The Age of the Super Woman

Essay by momNschoolCollege, UndergraduateA-, November 2009

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Women's first role in society was to bear children. They kept house while their husbands went to work and supported the family. Over time women fought for the same rights that men had. Women wanted the right to vote, the right to get an education, and the right to work outside of the home. Women wanted to be treated as equals to men rather and after years of fighting for these basic human rights women were granted those rights. Though first believed to only be capable of bearing children women have gone on to get college educations and are successful in the workplace.

Some of the first women to pioneer through the college scene were Catherine Brewer Benson and Martha Carey Thomas. Catherine Brewer Benson was the first women to earn a college degree. She had first enrolled n Clintom Female Seminary but after it closed down she enrolled in Wesleyan in 1839 and graduated in 1840.

Wesleyan College was the first college to accept women. Martha Carey Thomas was encouraged by her mother and aunt to pursue a college education though greatly opposed by her father. Martha attended Cornell University and earned her bachelor's degree in 1877 and then enrolled at the University of Leipzig and transferred to the University of Zurich because the "University of Leipzig would not award a Ph.D. to a woman, and forced her to sit behind a screen during classes so as not to "distract" male students "Lewis, J. (1999). Retrieved May 1, 2009, from Website:". She graduated in Zurich summa cum laude, a first for both a woman and a foreigner." Martha went on to become the dean of Bryn Mawr, a Quaker's women's college, and later the president of the school. Martha never married and believed that women should never marry but those women who were already married should pursue their careers. Both Catherine Benson and Martha Thomas worked hard to find a place in the college environment and both are remembered today as women who fought for the right to a higher education and both lived successful lives. They were just some of the women who paved the way to women's right to get a college education.

Another pioneer for women's right to a higher education was Alice Freeman Palmer. Alice attended Wellesley College and acted as a key figure on its board of trustees. She was also the first dean at the University of Chicago. At the turn of the century women like Alice were christened the New Woman. The New Woman was a term given to women who were educated and active in their communities. Most women, when married, stayed at home to raise their families. Many did not have the option to continue their careers. However, Alice's role in higher education expanded when she married. "She became a member of the Massachusetts State Board of Education, an supporter of the Annex in it's struggle to become Radcliff College, an advisor to Barnard, an almost perennial officer of Collegiate Alumnae, the rapidly growing and influential organization of college women that later became the American Association of University Women, and the commencement speaker at more graduation exercises than any other women of her era." "Bordin, R. (1993). Retrieved May 1, 2009 from Website:". "The New Woman departs from earlier nineteenth-century female innovators, especially social reformers, in her emphasis on taking responsibility for her own life and her independence from mate control. As Nancy Cott has said, the New Woman "stood for self-development as contrasted to self-sacrifice or submergence in the family." It is this emphasis on independence that makes her truly new. She is more that a good mother, a good wife, a good daughter. In fact, she need be none of those because she can stand independently." ""Bordin, R. (1993). Retrieved May 1, 2009 from Website:". One of Alice's works that was documented after her death was an address made on the purpose and advantages of higher education for women called Why Go to College. Alice spoke of the girls of her era who were becoming more aware that thy needed the discipline, knowledge, and interests that college offered if they were to be prepared for lives of service. She argued that college was a form of life insurance for women, that if they never married or were widowed they would have their formal training to lean back on in order to provide for themselves. Another reason that Alice believed that women should go to college were for happiness. She believed that those who were idle or who were not content were not truly happy. Other reasons that she believed that women should go to college were for the sake of their health, to gain people skills, to develop their imagination and knowledge, to build up their character, and to develop good taste. Alice believed that there were three reasons that women wished to go to college: the love of great literature, the study of nature, and to immerse themselves in people. She believed that college was a place of education, society, and religion; three things that are vital to every human. Alice was successful in the workplace and maintained a healthy home life as well. Still, many people wanted to fight the rise of the New Woman, still believing that women's place was at home.

Since the year that the first degree was given to a woman views and priorities have changed as the rights of women and all humans have evolved. In an article (Should Wives Work) published by The New York Times in 1896 the topic of wives working was discussed. In this article opinions of men and women in England are combined showing that both men and women believed that women's place was at home where they should maintain the primary position in the household and raise their families. This article also goes on to show that both men and women believe that women should only work if they are unmarried or if they marry and have the need to pay her share of the household fees but that once she bears children she should remain at home to raise and nurture them. In another article written by Venkata Vemuri and published in 2008 views of men and women from London were documented. This article Blow to Gender Equality as More Believe Women's Place at Home shows that the shine of the "Super Mom" has worn off and that the notion of gender equality has turned to rubbish. Both men and women in London said that they believed that the man's role of the household was to work and to provide for his family while women's place was to stay at home with their family and to raise their families. The common view in London, of both men and women, was that the demands of the workplace and of the household cannot be balanced by one person. "In 1994, 51 percent of women in Britain and 52 percent of men said they believed family life would not suffer if a woman went to work. By 2002 those proportions had fallen to 46 percent of women and 42 percent of men. The number of people thinking the best way for a woman to be independent is to have a job also declined." "Vemuri, V. (August 6, 2008) Blow to Gender Equality As More Believe Women's Place At Home Retrieved May 1, 2009 from Website:". These statistics, among other, show that more women believe that their family life would indeed suffer if they worked.

Human rights will continue to evolve over time, just as they always have. Women have gone up against a lot to gain the rights and respect that they have today. Though some women still wish to stay at home with their children they now have the option to get a higher education and to work outside of the home. With these options they can are now equipped to be successful in the workplace as well as at home. Though some still believe that a woman's place is at home and others believe that women should pursue their careers at least now every woman has the chance to choose for herself the particular path that she wants to take. She is now able to pilot her own life without the demands that men and even other women have put on them.

Over time many women have fought to gain their independence through voting, working, and education. These women who fought so diligently to advocate women's rights are remembered today as the pioneers who have made earning a college education a possibility. With these rights women have also been given new responsibilities and with all the resources that are now available to women they have the option to either work at home and raise their families, work outside of the home, or to remain stay-at-home mothers. The super mom, the New Woman: terms that define the women of today who are trying to do it all, get an education, be successful in the workplace, and to raise their families. This has been made possible because of the women who fought for these rights. Women have proved over time that it is possible to manage both the home life and the work life. Though first believed to only be capable of bearing children women have gone on to get college educations and are successful in the workplace.

ReferencesBordin, R. (1993) Alice Freeman Palmer The Evolution of a New Woman. Retrieved May 1, 2009 from Website:, J. (1999). Retrieved May 1, 2009 from Website:, V. (August 6, 2008) Blow to Gender Equality As More Believe Women's Place At Home Retrieved May 1, 2009 from Website: