What Was Life Like for Women 100 Years Ago?

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Today, March 8, marks International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate the extraordinary accomplishments of women throughout history.

We decided to survey our collection of more than 7 billion historical records to get a sense of what life was like for women in 1917, 100 years ago.

Flappers:

The slang word, “flapper,” describing a young lady, first appeared in print in the UK in the early 1900s, and later in the United States. It was used to describe high-spirited teenagers (a term that wasn’t yet in use), and then it came to mean older and more established women as well.

The word’s definition evolved as the United States entered the war, and young women entered the workforce in droves, to replace absent men.

The Tacoma times – Jan 2, 1917

The war effort:

The United States officially entered the war in April 1917.

The Spanish American – Apr 14, 1917

Many were skeptical about letting women take on roles that traditionally belonged to men, as women were seen fit only to take care of their homes and children. When the men went off to war, the women at home undertook their jobs in addition to running their homes and caring for their children. In this way, the women supported the war effort in numerous ways — and their expectations for themselves shifted as well.

By 1917, there were more than 100 day nurseries across England to provide childcare for those women who had to go off to work. Towards the end of 1917, there were more than 250,000 British women working as farm laborers, working the land, and doing chores, such as milking cows and picking fruit.

The Spanish American – June 16, 1917
The Spanish American – Sep 22 1917
The Hays free press – Aug 18, 1917
The Spanish American – June 16, 1917
The Kansas City Sun – Sep 1, 1917

Suffragist movement:

WWI proved beneficial to the women’s suffrage movement, advancing the suffragettes’ cause. With women doing men’s jobs at the same time that they held things together at home, they were no longer considered inferior to men.

The Washington times – June 29, 1917

Suffragist demonstrations outside Woodrow Wilson’s White House culminated in the “Night of Terror” in November 1917, where many women were arrested for picketing in support of a federal amendment granting women the right to vote. Suffrage leader Lucy Burns (1879-1966) was among those imprisoned.

The Washington Herald – Nov 5, 1917

Fashions:

Fashion was also significantly influenced by WWI, and simpler styles became the trend. Waistlines became looser and less defined, and they dropped closer to the natural waistline. Women wore calf-length dresses over ankle-length fuller underskirts.

As more women joined the workforce, however, they needed appropriate clothing. Shirtwaists and tailored suits appeared, and women ditched their cumbersome underskirts.

The Spanish American – Apr 14, 1917
The Spanish American – Nov 10, 1917

Who were the remarkable women in your family? What were your female ancestors doing in 1917?

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  • Al


    May 15, 2017

    Well if a man was looking for a good honest relationship years ago from a woman which it was much easier finding love back then since today is a totally different story unfortunately.