With the advent of the 1920s and the signing of the Nineteenth Amendment came a rapid movement toward women’s rights. It sped up with the beginning of World War II where six million women went to work in military factories, producing ammunition and other military goods for the sixteen million troops fighting abroad. The end of the war brought the realization that American women could work just as hard and efficiently as American men. Thus the idea of feminism was born. From here, the momentum continued before taking a hit with the loss of the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1980s. This only caused women to fight harder and soon a new generation of independent women arose in the early 1990s. Nowadays, self-sufficient women can be found everywhere as CEOs in companies like PepsiCo and Kraft Foods or as associate justices on the Supreme Court. However, all the strides taken thus far had its origins not in businesses or the government but in the military. Since Joan of Arc first picked up a sword to fight for the French, women have disguised themselves as men in order to fight for their country and for their own personal independence. For example, during the Civil War (1860-1865), nearly three hundred women fought bravely in support of both the Northern and Southern cause (Weiser). Yet despite their bravery, three hundred seems trivial next to the approximately three million male soldiers that fought next to them (Weiser). The majority of contributions came from the women who stayed within the societal boundaries of the time. Unfortunately, most accounts of women in the Civil War focus on the hidden soldiers and not the supporting housewives. With such a small amount of women defying the norm, one has to wonder to what extent did women break free from social restraints during the Civil War in both the North and the South?
Stretching from approximately 1820 to 1861, the antebellum period was a time when the North and the South split into two distinct regions. While debates on slavery and states’ rights divided the government, other factors such as the growth of new industries, businesses, and professions helped create a new middle class, which consisted of families whose husbands worked as lawyers, factory managers, merchants, teachers, and physicians. With this new class rose a new attitude about work and family. The common idea was that:
When husbands went off to work, they helped create the view that men alone should support the family. This belief held that the world of work, the public sphere, was a rough world, where a man did what he had to in order to succeed, that it was full of temptations, violence, and trouble. A woman who ventured out into such a world could easily fall prey to it, for women were weak and delicate creatures. A woman's place was therefore in the private sphere, in the home, where she took charge of all that went on. (Lavender)
Such notions evolved as work moved out of the family unit and became...