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Women and Equality

Michael O'Malley, Associate Professor of History and Art History, George Mason University



In this exercise, you will search the "Making of America" database of antebellum journals at the University of Michigan, to discover how Americans thought about sexual equality in the period between 1830 and 1860.

Go to The Making of America. Click on "Other Searches in MoA". Then click on "Proximity" to choose Proximity Search. This allows you to search for three words which appear near each other in the texts in the database. Enter "women" in the first field and "equality" in the second, choose "<120" in the popup and limit date range to 1830-1860. Your page should look like this:

Click "Search." You should come up with 12 records. Repeat the search entering "marriage" and "equality" in the two fields--you'll come up with 4 more records.

If you still don't have enough information, enter your own search terms related to women's equality (suffrage or divorce for example) to find more records.


After you have read the relevant documents that the search turns up, write one page answering two or more of the following questions:

  1. What were the objections to women's legal equality in marriage?
  2. What arguments were made for equality in marriage?
  3. Did Americans in this period want women fully involved in the marketplace, or did they want to shield women from the market?
  4. How were the arguments made? How was "the home" described? How was religion used to justify various positions?
  5. Do any of the arguments look "modern"? Or are they distinctly different from how we might frame such discussions? If so, what is the difference?

Updated | April 2004