Friday, April 13, 2012

No Gilded Cage for Victorian Women

Mrs. Lawrence Lewis
Late 19-century urban middle- or upper-class women--such as Shaketown's Mrs. Rolifer--were frequently characterized as "only a bird in a gilded cage", a song popular at the time. Such women were viewed as fragile and endangered; in the first 20 years of the new century, they increasingly began to flex their political muscle. The late 1890s brought major changes in the way many women interacted with the world at large. Though working-class women (often immigrants) like Cayley were brought into the work force the moment they could stand (child labor laws were either non-existent or not enforced), they usually filled positions of the lowest sort. Most women of this ilk were in survival mode. However, women in more stable situations were often at the forefront of movements such as suffrage, temperance and anti-corruption. Those without political connections sometimes paid a high price-- suffragettes such as Mrs. Lawrence (Dora) Lewis and Lucy Burns were beaten and starved for their political beliefs. Today, it's difficult to believe that women were considered property and were unable to vote until the hard-won passage of the 19th amendment in 1920, almost entirely due to the relentless self-sacrifice of women like these. This Snopes article refers to a true email that is circulated about members of NWP, the National Women's Party:

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