How Has the American Dream Changed Over Time for Women?

Katie Channing, Contributing Writer

In the early years of American settlement, men controlled everything and anything; that included building the states to be better. Women during these times did not have any say in these big decisions. Women could not vote, they could not fight in the military, there were many jobs that was considered “a man’s job”, and more. For women, their American dream was controlled by what men wanted it to be, which was basically to work from home and cook in the kitchen, performing domestic tasks that confined them to their home and prevented women from fully contributing to society. Over time, how has the American Dream changed for women?

Throughout literature it is shown in many ways how women are treated differently than men. In Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men,” Curley’s wife was marginalized, and no one ever paid attention to her. The men on the farm did not even know her name, nor did they care. She had dreams to become an actress, but her family made her follow their idea of what a woman’s American Dream should be. This is just one strong example from literature of how poorly women were treated in the past.

After the Civil War, in the 15th Amendment all freed men got the right to vote, but women still could not do such a thing. Many women and some men became suffragists (people who fought for women’s right to vote.) Powerful women such as Elizabeth Candy Stanton and Susan B. Anthony would make organizations that raised awareness of women suffrage. They founded the National Women Suffrage Association, which was later combined with another group and changed to the name of National American Women Suffrage Association. They had over two million members by 1917.

This popular group of women were not the only people fighting for equality. Alice Paul led women during a protest for gender equality but was arrested during the protest. During her jail time, her and other women went on hunger strikes to prove their cause’s importance. After many protests and many organizations were in the running, women finally got the right to vote in the 19th Amendment. This was a major step towards equality between men and women in the United States.

Even though women could now vote, it did not mean that they would be treated the same as men. Many of women’s American Dreams across the country were not yet fulfilled. During World War II, men were out fighting on the battlegrounds, which left jobs in the United States unattended. Women had to take over the jobs that the men had once done, and the workforce for women went up ten percent from what it was.

Rosie the Riveter became a symbol of all women who worked doing a “masculine” job during World War 2. The picture of her making a muscle saying, “We Can Do It!” encouraged many women to work in different industries.

Industries crucially needed women to work, yet when they did the same jobs men had done, women would only be paid up to 50% of the amount of money that men made. Although World War II ended in 1945, women did not start getting equal pay to men until 1963. The Equal Pay act, signed into law by President John F. Kennedy, tried to ensure that there would be equal pay for men and women that are working in the same place. While the Equal Pay Act was not perfect, and the gender pay gap was still quite large, the passing of the act showed that people were ready for change.

Women have become more equal to men, but they still did not gain full equality. It took years for The Equal Pay Act to be fully enforced by every industry, and even today there are still some places that do not pay women the same amount as men.

More recently, in the 2020 election, our first ever female Vice President, Kamala Harris, was elected. There is still yet to be a female President, but this is another big step towards reaching total gender equality for people all over the world. This gives us hope that women will be heard and will be recognized as something more than what they are seen as today. America is getting closer and closer to full equality for women, and their American Dream will be fulfilled.


Works Cited

Adams, Ansel. “Chapter 21: Progressive Reforms, 1877-1920.” The American Journey, John Cooper, 2015, pp. 12–523. Editors. “Rosie the Riveter.”, A&E Television Networks, 23 Apr. 2010,


Taylor, Beth. “A Brief History of Women’s Fight for Equal Pay.” PayScale, 13 Sept. 2017,