How have women's roles changed since 1900?

Women's Roles

  • Women can vote in the U.S., have jobs, own property.

More Changes

Birth control has made enormous changes in women's lives. Prior to 1900, most women were pregnant or nursing an infant for most of their adult lives. Economically, woman almost had to be married, and being married often meant a pregnancy every 12-24 months or so. Childbirth was more hazardous than war, so up to 25% of women died when they were quite young. Infant mortality was high, so many of the children died before the age of 3 years.

In 1900 in Western countries there were very few occupations open to women, apart from agriculture, some service industries and some industrial jobs. Many poorer women had to do factory work (between pregnancies), or worse still, take poorly paid jobs in service industries (catering, cleaning and so on). In 1900 in many countries a large number of women were employed in domestic service.

The main better ('middle class') jobs available were school teaching and nursing, followed increasingly by secretarial jobs of various kinds and also work as telephonists. (Telephone exchanges were manual in 1900). There were also a handful of women university teachers in 1900, but really only a handful, as very few women went to college then.

In the case of school teaching, women were often only allowed to keep their jobs as long as they remained single, and any sort of extra-marital sexlife for a woman would have been just too shocking for words! (If they married they had to resign).

Areas of employment closed to women in 1900 included the legal profession and financial services. The number of female physicians in 1900 was extremely small.

Obviously, this is a general answer, and the details varied considerably from country to country. It's interesting that many changes had already begun by 1900, especially in the U.S., Britain, the Scandinavian countries, Australia and New Zealand. One of the more conservative countries was France, where women didn't get the vote till 1945.