Citizens Can Change Things, Too
Summary: On Saturday, April 22, 2017, thousand gathered in cities across the nation in the International March for Science. This event was part of a recent upsurge in public demonstrations of civic engagement to advocate for a variety of causes. The United States has a rich history of public action. Results, however, are not always immediate, are not always immediate. More often, they are the result of a long course of concerted effort on the part of citizens.
The movement for women’s suffrage, typifies the success concerted civic action can bring. This lesson explores the struggle for women’s suffrage –the actions they took and the resistance and obstacles they faced. Students will examine the objectives of the movement, including efforts toward economic, social, and political equality, and evaluate the effectiveness of various methods of civic engagement.
- Students will examine the objectives, struggles, and successes of various forms of civic engagement by women, including efforts toward economic, social, and political equality.
- Students will evaluate the effectiveness of various methods of civic engagement through comparing the extensive array of reform movements in which women took the lead as part of the broader reform effort of the Progressive Era.
- Handout A: Background Essay: Women in the Gilded Age
- Handout B: Women in the Gilded Age Graphic Organizer
Warm-up Activity: 10-15 min
- Students will answer the following question individually: What constitutes civic engagement? Is civic engagement worth the effort? Students will explain their reasoning, providing examples.
- A line, or spectrum, should be marked across the room. This can be done with masking tape, or using a string. On one end of the line should be a sign stating, “Civic engagement is entirely worth the effort, and change cannot occur without it.” On the other end should be a sign stating, “Civic engagement is pointless, and rarely, if ever, leads to real change within a society.” Students will be instructed to stand somewhere on the line that represents their view. The Teacher will remind students that this is a spectrum, and they can stand somewhere in between the two sides.
- The Teacher will randomly select a variety of students to share their opinions with the class and explain their reasoning. Then, the teacher will introduce the topic of women’s suffrage, and remind students of the variety of forms of civic engagement.
Activity 1: 30-45 min
- Students will read Handout A: Background Essay: Women in the Gilded Age and complete Handout B: Women in the Gilded Age Graphic Organizer to compare and contrast the different reform movements in which women in the Gilded Age took the lead.
- In groups of 2-3, students will also create a timeline on chart paper or poster board, listing the five most important events that led from the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention to the passing of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1919. If time allows, each group should share their five most significant events in leading to the passing of the Nineteenth Amendment.
- The teacher will debrief the activity and lead a discussion of the following questions:
- How did the nature of moral reform efforts encourage women to leave the home to engage in civic life?
- To what extent and in what ways were the reformers successful in changing society or the lives of women?
- What forms of civic engagement seemed most effective in this movement?
- To what extent and in what ways did the movements strengthen civil society? How did they contribute to the growth of government power?
Conclusions: 5-10 min
Students will answer the following questions to draw conclusions from the activity:
- What motivated women to take the actions they did?
- How does the women’s suffrage movement demonstrate the effectiveness of civic engagement?
- What methods of civic engagement do you feel are the most effective in changing society?
For More Lessons on the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, check our curriculum on Voices of History.org