Women in American Society from the Civil war to the First World War

Module code: HS3680 

Module co-ordinator: Elizabeth Clapp

Module Outline

Between the Civil War and the First World War American Society underwent massive changes. Alongside the emancipation of the slaves and the settlement of the West, the United States experienced rapid industrialisation, urbanisation and mass immigration, as well as embracing technological innovations on a scale not seen before. By 1920 the USA no longer looked the same as it had done in 1860. While 'traditional' histories have concentrated on the impact these changes had on men, women have often been left out of the historical narrative. This module seeks to rectify this imbalance and look at women's contributions to and involvement in the shaping of American society in the second half of the 19th century and into the first decades of the 20th century. From nursing during the Civil War to fighting for the right to vote, women pushed into new political and economic arenas. Others concentrated on building their families in the aftermath of slavery, while still others joined with other women to deal with the social problems created by rapid change. As this module will show, women's role in American history during this period can no longer be ignored.

Topics covered

This module explores the multiple roles of women in American society from the Civil War to the First World War. Beginning with an examination of women's contributions to the Civil War effort on both sides of the conflict, it will look at women's place in the economy, in education and in social reform. The focus will shift between an examination of white middle-class women's experiences and those of women from African American and immigrant backgrounds. The module will end by studying the culmination of two long-running female campaigns for reform – the demand for the vote and the temperance crusade.


The module is taught over the course of ten weeks. Each week there will be a two-hour session which will see the class taught as a whole in a lecture and workshop.  This will be followed by a one hour seminar consisting of two smaller groups. The workshops and seminars will focus on the analysis of required readings and primary source materials, centred on the themes of the lecture.


Assessment will be by two 2,500 word essays and a two-hour examination.


  • BUHLE, Mari Jo, Teresa MURPHY & Jane GERHARD, Women and the Making of America
  • SKLAR, Kathryn Kish & Thomas DUBLIN, Women and Power in American History 2 volumes (2nd edition)