Women’s roles in America: wartime expansion post-war backlash and contraction

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Southern New Hampshire University
The position and status of women in American society is a product of how women’s roles have changed since the colonial beginnings of America. The problem is that American women have consistently found themselves in a second class status despite providing half the effort and work of American society. Women’s roles have changed, evolved and grown throughout American history. So, the question becomes: what has spurred those changes? The answer is war. Women’s roles have expanded as their participation, effort and work have been needed during major war periods. As those war period have concluded a backlash has arisen that has resulted in a contraction of women’s roles but never to pre-war status. This pattern was realized through the research of gender roles during distinct periods. The historiographies of distinct periods revealed the pattern and that pattern held. Data mining those sources and other research resulted in supportive primary sources that solidified the pattern. Diaries, letters of correspondence, journal and newspaper articles revealed the expansion, backlash and contraction of every war period. The correspondence of Abigail Adams, Civil War journals and nursing orders, Wilson’s speech to congress and the words of Suffragettes, the efforts of Rosie the Riveter, her words and the encouragement of government through propaganda, Cold War imposed gender norms and the debate over the ERA are all primary sources that illuminate and support the pattern. (Author abstract)