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Research Paper on the Evolution of Women Roles from Pre-Contact Times to 20th Century

7 pages
1807 words
University of California, Santa Barbara
Type of paper: 
Research paper
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The period between pre-contact era and 20th century was characteristics by multiple socioeconomic and political changes which shaped the roles of women in the society. Through an examination of the chronological narratives that traversed this area, it is a possible highlight and draws an insight into the events that shaped the position and significance of a woman in the community. Since pre-contact era, it is demonstrated that the roles of women were limited on domestic chores. This notion was further perpetuated through stereotyping of the ideal American family, where the father was bestowed with the responsibilities of providing food for the family whereas a mothers key role is to raise their children. This study will focus on exploring the evolution of womens roles from pre-contact era towards the end the end of 20th century and how such changes have impacted on women.

Role of Women in Pre-Contact Days

The conquest of the residents of California between 1850 and 1880 was crucial in the American history. In the early 1860s, U.S. Army, along with volunteering soldiers had waged war against the Indians, compelling the Indians onto reservation towards the North. Upon defeating the Indians, the military embarked on enacting the American Indian policy which eliminated the Moduc from their territory as well as subjecting them to the death penalty by their neighbors in the reservation (Sandos 86). The political changes imparted by U.S. Army had a significant influence on the roles of women in the society. During this period, the Indians who were the older residents of California were forced to endure demoralizing series of torture and great suffering from the new America order. Women were taken into servitude to serve as slaves, which hindered their influence on the socioeconomic matters of the region.

Spanish people also had a significant impact on the role of the indigenous Indian women residing in California in 1772. During this era, sexual violence was utilized away from subduing and limiting the role of women as objects of sexual pleasure. It is revealed that Spanish employed sexual violence as the tool of conquering California in the eighteenth century. According to Franciscan priest referred to as Father Luis Jayme, the relationship between the Indians residing in California and Spanish in the 1770s was either religious or sexual (Castenada 59). The evils perpetrated by Spanish soldiers had an adverse effect on the dignity of local women (Indian women in California). In his text, Father Luis Laments that some soldiers deserved to be hanged or given any other form of capital punishment due to atrocities they directed towards women.

The dignity and the role of women in the society during pre-contact times was belittled by slavery and excessive use of the violence towards women. In the 1770s, the Spanish forces invaded California whose residents were indigenous Indians. It is reported that the soldiers applied all forms of evils toward the local women. The soldiers often embarked on sexual violence whenever they wanted to demonstrate their dominance over the natives. According to the insights provided by Father Luis Jayme, it is revealed that Spanish soldiers were always seizing and raping women (Castenada 59). The experiences of women under the rule of Spanish soldiers indicated that the position of women during this period was to be submissive and used as tools for sex. Women were also portrayed to be weak, hapless and unable to protect themselves against various adversaries directed to them.

These scenarios that highlighted the plight of women under the Spanish conquest indicate that the society did not have strong institutions to protect their rights from being abused. Father Luis Jayme was concerned that irrespective of the crimes committed by Spanish soldiers through seizing and raping of Indian women, little was done to ensure justice was served (Castenada 59). The sexual assault to Amerindians was against the principles of the Catholic Church headed by missionaries. Father Luis reveals that one of the Amerindian women was raped by a Spanish soldier, subsequently becoming pregnant. However, after giving birth, the baby is killed out of shame. Form this incidence; it is demonstrated that women who bore children out of their wedlock were an embarrassment to society. The killing of the baby is an indication that children who are bastards were not welcomed in the community.

The roles of women in the pre-contact times were based on the natural law. According to the assertions of Father Luis, even before the inception of Christianity in old California, the natives were observing the principles of natural law. This included avoiding different practices which were considered to be against the rule of God. For instance, the Amerindians refrained from excessive drinking of alcohol, avoided marrying relatives and did not worship idols. In the marriage setting, polygamy was discouraged since a man was only supposed to marry one wife (Sanchez 642). Married women were entitled to conjugal rights since it was a requirement for the married men to sleep with their wives only. Men were also expected to be faithful to their wives. Any man who was found cheating on his wife was scolded and even punished by his superiors. Women in a pre-contact era were engaged in economic activities such as making of pears and pots.

Role of Women in 20th Century

In a 19th and 20th century, the position and usefulness of a woman in the society had evolved significantly. Unlike in the previous era where women were portrayed to be timid, hapless and inferior as far as taking critical roles in the community, the 20th century was different. Women were now becoming vocal and influential in pushing for the implementation of particular policies in the community to improve the welfare of people. In the 1990s, women were allowed to own property, vote as well as engaging in political issues (Wild 317). For instance, during the outset of the great depression, the White working-class Californians (including women) took a leading role in the movements that pushed for the outlawing the immigration of Chinese and Japanese in the 1800s and 1900s respectively.

