José Maria Mora, Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt (Alva Murray Smith) as a Venetian Princess at the Vanderbilt Ball, 1883. New-York Historical Society Library.
The United States experienced major changes in the latter half of the 19th century as the country struggled with its identity after the Civil War. Industrialization, immigration, and westward expansion contributed to reshaping American society. Americans grappled with many questions. What does it mean to be an American, and who should be one? What rights should the U.S. government guarantee for its citizens? How should the United States establish itself on the global stage?
Women were central to answering these questions. They actively participated in the debates surrounding the rights and responsibilities of American citizenship. It is no coincidence, for example, that the women’s suffrage movement gained significant momentum during this time. However, amid these battles over equality and citizenship, women of different backgrounds faced increasing inequalities. The end of Reconstruction and the rise of Jim Crow led to growing racial discrimination. Meanwhile, industrialization and immigration expanded the disparity between classes. While American expansion and imperialism provided opportunities for some, they had devastating effects on the lives of others, including Indigenous women.
Industry and Empire, 1866–1904 is divided into three sections that allow you to consider the many ways in which women contributed to and were influenced by societal changes during this time. Labor and Industry explores how women of different races, classes, and national origins were influenced by industrialization and urbanization. Expansion and Empire considers the effects of westward expansion and American imperialism on Indigenous women and settlers. Fighting for Equality focuses on the contributions of women to end inequalities in American society.
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