Perception of Female Leaders: Looking Back
By Alexa Le
This final installment of the four-part series, “Perception of Female Leaders” discusses how female leaders are perceived as well as those who we might not typically perceive to be leaders yet are integral parts of our society.
It is often said that in order to learn and progress as a society, we must study and understand our past. This sentiment is no different in regard to understanding the impact of American female leaders and how they have been perceived throughout the years. We have made significant progress, with more women running for office and managing companies than ever.
With the formation of the nuclear family, women gained more power in the private sphere, managing households or working. Women in the South gained some degree of property rights fairly early on, but it was not until the Civil War in 1865 when women had a more important role in the economy. They worked in the government and became more prominent in industrial employment, as well as working in the health field. Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, America’s first female physician, formed the U.S. Sanitary Commission and Clara Barton, known as the Angel of the Battlefield, created the American Red Cross to aid the Union. These and many other notable female leaders made a large difference.
During this time, women’s rights activists such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony also became extremely prominent. They were often staunch supporters of the abolitionist movement. However, with the passing of the 15th Amendment that guaranteed male freedmen the right to vote, they were once again denied suffrage, which would not be gained until 1920.
After the ratification of the 19th Amendment, women once again became much more prominent figures in a variety of different industries, especially education. In this time period and beyond, other distinguished female leaders in America include:
Harriet Tubman- Tubman was a runaway slave who fearlessly risked her life to help hundreds of slaves to freedom through the Underground Railroad. Her unmatched bravery made a significant impact on the lives of many.
Rosa Parks- Known as “the mother of the freedom movement,” Parks refused to relinquish her seat to a white man on a bus and was promptly charged with civil disobedience. She is most prominently associated with the civil rights movement, and remains a role model today.
Margaret Chase Smith- She was the first woman to serve in both the House of Representatives and Senate.
Sandra Day O’Connor- She was the first female to serve as a Supreme Court justice, appointed by Ronald Reagan.
There are so many women whose names have not been listed who have made an unforgettable impact on America. There are many women who we do not typically consider to be heros, yet remain extraordinarily important as the glue of our society. The perception of female leaders has changed drastically throughout the years. Today more and more women feel they have the ability to hold positions of power. By understanding the struggles of female leaders throughout history, we can have a better appreciation for their accomplishments and for those of female leaders today.