1930s- Her Role in Society

Working Class Women
By looking through old Hollywood films featuring Jean Harlow, you never would have guessed the cruel and back breaking lifestyle that women endured in the 1930s. I believe that this was a critical turning point in history for women as they started to make the hard transition from being thought of as the “weaker sex,” to one that was equal to men.

Let’s begin with a simple historical fact:

In 1936, Fortune magazine polled users and asked, “Do you believe that married women should have a full time job outside the home?” (I’ve posted the answers in a pie chart format.)

Even after WWI, women still were not respected or thought “beautiful” for being self-reliant, independent, and hard-working. Instead, they were ostracized by society. They were paid much lower wages than men and worked anywhere from 50-55 hours a week. Today, in the US an average work week is 40 hours a week, and anything over that is considered overtime. Unfortunately, the government also took this stance in 1932 with the passing of the Federal Economy Act. Only one family member could work for the government, and this prevented many married women from federal employment.

Options were limited even if they could get jobs.

  • Only 24.3% of women were employed
  • 3/10 of these women were in domestic or personal service
  • Out of the professional working women- 3/4 were school teachers or nurses
Higher Class Women- Debutant Ball
On the other side of the coin, there were still women who were born into rich families. And although they had more money and lived a more comfortable life style– they had very little choice in life. Instead of striving to be scientists, doctors, or business women, they grew up learning how to be the “‘perfect wife and perfect mother.” Her childhood would consist of learning how to be demure and ladylike. And skills that she would acquire included sewing, cooking, and dancing. This would all culminate until she reached the proper age of marriage, and then, her parents would throw her a Debutante ball, which made her eligible for marriage.
Overall, regardless of which class you lived in, being a woman equated to limited social rights and no respect. While women could vote as stated in the 19th Amendment that was ratified in the 1920s, to be beautiful still meant to be easily persuaded and moved by a man.

~ by tanyaw on May 13, 2010.

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