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Video:Women in the Early 20th Century

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The last one hundred years has seen dramatic changes in the role and rights of women, and while there is still a ways to go, it's important to know the milestones of before.See Transcript

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Transcript:Women in the Early 20th Century

Hello I'm Milo for About.com and today we're talking about the role of women in the early 20th century.

The Very Beginning of the Women's Movement

The early 20th century was a time of dramatic change for women in society. Before World War One, just about all apparently democratic countries still refused women the right to vote. Furthermore, most women were excluded from the workplace. Instead, they were expected to spend their days as homemakers, raising children, cleaning, cooking, sewing and performing other household chores. 

The groundwork for the decisive empowerment of women was laid in the 18th and 19th centuries. Frenchwoman Olympe de Gouges issued an ironic Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Citizen in 1791 after the French Revolution and its Declaration of the Rights of Man failed to include or make any mention of women's rights. Two years later, de Gouges was executed by guillotine for her feminist writings and her political views. 

The Struggle for Suffrage

In the mid-19th century, John Stuart Mill fought in the British parliament to have women granted the right to vote.  Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, among many others tirelessly laid the foundation in the middle of the 19th century for what was to come, some of these heroines not living to see the fruits of their labor.   

By the early 20th century, support for women's rights coalesced in the women's suffrage movement, whose members were known as Suffragettes. In the years prior to World War One, Suffragettes in Great Britain and the United States became increasingly militant, resorting to such tactics as protest marches, chaining themselves to public fixtures, and vandalizing property. 

After-Effects of World War II

Ironically, however, it wasn't until the catastrophic events of World War Onethat women made real progress. The terrible conflict drained businesses and factories of their manpower as most working-age men went off to war. Women stayed behind and were called upon to work in the jobs left vacant by the departing men. For the first time, women worked in jobs that had previously been the exclusive domain of men. 

While New Zealand had given women the vote in 1893, becoming the world's first country to do so, just about every other country didn't grant women's suffrage until after the war. The United States granted women over the age of 21 the right to vote in 1920 through the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, drafted 40 years earlier by Suffragettes Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. 

British women over the age of 30 won the right to vote in 1918 and in 1928 suffrage was extended in the United Kingdom to women over age 21. Remarkably, such present-day democratic countries as France, Belgium and Italy didn't grant full voting rights until the 1940s, while Swiss women were excluded from full participation until 1971.

More Social Movements

Upon winning suffrage after World War One, many American, British and otherwomen expressed their new freedom in more liberal lifestyles, giving rise to the "flapper" generation. Flappers epitomized the roaring twenties, dressing in revealing clothing, wearing their hair short, driving cars and smoking. In later decades of the 20th century, the continued struggle by women for greatersocial and workplace equality led to the Feminist movement. 

For more excellent, insightful, and interesting information on the 20th Century, check us out at About.com.

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