Women in the Gilded Age

Different Backgrounds, Different Lives

Upper-middle-class women of the Gilded Age wanted to take female values—such as caretaking, piety, purity —out of the home and use them for the public good. The result was a broad reform movement that transformed America during the Progressive Era in the early twentieth century. Many of these women had received a college education and wanted to utilize it. About half of these women chose independence over marriage.

Life was very different for women who did not attend college. Many single, middle-class women found jobs in the new cities. New technologies like typewriters and telephones created new jobs for women. These women earned lower wages in comparison with their male counterparts, but many still managed to achieve financial independence.

For women from lower classes, life was more difficult. Wives of immigrants often worked to supplement income. They filled jobs such as domestic work in the homes of the wealthy.

In the South, wealthy women also had hired workers to help with the household. Sharecropping families needed the women to work alongside the men, working the fields by day and the doing housework by night.

Source: Women in the Gilded Age
Copyright ©2008-2021 ushistory.org, owned by the Independence Hall Association in Philadelphia, founded 1942.

Back to top