more of these sources:

 



LESSON 3:
Women in Aviation

Concepts:
Your children will learn about some women pioneers in aviation and their characteristics.

Lesson:
Discuss the meaning of the word "aviation." Explain that throughout history, women made great advances in aviation. Many women aviators had to overcome huge barriers to achieve their goals.

Have the children read biographies of several women aviators from Women in Aviation and Space History. Ask the children to think about the similarities, differences and characteristics of these women as they read the information. Then have the children complete our Women in Aviation worksheet. Ask the children to explain their responses.

Additional Resources:

 


LESSON 4:
Women Inventors

Concepts:
Your children will learn about some famous women inventors.

Lesson:
What do the disposable diaper, carpet cleaner and automatic dishwasher have in common? They are items that were invented by women! Have the children read some information about inventions by women from Women Inventors and Female Ingenuity. Then have the children complete our Women Inventors worksheet. Check the children's answers on our answer key.

Additional Resources:

 



LESSON 5:
Dear Ms. Senator

Concepts:
Your children will learn about some American women in government and writing letters.

Lesson:
Explain that women have many leadership roles in government. Have the children to research information about women leaders in your city or town government using local newspapers, the public library or city and town Web sites as resources. Ask the children choose one woman leader and write a letter to that leader. Ask the children to include in their letter questions such as:

 

  • Who did you look up to when you were growing up?
  • Why did you decide to run for government?
  • What important work are you doing now?
  • What are your plans for the future?

You may want to have the children include in the letter a request to visit the leader's office.

For younger children:
Assist younger children in finding information about women in local government and writing short, simple letters. Help the children with letter format and addressing envelopes.

Extension: Expand the project to include writing letters to women state and national representatives. Check your state government Web sites for information about state leaders. For national government officials, check these resources:

 



LESSON 6:
Women and War

Concepts:
Your children will learn about some history of American women's participation in times of war and in the military.

Lesson:
Explain to the children that women have participated in various wars in different roles throughout American history. Have the children start their study of women's participation in American wars and in the military by completing the activities from the following resources.

Additional Resources:

 

Books

  • Sheafer, Silvia Anne. Women in America's Wars (Collective Biographies). Enslow Publishers, Inc., 1996. ISBN: 0894905538. (Ages 13 and up)
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  • Anderson, Madelyn Klein. So Proudly They Served: American Military Women in World War II. Franklin Watts, Incorporated, 1995. ISBN: 053120197X. (Ages 9-12)



LESSON 7:
Great Women in the Family

Concepts:
Your children will learn about collecting oral histories and the achievements of women in your family.

Lesson:
Learn about the history of the women in your family! Have the children interview female relatives to learn about important events in their lives. If you have access to a camcorder, videotape the oral histories. If not, use a tape recorder to document the information. Use the stories to create a family history "book on tape" following these steps:

Materials:

  • tape recorder & audiocassette
  • computer and printer
  • clear plastic report covers

Optional:

  • camera or old pictures
  • photo corners or clear plastic photo sheets

Directions:

  • Choose several women in your family to interview: mother, aunts, grandmother, sisters.

     

  • Ask the women questions about their lives covering a variety of topics and events, such as childhood, schooling and achievements. Also ask them to tell about the women who were important to them while they were growing up.

     

  • Record their responses on the recorder. If possible, ask the women to share some pictures of taken while they were growing up. Or, take current pictures of the women.

     

  • Help the children transcribe the tape and type the words using a word processing program on your computer.

     

  • Compile the transcribed pages. If pictures are available, add the pictures using photo corners on sheets of paper or clear plastic photo sheets.

     

  • Let the children create a title for the information.

     

  • Place the information in a plastic report folder to create a book. Put the tape with the folder.

     

  • Add the book to your family library. Let the whole family read, listen and learn about the history of your female relatives!

For younger children:
Have the children ask one or two women in the family to tell about women who had a great influence on their lives. Let the children take pictures of the female relatives they interview. Glue or tape the each picture on a piece of construction paper. Help the children write a few sentences under the picture about the person in each picture and the women they say influenced their lives.

Extension:
Expand the project to collect oral histories of older women in your neighborhood or place of worship.

 

Article by Lois Lewis Curriculum Development
Article © Homeschool Learning Network, All Rights Reserved.

 

Last Updated on Monday, 20 February 2012 19:07
 

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