Women of the Gilded Age

Charles Dana Gibson’s “Gibson Girl” (from late 19th-early 20th centuries)

The Gilded Age was not only important for modern developments and economic growth, but also for reformation in society among women. This era is important in American history for women because increased economic growth demanded for an increase in workers. Upper class women could slowly begin to distance themselves from the “traditional roles” that were expected of them and have more public involvement. These women represented the idea of the “New Woman”. This is portrayed in Charles Dana Gibson’s drawings, better known as the “Gibson Girl”. Some women from this era were able to attend college, others were able to become teachers, and a few even changed history through their political and public voice.


Another “Gibson Girl” by Charles Dana Gibson

Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Susan B. Anthony (standing right) and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (sitting left) were notorious women before, during and after the Gilded Age for their women’s suffrage rallies

Born to a Quaker family in 1820, Susan B. Anthony grew up in a home dedicated to equality for all and attended anti-slavery rallies. She worked as a teacher and did not come from a financially strong family, but her parents encouraged their children to be independent despite the rejection they received from the Quaker community.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (born in 1815) was born to a prominent family. Her father was an attorney for Congress and later, he became a judge for the Supreme Court. Several of her siblings did not survive and died at very young ages. Her father made it clear that he wished she was a son. Despite these comments, she was one of the lucky few who was educated, but was denied entry into college with men. She was only allowed to attend a seminary school designed for women.

In 1851, at Seneca Falls, Anthony and Stanton met. The two became friends and worked together for the rights of women and African-Americans. They were able to establish the American Equal Rights Association (AERA) that chose to fight for the rights and well-being of all citizens in society.

Later, they focused on women’s suffrage (in particular, the right to vote) by forming the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA). In 1872, Anthony tried to vote in the presidential election and was arrested. Stanton attempted to vote in 1880 as well.  Anthony was given a fine, but refused to pay it. No further punishment was given.

Both Anthony and Stanton were never able to see the achievement of their lifelong goal as both had passed in the early 1900’s. For in 1920, women were allowed to vote.

Frances E. Willard

Frances E. Willard fought for prohibition against alcohol

Born in 1839, Frances E. Willard received college education and became a teacher. Several of her family members became alcoholics and lost the family’s wealth to drinking and gambling. Willard left teaching and began publicly speaking against alcohol and domestic violence on women in the home.

In 1874, Willard was the president for the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in Chicago which actively fought for the prohibition of alcohol. Yet in 1879, she became president of the WCTU for the nation. WCTU grew to be the largest women’s organization during this time. She also became the first president for the National Council of Women of the United States and began several magazines and newspapers.

We draw such inspiration from these brave women, and from women across the ages that have influenced history.

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