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  • 0CCUS 16 - Women in the 19th Century

  • Hi, I’m John Green; this is CrashCourse U.S. history and today were going to talk

  • about wonder women. Mr. Green, Mr. Green, finally we get to the

  • history of the United States as seen through the lens of Marvel comic superheroes.

  • Oh, Me from the Past, you sniveling little idiot. Wonder Woman is from the DC Universe.

  • Also this is the study of history, which means a constant reexamination and redefinition

  • of what it means to be a hero, and in the case of this episode, it’s about taking

  • the first steps towards acknowledging that not all heroes worthy of historical recognition

  • are men. So were going to talk about how women transformed

  • pre-Civil War America as they fought to improve prisons, schools, decrease public drunkenness,

  • and end slavery. And while fighting for change and justice for others, American women discovered

  • that the prisoners, children, and slaves they were fighting for weren’t the only people

  • being oppressed and marginalized in the American democracy.

  • Intro So in the colonial era, most American women

  • of European descent lived lives much like those of their European counterparts: They

  • were legally and socially subservient to men and trapped within a patriarchal structure.

  • Lower and working class women were actually more equal to men of their own classes, but

  • only because they were, like, equally poor. As usual, it all comes back to economics.

  • In general, throughout world history, the higher the social class, the greater the restrictions

  • on womenalthough high class women have traditionally had the lowest mortality rates,

  • which is one of the benefits of you know doors and extra lifeboats and whatnot. So at least

  • you get to enjoy that oppression for many years.

  • As previously noted, American women did participate in the American Revolution, but they were

  • still expected to marry and have kids rather than, like, pursue a career. Under the legal

  • principle ofcovertureactually husbands held authority over the person, property and

  • choices of their wives. Also since women weren’t permitted to own

  • property and property ownership was a precondition for voting, they were totally shut out of

  • the political process. Citizens of the new Republic were therefore

  • definitionally male, but women did still improve their status via the ideology ofRepublican

  • Motherhood.” Women were important to the new Republic because

  • they were raising childrenESPECIALLY MALE CHILDRENwho would become the future voters,

  • legislators, and honorary doctors of America. So women couldn’t themselves participate

  • in the political process, but they needed to be educated some because they were going

  • to potty train those who would later participate in the political process. What’s that? There

  • were no potties? Really? Apparently instead of potties they had typhoid.

  • Actually it was a result of not having potties. So even living without rights in a pottyless

  • nation, the Republican Mother idea allowed women access to education, so that they could

  • teach their children. Also womenprovided they weren’t slaves--were counted in determining

  • the population of a state for representation purposes, so that was at least an acknowledgement

  • that they were at, like, five fifths human. And then the market revolution had profound

  • effects on American women, too, because as production shifted from homes to factories,

  • it shifted away from women doing the producing. This led to the so-calledcult of domesticity,”

  • which like most cults, I am opposed to. That’s right, Stan, I’m opposed to the

  • Blue Oyster Cult, The Cult, The Cult of Personality by In Living Color, and the three remaining

  • Shakers. Sorry, Shakers. But who are we kidding? Youre

  • not watching. Youre too busy dancing. The cult of domesticity decreed that a woman’s

  • place was in the home, so rather than making stuff, the job of women was to enable their

  • husbands to make stuff, by providing food and a clean living space, but also by providing

  • what our favorite historian Eric Foner callednon-market values like love, friendship,

  • and mutual obligation,” which is the way we talk about puppies these days.

  • And indeed that’s in line with actual story titles from early 19th century American women’s

  • magazines, likeWoman, a Being to Come Home ToandWoman: Man’s Best Friend.”

  • Oh, it’s time for the Mystery Document? I hope it’s fromWoman --- Man’s Best

  • Friend.” The rules here are simple. I either get the

  • author of the Mystery Document right...oh, hey there, eagle...or I get shocked.

  • Let’s see what weve got. “Woman is to win everything by peace and

  • love; by making herself so much respected, esteemed and loved, that to yield to her opinions

  • and to gratify her wishes, will be the free-will offering of the heart. … But the moment

  • woman begins to feel the promptings of ambition, or the thirst for power, her aegis of defense

  • is gone. All the sacred protection of religion, all the generous promptings of chivalry, all

  • the poetry of romantic gallantry, depend upon woman’s retaining her place as dependent

  • and defenseless, and making no claims, and maintaining no right but what are the gifts

  • of honor, rectitude and love.” Well it was definitely a dude and I have no

  • idea which dude, so I’m just going to guess John C. Calhoun because he’s a bad person.

  • No? Well, what can you do? It wasn’t a dude? It was apparently Harriet Beecher Stowe’s

  • sister Catharine who was an education reformer and yet held all of those opinions, so aaaaAAAAH.

  • So I assume Stan brought up Harriet Beecher Stowe’s sister to point out that it wasn’t

  • just men who bought into the Cult of Domesticity. The idea of true equality between men and

  • women was so radical that almost no one embraced it. Like, despite the economic growth associated

  • with the market economy, women’s opportunities for work were very limited.

  • Only very low paying work was available to them and in most states they couldn’t control

  • their own wages if they were married. But, still poor women did find work in factories

  • or as domestic servants or seamstresses. Some middle class women found work in that

  • most disreputable of fields, teaching, but the cult of domesticity held that a respectable

  • middle class woman should stay at home. The truth is, most American women had no chance

  • to work for profit outside their houses, so many women found work outside traditional

  • spheres in reform movements. Okay, let’s go to the Thought Bubble.

  • Reform movements were open to women partly because if women were supposed to be the moral

  • center of the home, they could also claim to be the moral conscience of the nation.

