The book, Beyond Suffrage; Women in the New Deal, presents the role of women in the 1930s in a much different light than many people think of it. The goal of this book is to enlighten the reader as to what role women played in politics during the New Deal. Because of its broad view I have taken several specific examples from the book and elaborated on them in order to give you a better understanding.
The author, Susan Ware, begins by laying the groundwork for the womens network. During the 1930s, many different organizations began to evolve to include women in their decision-making. The backbone to this movement seems to lie deep within the White House. The First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, held a great deal of influence in decisions regarding women and their role. Ware writes of Mrs. Roosevelt as the foremost member of the womens network in the 1930s, and throughout the book Roosevelts influence seems to be everywhere.
Moving on, the twenty-eight women discussed in this book are all linked through a complex network, which made them very strong in a time where women had no real strength. Almost all of them held top federal jobs in Washington DC. They were all educated women, born in the same generation. A sisterhood, supporting each other and encouraging each other after every victory, no matter how small, linked them very closely. These women gave each other the moral support and mentorship that seems absent in todays society.
Another part of the book, discusses the role of Molly Dewson, head of Womens Division of the Democratic Party in recruiting and retaining women to the party. Dewsons attitude was often misunderstood as she overlooked minor jobs such as secretaries and stenographers, in order to focus on the big picture of women being involved in New Deal programs. Dewsons role in keeping the women of the Democratic party pacified by small jobs and honorary positions kept these womens spirits strong. By keeping these spirits strong, women were better prepared to get involved with the areas of social reform that they truly cared about.
Throughout the New Deal, there were many areas regarding social welfare that women were involved and played a critical role in. One specific leap for women was their involvement in the National Recovery Administration. It seems that, there was a wide variety in the roles women played in the NRA. Rose Schneiderman served on the Labor Advisory Board, and by doing so opened many doors to work with other womens organizations in efforts to sway the legislation towards womens rights.Eventually their hard work contributed to improved labor standards and higher minimum wages for women in the workplace. Although the role of women in the NRA was a major part of their involvement in the New Deal, these women were also involved in many other areas such as social security, the Civil Works Administration, and the Consumers League.
Winding down, Beyond Suffrage, explains the eventual decline of the womens movement at the end of the 1930s. As the depression lifted a chain reaction began. Soon the programs of the New Deal were no longer needed and because most of the positions that women held were in the New Deal programs, many women were displaced or else their advancement became stagnant. As the focus on the social programs of the New Deal waned, so did the communication and zest that the womens network previously had. This coupled with the eventual retirement of the originators of the network all contributed to the stagnation of the womens movement of the 1930s.
One part of this book that I was pleasantly surprised to read was Wares description of how women viewed themselves and their goals during this time. It seems that even today the word feminist is looked upon negatively. However, Ware explains that these women were only feminist by default. They werent the Fem-Nazi, combat boot wearing women that we often associate with feminism today. Instead these women were merely focusing on a fundamental purpose, that women should have equal opportunity and equal rights with every other citizen. They fought primarily for social reform and equality for everyone, with the fight for womens rights being only a small part.
Overall, I enjoyed this book. Although our class readings and lectures teach us some things about the role of women during this time period, it would be difficult to go into all of the areas that Beyond Suffrage did. Ware does a good job explaining the significance of women during this era, even though she does place an emphasis on details. I would see the major fault of this book being that it is too broad. I found that by the time I thought I had one of the twenty eight women straight I would just confuse them all over again. Thankfully, with the help of my notes I was able to straighten things out on paper.
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