The Women's Movement in the American West

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Most of the contemporary women reforms and movements trace their origin to the 19th century America. The period between 1800 and 1850 was particularly essential to the formation and growth of the different women reform movements. Most of the women in the American society at the time were exposed to some education and hence with the help of some men and the social, economic and political conditions at the time several women movements sprung up in America. The basis of the women movements was to fight against oppression in the male-dominated world as most of the women lived slave-like lives in the newly liberated country. The women at the time had the required resources as well as the time to combat the socially imposed notion of women domesticity and the dominant patriarchal rules that further subjected women to oppression and neglect. The American west particularly experienced a revolution in terms of the roles and places of the women in the society due to the upsurge of the women's movements in the 19th century.

By the beginning of the 18th century, most of the white women in the American west were in the middle class and hence the could comfortably hire a domestic servant who assisted them in their tasks.[1]

The women further had access to the print media which they used to their advantage in dispelling all forms of perception and expression channeled towards them in the male-dominated world. In the American West, the women's movement initially encompassed the women who had subscribed to fight against slavery. Later on, the influence of women such as Angelina Grimke further popularized the women movement and hence it got a new momentum and moved to new proportions. Grimke argued that both men and women were created in the image and likeness of God and hence were entitled to the same rights. Rinke's argument and the quest for the elevation of the status of the women later got new support from the secular women groups which fought to the inclusion of women in the political domain.

The origin of the women's movement in the American West

Although most of the documentation of the women's movements have been done in the American Eastern sphere little has been documented on the west. Although most people saw the development of the roles of women in the American west and compared them to the east. The common notion during the women rights movement of the 19th century was that unlike the east, the laws towards women in the American west were more permissive and hence that is why the women in the American West made much more progress in terms of development as compared to those in the east.[2] Just like in the case of the American east few women in the west were permitted to peruse a college degree and so they were forced to form clubs and other groupings which would serve to quench their intellectual curiosity.

The women in the west were particularly converged and formed intimate relationships with each other so as to purpose their common goals and compare themselves to the women in the east who were a milestone ahead in terms of development and literacy. The women in the west were particularly motivated by the oppression that was channeled towards them by the men in terms of education, work related and even in the social affairs. Although the women collectively championed their needs, the single women were isolated from the married women as the single women were allowed to get opportunities such as teaching, dressmaking, and clerks. The women in the American West had a newly acquired status in the early 19th century which the women in the east did not have.  As a result, there was a form of division of labor between the women and the men and hence there was a need to split the domestic chores between the husbands and the married wives.

The terms "women's movements" which has gathered differential meaning along the way originated with individual women who were dedicated to change and reforms in the 19th century. In the American West which was male-dominated, the women were only allowed to partake in church work whenever they took part in chores that were not domestic. This was partly due to the lack of the male volunteers in the church work. The American west women sought to be independent and determine their fates and hence I the process sought solace from fellow women who were equally oppressed and undermined. The idea of forming a women's movement was the ideal safe haven for the American west women who depended entirely on men for their needs in life. As the 19th century progressed, the women in the American west who were newly equipped with the skills and drive to bring about changes further found a common ground where they could advocate for their grievances and even bring change into the male-dominated world.  Some of the most notable additional purposes that served to bring the women together to make reforms include, slavery, prostitution, alcoholism, unsanitary conditions and corruption among others.


Irwin, Mary Ann, and James Brooks. 2004. Women and gender in the American West. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

Woodworth-Ney, Laura. 2008. Women in the American West. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO.

[1] Irwin, Mary Ann, and James Brooks. 2004. Women and gender in the American West. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

[2] Woodworth-Ney, Laura. 2008. Women in the American West. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO.

November 13, 2023


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