Today, feminism is an ideology/theory that most people fail to fully understand. Feminism has been described as having three separate waves. The first wave of feminism started in the mid-19th Century and culminated with the women’s suffrage movement. Second wave feminism started in the late 1950s moved into the 1980s. Historians and feminist/gender scholars describe today’s feminist theory, ideology and social/political movement as the third wave of feminism. The ‘’second wave’’ of feminism started after the women were forced out of the workplace after end of World War Two and essentially ended with the failure to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. Second-wave feminism splintered after criticism grew that the movement had focused on white women to the the exclusion of everyone else.
The women’s movement before the 1920s was characterized by the suffrage movement that led to women gaining the right to vote. From the 1890s and early part of the 20th century, much of the women’s movement focused on general societal inequalities and, such as poor working and housing conditions, while also focusing on social ills such as alcoholism and prostitution. Black women in the Southwest of the United States, during the 1930s, for instance, joined labor unions such as the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU) to protest poor wages and work environments they had to endure.  Apart from this general social activism and gaining the right to vote, gender-specific topics, including equality in work and pay, were not major focus areas.
In the 1940s, women gained increasing employment as men left overseas to fight in World War II. In fact, it was World War II that can be argued as the major trigger for the second wave feminist movement that occurred after the war. During the war years, the labor unions that had grown in the 1930s became even stronger as women became increasingly employed, particularly in manufacturing jobs required to support the war effort. During the 1940s, new work benefits became available to women, including maternity leave, daycare, and counseling. These benefits developed more substantially in Europe, as many countries there were devastated by war, where much of the male population was reduced. Nevertheless, in the United States, women’s participation in the labor force in World War II created a feeling among many women, after the war ended, that they also deserved the same types of rights as men in jobs they filled. This was highlighted by the fact that many men who came back and retook their old jobs from women who were doing them during the war also were given higher salaries, further highlighting this inequality.
As one travels across the southern United States, it is not unusual to find monuments and memorials to the Confederate dead in many small towns. In fact, these sculptural pieces, often composed of the same statues and plinths from the Monumental Bronze Co. of Bridgeport, Conn., can be found as far north as Pennsylvania and New York. A study in 2016 found some 1,500 monuments still standing. While in recent years these monuments have become a new source of political conversation their very erection was a movement by Confederate women.
In the years following the Civil War, Confederate women’s efforts at preservation and memorialization led them to form memorial groups who worked to keep the memory of their local dead alive, through obtaining land for Confederate cemeteries, maintaining far-flung grave sites, and erecting public monuments. Among the earliest postwar female charitable organizations in the south, these groups were also some of the longest lasting. Often composed of upper-class women, these organizations were female-led though they occasionally included male members, who liaised with the community or completed those tasks considered unseemly for women. These groups, which spread across the south, gave Confederate women outlets for mourning and fueled the creation of the “New Southern Woman”. They paved the way for a variety of other women’s organizations through which elite women created roles for themselves in the community and outside their homes’ domestic spaces.
These women’s groups were part of a larger social movement which melded the Victorian ideal of the woman as the “Angel in the House” with a need to do something to cope with the large scale grief and death. Groups of middle and upper-class women came together, seeking to memorialize the large numbers of dead in their families and communities as well as their lost cause of the Confederacy. These early efforts came in the same vein as the later romanticism of the plantation most famously seen in “Gone With the Wind” – a book and film which serves, for many individuals in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, as their main point of reference for what pre-war southern life was like, as well as the southern experience during the war. Like Margaret Mitchell’s later fiction, these public memorials were designed to maintain the social and cultural hierarchy of the old south, in this case by placing visual reminders of white male Confederate veterans and the Confederacy in public places and at high vantage points. These actions epitomize the postwar political climate during which Confederate Veterans and their children dominated the positions of power in local governments and communities, but while those politicians were men in male roles, the monuments represent a trend in women’s work outside the home and their incursion within the traditionally masculine realm of politics.