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Middle-class women and progressive reformers


Democrat Woodrow Wilson
Democrat Woodrow Wilson

Middle-class women and progressive reformers shared common goals. In the progressive era, women made great advances in higher education, the professions, and women’s organizations. By 1910, for instance, when about 5 percent of college-age Americans attended college, about 40 percent were women. Activist women joined organizations such as the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, a women’s volunteer service organization founded in 1890. The National Consumers’ League (1899) and the Women’s Trade Union League (1903) spearheaded efforts to limit women’s work hours and to organize women in unions. College students read Women and Economics (1898) by feminist intellectual Charlotte Perkins Gilman; college graduates worked in settlement houses; and homemakers joined women’s clubs to promote civic improvement. Reformer Florence Kelley led the charge for child labor laws and other measures to protect workers. On the left, anarchist Emma Goldman, birth control advocate Margaret Sanger, and feminist Crystal Eastman promoted aspects of women’s rights.

Settlement leaders, women’s clubs, and temperance groups supported progressive measures. The woman suffrage movement, in turn, won progressive support. Women had been fighting for the right to vote since the passage of the 15th Amendment gave voting rights to black men. In 1869 two rival organizations formed to support voting rights for women on state and federal levels. In 1890 the competing suffrage groups united to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association, which pursued the battle in the states. As late as 1909, women could vote in only four states (Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, and Colorado), but momentum picked up. Suffragists used more aggressive tactics, such as parades, rallies, and marches, and gained ground. They won a key victory by gaining the right to vote in New York State in 1917, which helped empower them for their final push during World War I. "USA" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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