  • Thus it didn’t seem out of the ordinary for women to become active in the movement

  • to build asylums for the mentally ill, for instance, as Dorothea Dix was, or to take

  • the lead in sobering the men of America. Many of the most famous advocates for legally prohibiting

  • the sale of alcohol in the US were women, like Carry Nation attacked bars with a hatchet

  • and not because she’d had a few too many. The somewhat less radical Frances Willard

  • founded the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in 1874, which would be one of the most

  • powerful lobbying groups in the United States by the end of the 19th century. And women

  • gave many temperance lectures featuring horror stories of men who, rather than seeking refuge

  • from the harsh competition of the market economy and the loving embrace of their homes, found

  • solace at the bottom of a glass or at the end of a beer hose. And by the way, yes, there

  • were bars that allowed you to drink as much beer as you could, from a hose, for a nickel.

  • Today, these establishments are known as frat houses. These temperance lectures would tell

  • of men spending all their hard earned money on drink, leaving wives and childrenthere

  • were always childrenstarving and freezing, because in the world of the temperance lecture,

  • it was always winter. Now don’t get me wrong: Prohibition was a disaster, because 1. Freedom,

  • and 2. It’s the only time we had to amend the constitution to be like, “Just kidding

  • about that other amendment,” but it’s worth remembering that back then people drank

  • WAY more than we do now, and also that alcohol is probably a greater public health issue

  • than some recreational drugs that remain illegal. But regardless, the temperance movement made

  • a huge difference in American life because eventually, male and female supporters of

  • temperance realized that women would be a more powerful ally against alcohol if they

  • could vote. Thanks Thought Bubble. So, in 1928, critic

  • Gilbert Seldes wrote that if prohibition had existed in 1800, “the suffragists might

  • have remained for another century a scattered group of intellectual cranks.”

  • And to quote another historian, “the most urgent reasons for women to want to vote in

  • the mid-1800s were alcohol related: They wanted the saloons closed down, or at least regulated.

  • The wanted the right to own property, and to shield their familiesfinancial security

  • from the profligacy of drunken husbands. They wanted the right to divorce those men, and

  • to have them arrested for wife beating, and to protect children from being terrorized

  • by them. To do all these things they needed to change the laws that consigned married

  • women to the status of chattel. And to change those laws, they needed the vote.”

  • Many women were also important contributors to the anti-slavery movement, although they

  • tended to have more subordinate roles. Like, abolitionist Maria Stewart was the first African

  • American woman to lecture to mixed male and female audiences. Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote

  • the terrible but very import ant Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Sarah and Angelina Grimke, daughters

  • of a South Carolina slaveholder, converted to Quakerism and became outspoken critics

  • of slavery. Sarah Grimke even published the Letters on

  • the Equality of the Sexes in 1838, which is pretty much what the title suggests.

  • By the way, Stan, you could have made Sarah Grimke’s letters the Mystery Document. I

  • would have gotten that. But I want to say one more thing about Harriet

  • Beecher Stowe. There’s a reason we read Uncle Tom’s Cabin in history classes and

  • not in literature ones, but Uncle Tom’s Cabin introduced millions of Americans to

  • the idea that African American people were people.

  • At least in 19th century readers, Uncle Tom’s Cabin humanized slaves to such a degree that

  • it was banned throughout most of the south. So many women involved in the abolitionist

  • movement, when studying slavery, noticed that there was something a little bit familiar.

  • Now, some male abolitionists, notably Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison became

  • supporters of women’s rights, but ultimately the male leaders of the anti-slavery movement

  • denied women’s demands for equality, believing that any calls for women’s rights would

  • undermine the cause of abolition. And they may have had a point because slavery

  • only existed in parts of the country whereas women existed in all of it.

  • In fact, one of the arguments used by pro-slavery forces was that equality under the law for

  • male slaves might lead to a slippery slope ending with, like, equality for WOMEN.

  • And out of this emerging consciousness of their own subordinate position, the movement

  • for women’s rights was born. The most visible manifestation of it was the issue of woman’s

  • suffrage, raised most eloquently at the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 where Elizabeth Cady

  • Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony and many others wrote and published the Declaration

  • of Sentiments, modeled very closely on the Declaration of Independence.

  • Except, in some ways this declaration was much more radical than the Declaration of

  • Independence because it took on the entire patriarchal structure.

  • Okay, so there are three things I want to quickly point out about the 19th century movement

  • for women’s rights. First, like abolitionism, it was an international movement. Often American

  • feminists travelled abroad to find allies, prefiguring the later transatlantic movement

  • of other advocates for social justice like Florence Kelley and W.E.B DuBois.

  • Secondly, for the most part, like other reform movements, the women’s movement was primarily

  • a middle-class or even upper class effort. Most of the delegates at Seneca Falls, for

  • instance, were from the middle class. There were no representatives of, like, cotton mills,

  • but this didn’t mean that 19th century feminists didn’t acknowledge the needs of working

  • women. Like, Sojourner Truth, probably the most famous

  • black woman abolitionist, spoke eloquently of the plight of working class women, especially

  • slaves, since she’d been one until 1827. And other women recognized that women needed

  • to be able to participate in the market economy to gain some economic freedom.

  • Now, of course all the women who wrote about the moral evils of 19th century America or

  • spoke out or took hatchets to saloons were doing what we would now recognize as work.

  • But they were not being paid. Amelia Bloomer got paid, though, because she

  • recognized that it was impossible for women to easily participate in economic activities

  • because of their crazy clothes. So she popularized a new kind of clothing

  • featuring a loose fitting tunic, trousers, and eponymous undergarments.

  • But then Bloomer and her pants were ridiculed in the press and in the streets, and this