INTRODUCTION

 

Women's History Month first began in 1978 as "Women's History Week" initiated by the Education Task Force of the Sonoma County (California) Commission to increase awareness of the status of women. The week of March 8 was chosen to make International Women's Day the focal point of the observance. Three years later, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Rep. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) co-sponsored the first Joint Congressional Resolution to initiate a national Women's History Week which was celebrated throughout schools and communities across the United States. In 1987, the National Women's History Project petitioned Congress to expand the national celebration. The resolution was approved with bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate creating National Women's History Month. Since then, the National Women's History Month has been celebrated nationwide.

This year, The Ward M. Canaday Center, which houses The University of Toledo's special collections of manuscripts, rare books and university archives, is also celebrating Women's History Month with "A Hundred Years of Womanhood," an online exhibit that highlights its women's social history collection. The collection, which is comprised of rare books and periodicals covers various topics related to the pursuit of perfect womanhood in the United States from 1850 to 1950.

The Standard of Beauty was one of the most important standards of perfect womanhood. The perfect woman was seen through the classical ideas of beauty. The literature of the nineteenth and the early twentieth century stresses the golden rules of moderation, proportion, and healthy diet.

Rules of Ettiquette provided a code of behavior for the perfect woman. The decorum specified the appropriate manners in the street, at the table, and outdoors. The women had to learn how to behave in the company of other women and especially in contacts with men.

Pleasures of Housekeeping were highly emphasized in the upbringing of the young ladies. The housekeeping guides that were published a hundred years ago stressed the virtues of staying at home, cooking, and pleasing the husbands. They also provided a handful of recipes.

Joy of Motherhood was considered one of the most important virtues of a perfect woman. Women were guided into motherhood in their early years of adulthood and were provided with a handful of guidelines concerning the upbringing of the babies so that they could be healthy, beautiful and morally good.

The Sexual Life of a Woman also was a concern of perfect womanhood. The perfect woman's sexuality was described in terms of biological functions only, not in terms of desire or personal fulfillment. Sexual intercourse was an obligation of a wife to her husband and the first step toward motherhood.

The Fallen Woman was the woman who either through her own vice or through the trickery of others became enmeshed in a world of crime and prostitution. Most literature of this era romanticised and mythicised the degredation and the plight of the female prostitute, but a few books and studies provided factual data for the concerned citizen.

The Canon of Fashion played a very significant role in completing the image of the perfect woman in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. It determined her social status and her role in the family.


This page was designed by Magdalena Delicka and Maria Halovanic. Last modified March 1, 2000. Please direct any queries about the page to mdelicka@hotmail.com

Last Updated: 6/9/16