Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Struggle for Freedom: The Impact of Women's Movements in the United States Part III (a))

By Miriam B. Medina

This is the conclusive part of a three-part series examining the history of feminist movements in the United States and the impact of that movement on American society. The first part examined the early history of women's place in society. Part two examined the 19th century up until the formation of the first Women's Rights associations and ended discussing the first widespread use of birth control, a pivotal tool in the struggle to transform women from being viewed as birthing machines. This article begins with the evolution of birth control devices in the 20th century.

A wide range of contraceptive devices and methods were tried. Some of the methods included abstaining from sex as much as possible, a bad idea because it often failed. Then there was the early withdrawal process. The withdrawal way during intercourse, which required a lot of control from the man, robbed the partners of much ecstasy, and with the rhythm method there could be a problem with the timing of ovulation. Then there were sponges, the use of douches and even condoms. The purpose of the rubber condom was both for birth control and to serve as a protective measure against sexually transmitted diseases. The diaphragm came about in the 1880's, which I think this was the most favored form of birth control until the 1950's. The 1960's brought the famous: "The Pill". The pill was followed by the "IUD", which I believe appeared around the 1920's, but it was in 1966 that it became a public phenomena. Not all were effective at preventing pregnancies. Many women would then resort to self-abortion, ingesting some potion made out of herbal medicine, or jumping down stairs, taking hot baths or performing strenuous lifting methods. Many of these women died, hemorrhaging from a miscarriage. Those who could afford it would go to an unscrupulous abortionist in New York City where there existed at least 200 of them in the 1870's. Even among the World of Society, I'm sure; there were secrets that have been brushed under the rug over the years.

On August 26, 1920, a constitutional amendment was adopted when Tennessee finally ratified it, granting full woman suffrage in all of the United States.

America's social scene was changing at a rapid pace, especially in the 1920's. It was a remarkable, dramatic era in all aspects. The economy was experiencing an upswing after World War I, which brought about many jobs that employed married women. These women worked for lesser wage than the men received. Nonetheless, most importantly, it was the decade of the appearance of the revolutionary Flapper girl, who joyously threw off chains of societal restriction, demanding sexual and personal freedom. She was the original free spirit, the modern woman. She smoked in public, a taboo, lived on her own, voted, drank booze with the boys, danced, and bobbed her hair. She also wore cosmetics, painted her lips bright red, and went to wild petting parties where she was sexually promiscuous. She was the first real example of the modern woman, one who could do anything that the men could. The Flapper defied all the rules of acceptable feminine behavior.

In 1921, the Lucy Stone League was founded. This organization, its members named the "Lucy Stoners" after the abolitionist and national woman's rights leader Lucy Stone, recommended that married women keep their maiden names, simply using the Mrs as a title. For example, Mrs. Lucy Stone. Lucy Stone did this with the consent of her husband, Henry Brown Blackwell.

To be continued: Part III (b)

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