Women Reformers - Nineteenth Century Female Reformers...

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Nineteenth Century Female Reformers Kaitlyn Herthel Women in American History I December 18, 2007 Professor RS Gold
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2 In the mid-19 th century, women found a calling in charity and reform work. The effects of the Intellectual Enlightenment as well as the Great Awakening led religious leaders, peers and the virtuous ideals of the cult of true womanhood to seek the help of women to improve society by partaking in charity and reform roles. As the expansion of the media increased through newspapers, the hardships of society became more apparent, calling for women to challenge domesticity and the ideas of separate spheres for men and women. The female reform movement faced high opposition because of traditional female ideals. Although the pious nature of charity work fell under the cult of true womanhood, stepping into public light and ultimately learning valuable business skills through such charity work, women threatened the current societal gender system and stretched their established domestic sphere. Female reformers sought to help those in need; through their protest, fundraising, and missionary work, they sometimes did more harm than good as they impressed their ideals too heavily on unsuspecting and unwelcoming citizens. Female reformers successfully helped the poor and those in need, but in turn were helped themselves through their involvement, gaining valuable activist skills. Roots of female reform were ever-apparent during the mid-19 th century. The Enlightenment occurred in the 18 th century across European cities, proclaiming “faith in human reason and in natural, as opposed to divine, law 1 .” The Enlightenment restored confidence in the ability of citizens to uphold societal standings and encouraged free thought, a defiant move from the previous and strongly-held religious beliefs. Religious fundamentalists disagreed with this movement and its push for self-determination, thereby countering it through the return of religious ideals of the Second Great 1 Women in Antebellum Reform , page 3
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2 Awakening. The moral ills facing society, the majority of which were expressed through the increased printing and reading of newspapers, alarmed many middle- and upper-class Americans, who saw salvation in the religious revival. The privileged classes could no longer hide from the hardships facing society, and through a combination of will to help and necessity to save face, become involved in charity and reform work. Members of the clergy used their powers to encourage women to volunteer and reform the “the specter of social breakdown 2 .” Many middle- and upper-class Protestant women, who took the opportunity to leave the domestic sphere of the home and make a difference in their communities, received the call of religious leaders to reform society. This necessary call to reform provided women with an opportunity to engage in society and learn valuable
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Women Reformers - Nineteenth Century Female Reformers...

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