What were Women’s Limitations 100 Years Ago?

Womens Limitations

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Women’s limitations 100-years ago are amazing when we compare them to today. Women needed a male escort whenever they left the house. When they married, they had to hand their property over to their husband, but single women could own property. That was just the beginning. Compared to today, we live in unbelievable freedom. Women pioneers who changed the world are an anomaly.

Shopping Escort

Women were frowned on if they left the house unescorted by a man. They found a new freedom, when in the late 1800s, department stores became a safe place for women to socialize together and, of course, spend money.

Theatres and restaurants began opening their doors to unescorted women, but that was only for the privileged few. It wasn’t until the 1920s that chain stores catered to women and began targeting them.

Maiden Name Retained

When a woman married, she was legally bound to take her husband’s surname. Employers could refuse to put her on the payroll. It wasn’t until the 20th century that the United States implemented laws that gave married women the right to keep their wages, instead of handing them over to their husbands.

In 1855, Lucy Stone, suffragette, was one of the first woman to object to having to give up her maiden name. In 1917, Ruth Hale, feminist, petitioned to have a passport issued in her maiden name.

However, it wasn’t until 1937 a woman could legally hold a passport in her maiden name. Hawaii did not allow women to legally retain their maiden name until 1976. Japan didn’t make it legal until 2015.

Property Ownership

In 1848, New York passed the Married Women’s Property Act, declaring a married woman had as much right to own and control property as a single woman. However, married women in general, could not retain their property until the 1900s.

By 1920, women felt empowered to exercise their rights and make decisions for themselves. They could even bequeath their property to whomever they wished.

Women’s Limitations And Their Passport

One hundred years ago, married women’s limitations meant they could not own their own passport. They had a joint passport on which only the husband’s name appeared, ‘accompanied by his wife’. Married women did not travel apart from their husband.

A married woman had no identity apart from her husband. Owning her own passport was not permitted until the late 1920s.

Women could be fired for being pregnant until the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978


Divorce favoured men. If a woman wanted a divorce, she had to prove the man had committed adultery, besides abuse and or abandonment. It was an expensive exercise and gave private detectives a lucrative new business.

In 1969, Governor Ronald Reagan signed a no-fault divorce bill, though he said it was the biggest mistake of his life. Abused women finally had a way out. It opened the floodgates to divorce and changed society in ways that were unimagined. Divorce rates soared. Child raising has become a single parent responsibility.

Birth Control

Condoms were first used in China in the 15th century. The FDA approved oral contraception in 1960, but it took a lot longer for it to become readily available. It was 1972 before it became available to single women. Contraception was intrinsically evil and morally wrong. An encouragement to promiscuity.

Contraception pills eventually came on the market. The first pills contained higher doses of hormones than were required. Women experienced increased side effects, including increased risks of heart attacks and strokes. It took ten years before there were safer levels of the synthetic hormone in contraceptive pills.

Women’s Limitations And Voting

One hundred years ago, women’s limitations included voting rights. Women could not vote in public elections. Men did not consider women intellectual enough to comprehend politics.

Women began fighting for the right to vote in the late 19th and early 20th century. Emmeline Pankhurst, a political activist, was known for employing militant tactics in the struggle for equality and the right to vote. In 1928, women could finally vote.

Serve As A Juror

In 1879, the Supreme Court affirmed states had the legal right to limit the jury pool to males. In 1927, only 19 states permitted women to be a juror.

Oct. 31, 1968 edition of CREN, featured six women who made history by reporting for jury duty.

In 1928, Genevieve Cline became the first woman to serve on a federal bench. President Calvin Coolidge nominated her as an Article I federal judge to the U.S. Customs Court.

In 1981, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was the first woman to be appointed as a Supreme Court Justice, when Ronald Reagan appointed her. She served for 25 years. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the second woman justice and served 27 years. Both women were outstanding females in their chosen field of endeavour.

Women’s Limitations And Wearing Pants

Trousers were a male symbol of strength and combat power in a patriarchal society. A woman seen wearing pants was scandalous. From the mid-19th century, wearing trousers was associated with the fight for women’s rights.

The First World War saw the rise of women wearing pants as they took over the roles of absent menfolk. However, it was a transitory phenomenon, limited to wartime. World War II saw a repeat of women wearing pants.

Fashion houses like Coco Chanel began incorporating trousers in their collections in the late 1920s, but it still wasn’t socially acceptable by the majority. Marlene Dietrich became the ‘lady of pants’. In 1967, Yves Saint Laurent introduced pantsuits for women. This finally made it acceptable for the average women to wear pants.

Joining The Military

World War II saw women permitted to active service, though women frequently held unpaid positions. Desperate for manpower they established the Women’s Army Corps. Women could gain rank, earn benefits and serve overseas by 1948.

Women still have to fight for their rights in the services. Reporting a rape in the services remains difficult for women.

Women’s Limitations In The Olympics

Women’s limitations in the Olympics was the same as other areas of society. They weren’t allowed to compete until 1900. Then, only 3% of the athletics were women, and only five sports were open to them.

Just under 50% of athletes were women at the Tokyo Olympics, reaching a parity for the first time in the 125-year history of the Games. Men still enjoy more funding, news coverage and opportunities, than their female counterparts.

Women make up only 33.3% of the International Olympic Committee’s executive board. Only 37.5% of committee members are female.

Women Pioneers

Women’s limitations 100 years ago, are quite different to today, though there have been women pioneers who have changed the world. They remain in the minority.

Women everywhere have unique voices in their sphere of influence. They are amazing women who did not allow disability to define who they were. Others did not allow social norms to rule them, such as Florence Nightingale.

Check out more posts at Whispering Encouragement

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    Wendy is an Inspirational Freelance Writer specializing in offering encouragement to women in all walks of life.

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