Women's Suffrage: Women's Roles
During the 1910s, women entered the workforce in unprecedented numbers. Particularly during World War I, women took on “men’s” positions in the home and the workplace. The gender role expectations of the Victorian era, however, still remained in place. Particularly for middle-class women, like the ones who made up the vast majority of the suffragists, maintaining standards in the domestic sphere was assumed to be a primary responsibility.
Students will be able to:
- Describe the gender, class, and racial divisions of the early 20th century by reading the primary source letters and discussing what their contents reveal about society at the time
- Describe the challenges that leaders of the Woman Suffrage movement faced in trying to balance their multiple roles by writing an extended journal entry based on primary source journals.
- Compare women’s role in society during the early 20th century to the present day by holding a classroom discussion based on information from primary source documents
HSP Primary Sources
Suggested Instructional Procedures
1. Teacher should hand out primary source documents to the students. Before the students get started, the teacher should introduce them to Dora Lewis. This introduction should be short and provide the student with enough background knowledge to think critically about her letters. This introduction could be a short presentation, a typed up document, short video etc.
2. Have students read the primary source letters written by Dora Lewis to her daughter and mother.
a. Workings in pairs have the students note the ways in which Dora Lewis seeks to be an activist and to also fulfill her traditional role as mother and daughter.
b. Have students use two different colors of highlighter, one for her news of the suffrage campaign and one for her more domestic remarks so they can refer to back to them.
3. Use the close reading of the letters as a springboard to discussion about women’s roles in the 21st century. Pose questions such as:
a. Are women today any closer to “having it all’ than were their early 20th-century counterparts?
b. What obstacles still remain in their way?
c. How do women today balance both their home and work lives?
d. In what countries around the world are women still subject to traditional gender roles?
4. After the discussion has ended, the teacher should direct the students in an extended writing assignment.
a. Students may write a letter pretending to be a leader of the NWP currently travelling on a lecture circuit to a family member back home.
b. The letter should be short but should outline several things they are doing to advance the suffrage movement (petitions, speeches, conventions etc.). The letter should also outline how they are balancing both their home life and their public life while away from home.
c.The letter should be turned in at the end of class or can be finished for homework.
Domestic: Relating to the household of the family. Devoted to home duties and pleasures.
Franchise: A privilege or right officially granted to a person or a group by the government.
Homogeneous: Uniform structure or composition.
Munitions: War material. Weapons and ammunition.
National Women’s Party (NWP): A political party that employed militant methods to fight for an Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Oppressed: To keep down by severe or unjust use of force or authority.
Socioeconomic: Relating to a combination of social and economic factors
Social Darwinism: a social ideology that conflict between social groups lead to the overall progress of society as superior groups outcompete inferior groups
Suffrage: The right of voting or the process of voting
Plans in this Unit
This lesson was created by Amy Jane Cohen. Updated for SAS by Philip McCarthy and Eden Heller, Education Interns, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.