Women played a significant role in the California Gold Rush. During this era, women were begun to be highly involved in various economic activities to supplement the household income. Women were committed to working in the minefields. Some of the settler women and kids also accompanied men to work t the Gold Rush (Sandos 102).This indicated that the role of the women was evolving rapidly in the 20th century. In a pre-contact era, women were depicted to be inferior, helpless and submissive, making them vulnerable when it comes to infringing their rights. Their economic role was limited, confining them to domestic chores. However, their position in the society significantly changes towards the 20th century. In the 1900s. Women are aware of their rights, prompting them to be highly involved in different socioeconomic settings of the community.

The Gold Rush also led to an increase in women prostitution. The goldfields stimulated the growth of the nearby urban centers. Men who were working from the gold mines were continually away from their wives, ultimately becoming starved sexually. This paved the way for the sex trade or prostitution where women agreed to engage in sexual intercourse with mining workers in exchange for money (Rice, Bullough and Orsi 465). The rising cases of women being in prostitution during Gold Rush imply that women were independent and had the sole responsibility of their bodies. Women were no longer used as sex objects or toys, but instead, they were using sex as a way of empowering themselves financially. Women are flocking California as prostitutes or entertainers. Others worked in Saloons. This is an indication that women were becoming empowered, socially, economically and politically.

The inception of the sex trade also indicated the evolving state of marriage, in a womans point of view. During the Gold Rush, men were willing to cheat on their wives as they worked in the mining fields. This is an indication that being in marriage did not deter one from engaging in extramarital affairs (Rice, Bullough and Orsi 465). However, prostitution also contributed to the degradation of a womans dignity. Sex trade during the God Rush allowed to illegal practices in California. Women from minority groups such as Latina or Chinese were kidnaped, oppressed and forced into prostitution. It is during the Gold Rush period that property laws were amended to allow women to own property.

The 20th century was characterized enactment of the Civil Rights Act 1964, which empowered women when it comes to championing for the rights. Before the legislation of this law, women from minority groups had been racially discriminated as well as denied chances to hold vital public positions. The Watsonville Anti-Filipino riots in the 1930s indicated the racial violence that women from minority groups faced in California during the Great Depression. The natives were hostile to the Filipino immigrants who were accused of providing cheap labor, thus denying the natives employment opportunity (Witt 291). The anti-Filipino movements also depicted women as a strong and fertile. Such notions created fear among the Native Americans in California leading to their dislike on Filipinos. However, with the legislation of Civil Rights Act, 1964 empowered women from minority groups to assuming central roles in labor, economic and political matters.


A chronological account of women experiences from pre-contact times to 20th century indicate that they have evolved significantly. The changes witnessed have played a key role in shaping the role of women in the society positively. In the pre-contact era, women were portrayed to be helpless and weak, both economically and socially. However, towards the end of the 20th century, there was the establishment of institutions which have promoted the welfare of women, ultimately improving their roles in the society.


Works Cited

Castaneda, Antonia I. Sexual Violence in the Spanish Conquest of California. Major Problems in the History of American Sexuality. New York : Houghton Mifflin, 2002. Print .

CHAVEZ-GARCIA, MIROSLAVA. Intelligence Testing at Whittier School, 1890-1920. University of California Press, 2007. Print .

Davis, Mike. Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster. Verso Books, 2012. Print .

Gutierrez, H enryJ .G. "RacialP oliticisn L osA ngeles Blacka ndM exicanA merican Educationin t he1 960s." Historical Society of Southern California and University of California Press (2015): 1-37. Print.

Rice, Richard B., et al. The Elusive Eden: A New History of California, Fourth Edition. Waveland Press, 2012. Print .

Sanchez, George J. ""What's Good for Boyle Heights Is Good for the Jews": Creating Multiracialism on the Eastside." American Quarterly, (2004): 633-661. print.

Sandos, James A. ""Because He Is a Liar and a Thief": Conquering the Residents of "Old" California." California History (2000): 86-112. Print .

Wild, H. Mark. "If You Ain't Got that Do-Re-Mi: The Los Angeles Border Patrol and White Migration in." Southern California Quarterly, (2015): 317-334. print.

Witt, Howard A. De. "The Watsonville Anti-Filipino Riot of 1930: A Case Study of the Great Depression and Ethnic." Southern California Quarterly, (2015): 291-302. print.



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