HM - May 2017 - Backstory: Fair Wages
Teacher Resource Set
Equality or Fairness?
During the early 1900s, in the context of burgeoning American industry, women’s roles shifted dramatically. With that shift came sweeping social changes that challenged social values and placed women front-and-center in a national debate concerning rights, protections, and fairness. Some women argued that voting was a stepping stone to gaining true political, civil, and legal equality with their male counterparts. Women such as Alice Paul, who formed the National Women’s Party (NWP) in 1916, believed that an increase in political rights would lead to a more just society. Other women, such as activist Florence Kelley, argued that suffrage would contribute to the removal of protective legislation that prevented already overworked women from being subjected to the unrestricted labor male workers dealt with. Different types of women were attracted to the arguments put forth by suffragist and social feminist leaders. Wealthier, more educated women tended to support the NWP, while the majority of Kelley’s followers included a large number of working class women who were especially vulnerable to dangerous and underpaid factory work. The establishment of a minimum wage for women in 1923 served as a stepping stone not only for the equality of women, but for the equality of American workers as well. While examining tracts from Florence Kelley and Alice Henry, students will have the opportunity to practice historical empathy as they analyze the abhorrent working conditions working class women dealt with during the time period. In addition, they will explore how laws either kept those conditions in place, or how they failed to adequately address the needs of working class women in a complicated tangle of change and consequence. Students may use the political cartoon and images to investigate how race and class united and divided women on the issue of suffrage and protection laws. The Suffragist Movement was by no means a monolithic movement or one rooted in a singular cause. Though some of its results proved to help women, some unintended and unexpected consequences set women, and American workers overall, in a new direction. Together, these sources tie into the Backstory segment,
“Equality or Fairness,” which is featured in the episode, “Fair Wages: A History of Getting Paid.”