The Role of Women

Historical content: 
The Progressive Era
Historical skills: 
Contextualization, Sourcing, Use of evidence

Assessment

Directions: 

Use the documents and your knowledge of history to answer the questions that follow.

"Looking Backward," 1912.
"That Obvious Purpose," Charlotte Perkins Gilman, 1911.
Source text: 

Document A: This cartoon titled “Looking Backward” was created by Laura E. Foster and published in Life magazine in 1912. It shows a woman climbing away from the stairs labeled love, marriage, children, and home.

Document B: Charlotte Perkins Gilman was a radical feminist writer and activist throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Between 1909 and 1916, Gilman single-handedly constructed and published The Forerunner, a magazine advocating for women’s suffrage. This passage comes from an article featured in The Forerunner in 1911, called “That Obvious Purpose.” 

“Dr. Sargent, of the Department of Physical Culture at Harvard, is again quoted on the subject of the strength of women .... He says, ‘It is obvious that women are built primarily with a single fixed and definite purpose in view. This is the bearing of children. Other characteristics which can be ascribed to women in general, radiate from this one primordial characteristic.’  

"… Several millions of unmarried women now filling useful and honored places in the world, leading virtuous and contented lives, could give valuable testimony as to whether their existence is a verifiable fact or whether they really did expire and vanish on failure to fulfill that ‘single primordial purpose.’”

Question 1: In the early 1900s, many Americans opposed the changing role of women. How does Document A provide evidence of this?

Question 2: How does Document B also provide evidence that many Americans opposed the changing role of women?

About the Assessment

Like Opposition to the Philippine-American War, this assessment gauges students’ ability to reason about how evidence supports a historical argument.  Students must explain how a conservative political cartoon about women's roles and Gilman's feminist writing both support the conclusion that many Americans opposed the shift of women's roles from the private sphere to the public.