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  • N.J. Mastro

American Women in the 20th Century, Part I: 1900-1949

March is Women’s History month in America.


This annual celebration began in 1981 when President Jimmy Carter designated the first National Women's History Week. In his message announcing the historic celebration, he wrote: "From the first settlers who came to our shores, from the first American Indian families who befriended them, men and women have worked together to build this nation. Too often the women were unsung and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed. But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength, and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well."


"From the first settlers who came to our shores, from the first American Indian families who befriended them, men and women have worked together to build this nation. Too often the women were unsung and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed. But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength, and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well."

Since 1981, presidents have continued the presidental proclamation, and now the entire month is dedicated to women's history.


In celebration, I am making available a free e-book I’ve written. American Women in the 20th Century, Part I: 1900-1949 features seventy-five prominent women who helped shape America during the first half of the twentieth century. Anyone may download the e-book at no cost upon request by subscribing to my website here, or you may request a copy by going directly to this link.


Anyone interested in women’s history will enjoy reading this e-book, published in PDF format. It will be especially useful for K-12 teachers and middle and high school students. Though written with secondary students in mind, elementary teachers will find it useful as an index of women to select from for study at the elementary level.


Chapters begin with a short introduction outlining the major forces impacting women during each of the five decades during this time period, followed by profiles offering a brief glimpse into women who left an indelible mark during those years along with a link for further inquiry.


This e-book will be especially useful for K-12 teachers and middle and high school students. Though written with secondary students in mind, elementary teachers will find it useful as an index of women to select from for study at the elementary level.

Women stepped into their own in the twentieth century more than at any other time in our nation's prior history. Their influence and the impact on their lives and that of their families and communities then and moving foward has never been equalled. American Women in the 20th Century, Part I: 1900-1949 features well-known and not so well-known agents of change. Nearly half of the women included in the book are women of color. Coming at a later date, Part II will feature prominent women from 1950-1999.


To give you a sneak preview of the kind of inspiring women you will find in the e-book, I'm providing several sample profiles below.



Lyda Conley (1869?-1946)

Lawyer


Lyda Conley was the first Native American to argue a case before the United States Supreme Court. Conley was a member of the Wyandotte tribe in Kansas. She was admitted to the Missouri Bar in 1902 and the Kansas Bar in 1910. The Supreme Court case was over a dispute regarding tribal lands on which her ancestors were buried at the Huron Indian Cemetery in downtown Kansas City. She lost her case at the Supreme Court, but due to her efforts to protest the takeover of land, the Missouri legislature passed a law that would prevent development of the cemetery lands. Today the cemetery is on the National Register of Historic Places.



Anna Julia Cooper (1858?-1964)

Teacher and Principal


Born a slave, Anna Julia Cooper attended school after the Civil War and showed exceptional aptitude in math and was an excellent student overall. After high school she graduated from Oberlin College in 1884 and earned a master’s degree in 1888. She became a teacher and taught math, science, and Latin at a preparatory school for African American students in Washington, DC and eventually went on to become its principal. For several years she also taught college. In 1925 she earned a doctorate from the Sorbonne in France.




Adelina “Nina” Otero-Warren

(1881-1965)

Teacher, Politician, Suffragist


Adelina Otero-Warren was born in New Mexico. As a young woman, she was active in the suffrage movement, insisting suffragists advocate for their cause in Spanish as well as English. She was instrumental in getting New Mexico to ratify the 19th Amendment. From 1917 to 1929, she served as Santa Fe’s school superintendent. In her role, she stressed the importance of bilingual education. In 1922, she became the first Latina to run for Congress. Though she lost her bid for election, she remained active in New Mexico politics and led a number of important boards and commissions.



Jeannette Rankin (1880-1973)

Suffragist, Politician, and Peace Activist


Women on the American frontier blazed trails in more places than just the wilderness. They also cleared the path for women to serve in government office. Although Wyoming was the first state to grant women suffrage, the first female in the United States Congress was from Montana. Jeannette Rankin was elected to the House of Representatives in 1916. Rankin, a suffragist and a leading peace activist, was the only legislator to oppose America's involvement in World War I. Her opposition to the war cost Rankin her seat in Congress; she lost her bid for reelection in 1918. However, in 1940 Montanans again elected Rankin to the House, and once more, she opposed America's involvement in war when she voted against the United States entering World War II. Her two votes made her the only member of Congress to vote against America's involvement in both World Wars.



Anna May Wong (1905-1961)

Actress


Anna May Wong was the first Chinese American film star in America. As a child, she loved to go to the moves. At nine, she decided she wanted to be a movie star. At eleven, she created her stage name of Anna Mae Wong. Her first role was at fourteen as an extra in The Red Lantern. By the end of her career, she would act in over sixty movies. But Wong felt the American movie industry discriminated against her because of her race, denying her roles that were not stereotypical of Chinese people. In the late twenties, she moved to Europe in hopes of more varied opportunities. She found success while there, so much the U.S. film industry begged her to come back to America, promising her lead roles, which never quite came to fruition in the way she hoped. One of her most famous roles was in Shanghai Express in 1932.


I hope you find these women as intriguing as I do and their profiles will prompt you to want to read about more women just like them. Researching these and hundreds of women has made me realize the magnitude of the obstacles they faced in the twentieth century and the things modern women take for granted. That they prevailed despite myriad forces working against them makes them all the more fascinating. They deserve our respect and admiration. Their grit, courage, personal resolve, and creativity truly sets them apart.


Please share the release of this e-book with anyone you feel may be interested. I am especially keen to get this resource into hands of teachers, so if you know one, please consider sharing this post or the link to the e-book.


Thanks for reading! I’m glad you’re here.


N.J. Mastro


Subscribe and download a free copy of American Women in the 20th Century, Part I: 1900-1949.