History of Mexican-American War and Women's Roles

The Mexican/US War caused a major change in the lives of women in California. Gender Segregation, Sexual Violence and division of labor expanded during the Spanish Colonization, but the gender inequity did not change. California society used women as objects to fulfill biological reproduction and performed feminine roles. In the aftermath of the Mexico/US war, the discrimination, violence, and oppression they had experienced did not end but transformed. The Covertures law, along with gender violence and their involvement with the 20th Century Americanization were some of the factors, which were an essential part of the Southwest progress.

Due to their involvement with the war, many women were reluctant to give up their newfound rights after the fighting ended. Indigenous women and mestizas were brought to assist in populating the Southwest and to build settlements for the Spanish Missions.

Gender Roles and Duties of Women

During that time, biological reproduction was not only women’s primary family obligation but also a civic duty to populate the border.

If women could not reproduce, they played other feminine roles as teachers and nurses, but under the patriarchal norm. At the California Missions, because of gender segregation (unless men and women were married in the church), men and women had to live separately. Unmarried women and girls over the age of eight years old were locked in monjerios at night with the justification of securing their spirituality and their conversion to the Catholic Church. Violence and sexual violence, in particular, was used as a tool of the Missions project for control and domination.

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For example, priests demanded men and women to wear Spanish clothes and learn new gender-specific jobs. Women complied or their actions were seen as a detractor to the Spanish crown and most often either priest administered whippings, denied food, or tied idlers to a post (Hernandez). Within the high class or ‘Sangre Azul,’ the rights were somewhat different for women; in this case, husbands did not have control over their wives’ properties, divorce was not allowed and intermarriage was encouraged and approved by the church. The U.S/Mexican War, like any other war, was fundamentally about violence, racism, appropriation, and expropriation.

Manifest Destiny and Laws

The brutality that Southwestern people experienced with the concept that the US was superior to Mexico and the Native Americans was justified by the Manifest Destiny to conquer the whole continent and expand. Americans took away their lands, language, culture, race, and religion. In the aftermath of the US/Mexico war, lives were disrupted for the Southeasterners who found themselves to be strangers in a strange land, with new rules, deemed minorities struggling for social acceptance in a sea of Americans, a land where the church had less intervention within the legal matters and divorce was possible (Vargas). Now, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo provided Mexican landowners with only limited legal protection. Article 8 and 9 of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo guaranteed the property rights of Mexicans who remained in the newly conquered territories, however, due to the process for confirming land titles, Mexican Women struggled not only to hold onto real estate but also to personal property. In refusing to enforce rights defined by Mexican law, U.S. courts ultimately relegated other members of Mexican society, particularly married women, to the state of “feudalistic dependence” from which U.S. law was supposedly liberating Mexican peones. (Montoya) In regards to the Law of Covertures, it was established in the American Territory, which states that a married woman could not own property, sign legal documents or enter into a contract, without her husband’s permission.

Contrary to the Mexican law, a married woman could own, sell, lease and bequeath her property without her husband’s signature. After the war and under the Law of Covertures, Californian married women encountered discrimination, created by the limitations placed by U.S courts when they stripped them of these Mexican law rights. This ruling had a huge impact, but women fought for their rights and a statute gave them an equal interest in the marital or common property, but a husband had the authority to manage his wife’s property as if it were his own.

Lynching of Josefa

On the other hand, widowed, divorced and single adult women faced fewer difficulties, such as engaging in legal transactions on their own. In addition, women bore the brunt of the conquest, and they had to find innovative ways in which to deal with the changing world. (Chavez-Garcia) When it comes to violence, lynching was used as a form of social control, repression, an act of terror, to keep Mexicans and Mexican Americans economically depressed and politically suppressed. The only woman ever hanged in the State of California was Josefa. The lynching of Josefa was one of the dozens of related violent acts against Californios during the ten years following the Mexican-American War. Social Control message was sent with her death. Josefa’s story has undergone many interpretations, and she has become a polemical figure in Gold Rush lore. Josefa murdered, in self-defense, a miner when he attempted to rape her. English News journalist at the time wrote about Josefa’s lynching in their perspective about her ethnic and racial background, specifically her Indigenous blood. They portrayed her as a non-desirable person, by only disclosing the miners’ full name. The fact that newspapers did not use her actual name (she was only known as ‘the Spanish woman’ or ‘Juanita”) showed the favoritism to the miner and the injustice women suffered during this time.

In contrast, the Chilean newspaper, La Voz del Nuevo Mundo, Spanish news journalist provided details unlike those in any other English versions and narrated the case of Josefa as evidence of racial subjugation, and gender subordination. (Rojas) Josefa story continues to haunt us, as a nation; first, we have not yet begun to understand the whole truth about the gender violence in early American California. Secondly, how the desire to conquer lands shaped the history of lynching, paving the way for future gender violence, for a nation prepared to accept that lynching is a necessary act against a dangerous “Other”. Furthermore, between 1920 and 1930, the Mexican population of Los Angeles increased around 67,000.

Americanization programs

Due to this rapid population expansion, California state government, launch an Americanization campaign, as per Ellenwood P. Cubberley of Stanford University states: “Our task is to break up these groups or settlements, to assimilate and amalgamate these people as part of our American race, and to implant in their children, so far as can be done, the Anglo-Saxon conception of righteousness, law and order, and popular government” (Sanchez). The Americanization program purpose was to educate Mexican women in the belief that they were more susceptible to cultural transformation and more likely, given their roles as homemakers and mothers, to transmit new “American” values to their children. Programs to instruct Mexican women, on healthy eating, hygiene, job training and to control fertility were established. With this in mind, the Home Teacher Act of 1915 initiated to allow school districts to employ teachers “to work in the homes of the pupils, instructing children and adults in matters relating to school attendance…in sanitation, in the English language, in household duties…and in the fundamental principles of the American system…” (Sanchez).

Particularly, job training, because Mexican women trained for employment in the Southwest as domestic and service workers, as well as seamstresses and laundresses. In addition, social control was intended, when in the eyes of the reformers, the typical Mexican food, could easily be the first step to a lifetime of crime, therefore, teaching immigrant women healthy eating habits was believed to keep the head of the house and the rest of the family out of jail.

Americanization programs ended, when the economic condition of their families forced them to migrate consistently in search of work. In conclusion, California women fought for their right to maintain their property, against gender violence, learned and survived from the Americanization that was imposed on them and gave a chance for women to show that women can do anything a man can, and therefore should be treated as equals. As of today, California women continue fighting against discrimination, violence, and oppression, suffered through the years. California women represents a continuing tradition of independence, through reforms, courts, and right to vote.

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History of Mexican-American War and Women's Roles. (2022, Feb 07). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/history-of-mexican-american-war-and-women-s-roles/

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