History’s Women from 600 B.C. to 1926 A.D.

The progress of women, socially as an individual, politically as a citizen, may be divided into four periods, covering more important part of world history – that is, from about 600 B.C. to the present day (1926). The first and longest period extends through the rise and decay of Greece, the power, decline and fall of the Roman Empire, the invasions of the Northern Barbarians, the Mohammedan Conquests, and the Dark Ages of Europe until about 1000 A.D. During those 1600 years woman has little more than a household drudge, or at best a plaything and ornament for man. She was regarded as of slight social importance, and her political and property rights were very limited. There was little opportunity for her intellectual advancement, and she sat in the background with her children and slaves, while the rude work of the world, the contest between nations, and the struggles of civilization with barbarism, were carried on by the men. There were, indeed, exceptional women like Sappho, the poet, Aspasia, the consort of Pericles, some of the noble Roman matrons, or queens like Cleopatra of Egypt, Zenobia of Palmyra, and occasional learned women like Hypatia of Alexandria. But these superwomen had only a transitionary influence, and the fact faces us that during this first period, the vast majority of women, partly because they had so little chance, and partly because they lacked the mental and executive powers, have left comparatively few records of accomplishment and achievement.

In the second period, the Middle Ages, from the year 1000 to about 1450, Chivalry arose, bringing with it a romantic attitude toward women, giving her a much higher social importance in the estimation of man. Though often idealized beyond her ability to respond, women became a more definite influence in the life of man, and she embraced the opportunity of giving a rough and violent world more character and morality, more grace and refinement of manner, a gentle hand and a loving heart. But her feminine power was only vaguely stirring, and she was still, to a large extent, either the drudge or plaything of man.

During the third period, from 1450 to 1775, woman became thoroughly awakened, and began to make her rightful place in the world’s history, and in the march of human progress. The great events of this period were the invention of printing, the Renaissance, the Spanish Queen Isabella’s encouragement of Columbus, leading to the discovery and settlement of America, the brilliant reign of Elizabeth in England with her patronage of Shakespeare, and the rise of women’s social, artistic and political importance in the French courts of Louis XIV and Louis XV. As an individual and social influence, woman had almost advanced to the side of man, but her intellectual growth was still retarded by limited opportunities for education, while her political power could only be exercised in secret, and she was denied the right to stand beside man and have a voice in regulating or deciding affairs.

The fourth period in woman’s history, extending to the time in which we now live (1923), has completed woman’s enfranchisement in the important civilized countries of the world, and she has at last secured her true position, withheld from her during so many centuries.

The chief factors in bringing about this great event were the American Revolution of 1776, the French Revolution of 1789, and the growth of woman’s education during the nineteenth century.

What woman will do with her power she now possesses, remains to be seen. Probably the chief task that lies before her is to succeed where man has failed – to banish from earth the three great evils that oppress life – war, selfishness, and hate. If women are able to abolish these evils, and substitute peace, justice and love, the men, who have ruled chiefly up to now, will join hands with the women, and the affairs of the world will be mutually directed by both sexes.


Reference: Famous Women; An Outline of Feminine Achievement Through the Ages With Life Stories of Five Hundred Noted Women By Joseph Adelman. Copyright, 1926 by Ellis M. Lonow Company.

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