Why and How Were Women so Central to Progressive Era Reform Efforts?

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The Progressive era was from the time period between about 1900 through 1920. During this time America saw many changes. This time period included massive immigration, rapid urbanization and industrialization like we have never seen before. Although women in this era still did not have the right to vote they played a large part in the progressive movements at the time. Women at this time worked to pass laws regarding housing and labor conditions. They worked to pass laws concerning maternal and child welfare and laws to help poor immigrants. The workforce status of women in the progressive era was rapidly changing. In 1900 only eighteen percent of people in the workforce were women, but by 1920 that number rose to nearly twenty five percent (734). As time went on working women included not only single white women it also included married woman. However, immigrants mostly were employed in low paying factory jobs and black women were mostly confined to domestic jobs and picking cotton (734). The white middle class women were able to find better office type jobs and some were even able to be lawyers, doctors and journalists. Feminism was a new term entering the vocabulary of many during the progressive era. Feminism had a slightly different meaning to many at the time but the general consensus was women needed, wanted and deserved “freedom”. Feminists called for equal work rights and the right to express their sexuality freely. An organization called the Feminist Alliance built apartments with daycare centers and cafeterias to allow women with children to enter the workforce (746). The rise of feminism and women in the workplace led to women fighting for the right to have access to birth control and to have freedom to have control over their own bodies. A controversial lecturer, Emma Goldman championed for women to have the right to birth control and was
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