Lesson Plans: Grades 6-8

Lesson 5: Women's Lives Before the Civil War

A We The People Resource

Tools

The Lesson

Introduction

Anti-slavery poster form the 1850s

Anti-slavery poster form the 1850s

Credit: Courtesy of American Memory

Students interested in researching the lives of women before the Civil War might enjoy looking at the items in the following list. Have students describe any documents they choose and decide what aspects of the lives of women are reflected. How were the lives of women changing in the 1850s?

Guiding Questions

  • What was life like for women in the first half of the 19th century in America?
  • What influence did women have in shaping the attitudes towards slavery? Towards women's suffrage?

Learning Objectives

  • Have a better understanding of the lives of and roles of women in pre-Civil War America.

Preparation Instructions

The Civil War erupted after a long history of compromises and sectional debates over representation, federalism, tariffs and territories. Though many of the political differences are beyond the scope of the intermediate curriculum, students can use their analysis of archival documents to begin to appreciate the differences between the North and South and the changes afoot in the United States that contributed to the developing conflict.

Before you begin to teach this lesson, review the suggested activities and familiarize yourself with the websites involved. Select, download and duplicate, as necessary, any documents you want the class to use.

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. Women's Lives Before the Civil War

Students interested in researching the lives of women before the Civil War might enjoy looking at the items in the following list. Have students describe any documents they choose and decide what aspects of the lives of women are reflected. How were the lives of women changing in the 1850s?


 

1848

Seneca Falls Convention: In 1840, Elizabeth Cady Stanton traveled to London to attend the World Anti-Slavery Convention. After the delegates voted to exclude women, Stanton joined with Lucretia Mott to organize the first women's rights convention in the United States. She also continued working to abolish slavery.

1849

Harriet Tubman escapes slavery

1850

Jenny Lind becomes a pop star in the United States

1851

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony begin working together

1851

Elizabeth Blackwell returns to the United States having finished her medical education

1851

Letter, Elizabeth Blackwell to Baroness Anne Isabella Milbanke Byron concerning women's rights and the education of women physicians (March 4, 1851). For background information, search American Memory for "Letter, Elizabeth Blackwell to Baroness."

1851

Unidentified woman, half-length portrait, facing front, holding a copy of the book "Sons of Temperance Offering" (March 4, 1851). For background information, search American Memory. Women were prominent in the temperance movement.

1851-1852

Publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

1853 (c.)

Woman working at a sewing machine

Background information

1856

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her daughter, Harriot, from a daguerreotype, 1856

1858

Julia Archibald Holmes Reaches Pike's Peak, August 5, 1858

Holmes became the first woman on record to reach the summit of Pike's Peak -- and she wore bloomers (pants) while doing it.


Students interested in finding out what popular attitudes about both women and slavery were in the 1850s might be interested in the documents in the following list:

Assessment

To culminate this lesson, ask students to demonstrate their knowledge of the lives of women before the Civil War, with an emphasis on differences between the North and South (including the fact that African-American women were mostly slaves). Here are some examples of activities that students may wish to undertake to express what they have learned through this lesson (specific project ideas should always be pre-approved by the teacher):

  • Set up a timeline display of the meaningful documents studied in the lesson, with appropriate captions.
  • Create a piece of historical fiction set in the 1850s. For example, students could write letters or journal entries in the voices of women living during the period before the Civil War, describing key elements of their lifestyle.
  • Write and perform skits based on some of the documents studied. A good example would be a skit showing the social interactions between men and women of the period.

Extending The Lesson

Selected EDSITEment Websites

The Basics

Time Required

1 class periods

Subject Areas
  • History and Social Studies > People > African American
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > AP US History
  • History and Social Studies
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Civil Rights
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > Expansion and Reform (1801-1861)
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > Civil War and Reconstruction (1850-1877)
  • History and Social Studies > People > Other
  • History and Social Studies > People > Women
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Politics and Citizenship
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Reform
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Slavery
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > U.S. Constitution
Skills
  • Critical analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Discussion
  • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
  • Historical analysis
  • Interpretation
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
  • Problem-solving
  • Representing ideas and information orally, graphically and in writing
  • Textual analysis
  • Using primary sources
Authors
  • MMS (AL)

Resources

Media