100 Years of the Women's Vote

Women's Roles in the 19th Century

During the 19th century, most states adopted the British common law system of "coverature," where women were legally "covered" by their husbands, their rights subsumed with his. This led to the concept of "chattel marriages," which left most women as the "property" of their husbands, unable to maintain ownership of wages, wealth, or even themselves. During this time, women could not sign a contract, serve on a jury, or participate freely and equally in public life. Instead, a "cult of domesticity" was in place, where the ideal of "true womanhood" segregated women to the private sphere of the home as models of purity and domesticity as wives and mothers.
This image of ideal womanhood was supported by newspapers, periodicals, and other forms of popular press, as well as by religious, education, and other social systems. These stereotypes were a strong basis for the anti-suffrage movement, which argued, among other things, that a women's place was in the home, that women were too emotional and/or fragile for political participation, and that politics would corrupt women.

These images from Catalina Island, CA (1910) show that, while not discussed in today's terms, there were many women who were more comfortable outside the gender norms of the time and adopted more non-binary dress and gender roles. 

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