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Women in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era

80 min


  • Students will examine the causes, struggles, and successes of various forms of civic engagement by women, including efforts toward economic, social, and political equality.
  • Students will understand the extensive array of reform movements in which women took the lead as part of the broader reform effort of the Progressive Era.
  • Students will compare and contrast the goals of the social reformers fighting for protective legislation with the goals of reformers who wanted an Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution.

  • “Separate spheres”
  • Temperance
  • Settlement houses
  • Americanization
  • Protective legislation
  • Suffrage
  • Constitutional amendment
  • Federalism
  • Social Darwinism

Activity I » 20 minutes

  1. Have students 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.
  2. De-brief 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?
    To what extent and in what ways did the movements strengthen civil society? How did they contribute to the growth of government power?

Activity II » 20 minutes

  1. Students can work individually or in groups to complete Handout C: Timeline of Women’s Suffrage. They should use Handout A and conduct other research as directed by the teacher.
  2. Prior to the discussion, the teacher might appoint one or more recorders to use appropriate technology in making a timeline for display in the classroom reflecting student participation.

Activity III » 15-20 minutes
Assign students to work in groups of three to complete the assignment in Handout D: Images of Women’s Suffrage. Students should analyze the pictures and make connections with the information presented in Handout A.

Activity IV » 20 minutes

  1. Assign the students to work individually or in groups to read the primary sources on protective legislation and the Equal Rights Amendment. Have the students complete the brief writing assignment comparing and contrasting the primary sources in order to spotlight the main issues of the women’s rights movement.
  2. The de-brief should include an analysis of the two approaches of state-level protective legislation and an amendment to the U.S. Constitution for equality and how the two contradicted each other. Have the students briefly debate which approach they prefer.

Conduct a discussion with the class on the following questions to wrap up the study of women’s engagement in civic life during the Gilded Age.

  1. What were the causes of the transformation for women from the private, domestic sphere to the public sphere as workers, reformers, and voters?
  2. To what extent and in what ways did women’s leadership in reform movements contribute to their success?

  1. Assign your students to write a brief essay or create some form of graphic organizer comparing and contrasting the path to African-American men’s suffrage and that of women.
  2. The student products should include analysis of both suffrage movements and should examine the methods, challenges, and successes of both groups.

Student Handouts

Next Lesson

The Rise of Reform Politics

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