Women in the early 20th century

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Antilles, Guyane • Septembre 2015

Séries générales • LV1

Text 1 : Finding a husband

The scene takes place in 1900 in the USA.

On the first of March, I went to my mother and asked for a loan.

‘Marriage,’ she said, her eyes hard with disapproval. The etched lines around her lips deepened. ‘Do as I had to.’

I heard the accusation in her voice. I was an only child and my father had doted1 on me. He was proud of my career. Prior to my return to Dayton, I was a pianist with an all-woman ensemble in Philadelphia and on occasion, he sent generous gifts of money to supplement my income. When he died from a weak heart four years ago, my inheritance, small as it was, angered my mother. She considered that money to be hers, not mine. Two years later, her money dwindling2, she remarried.

Now, as she wrote a bank check to cover one month's expenses, she said, ‘You're twenty-nine, soon to be thirty. You should have married years ago. You should have children by now. You should have a husband to look after you.’ She held out the check, and all at once, her voice softened. ‘Catherine, please. Find someone to marry. For your sake. Do it quickly.’

I wrote to the other two women in my ensemble telling them that I missed them and the music. If you need a pianist, I can be there within the week. They had been furious when I left a year ago. Now, they did not respond.

My thoughts in turmoil, I was unable to sleep, and my complexion turned sallow. I searched through my storage trunks and sorted old correspondence. I wrote letters to former suitors and to friends who lived in the East. Such good times we had, I penned in letter after letter. It would be lovely to see you again. Every day, I waited for the mail. I am married, former suitors wrote. A visit would be nice, friends wrote. But the children keep me so busy these days.

I considered the elderly sagging widowers and the whiskery rotund bachelors who lived at the hotel. Marriage to any one of them would be the final humiliation and the very idea of it repulsed me.

I wrote to Edward.

Ann Weisgarber, The Promise, 2013.

1. Dote: be very fond of.

2. Dwindle: decrease.

Text 2 : Women’s rights

Chicago, Illinois, USA

July 27, 1913

Dear Sue1,

No, I haven’t joined the Ballets Russes. To be honest, I’m not so sure what to do next. I suppose there was something very neat and reassuring about having my future planned out by my father. I’ve been looking in the newspaper at the jobs available, wondering what it is I might want to do. I’m not even sure which direction to take. My mother thinks it is very undignified for me to be looking to the newspaper for career options and has been discreetly asking at her bridge parties to see if anything “respectable” comes up.

No, I don’t think it is very usual for women to go to college. There were female students at the University of Illinois but not many of them, especially not in biology. Even though they were attending college, they seemed to limit themselves to feminine courses of study, like modern languages, literature, home economics. Not a geologist among them, I’m afraid!


Isle of Skye

14 August 1913

Dear boy,

Why is it that things such as languages and literatures are ‘feminine’ courses of study No censure to you, David. I know you were repeating a universal truth – albeit2 a questionable one. We are in an age where women work in professions previously prohibited. Although there still aren’t many, women have proven themselves competent as doctors, scientists, businesswomen. Now that the doors are open, why aren’t more women rushing in to gain entrance Instead, they are settling down, saying, ‘Who wants to win the Nobel Prize like Marie Curie It will be much more satisfying to learn how to dress a roast chicken.’ Of course, everyone is welcome to their interests, and perhaps there are women who truly desire to learn nothing more than chicken-dressing or home economics. But why is a woman who has studied chemistry or geology less fit as a helpmeet than a woman who has studied literature I’m not a suffragette, but when it comes to the topic of women and education, I do get irate.


Jessica Brockmole, Letters from Skye, 2013.

1. Sue is Elspeth’s nickname.

2. Albeit: although.

compréhension 10 points

Text 1

1Who is Catherine Write a sentence about her age, marital status and job.

2Copy out the following events in chronological order.

The narrator’s father dies. – The narrator decides to write to suitors again. – The narrator is given money when she is in Philadelphia. – The narrator is back in Dayton. – The narrator asks for money.

3How do the mother’s feelings evolve to her daughter’s request Using your own words, answer in one or two sentences.

4Give one common point and two differences in the parents’ relationships with their daughter. Use your own words.

5Say whether the following statements are true or false. Justify with one element from the text for each statement.

1.The narrator is indifferent to what her mother wants her to do.

2.The narrator’s letters to her former suitors were successful.

3.The narrator is not ready to get married at any cost.

Uniquement pour les candidat(e)s de LV1 obligatoire.

6What future does the narrator’s mother want her daughter to ­consider Explain why in a few sentences. Give two reasons.

Uniquement pour les candidat(e)s de la série L au titre de la LVA.

7Do as I had to” (l. 3). Explain what the mother means and why she thinks so.

Text 2

8Pick out two words from the list below corresponding to each of the following characters. Justify each choice with one quote.

a.David: fearful – defensive – progressive – indecisive – practical

b.Sue: fearful – defensive – progressive – indecisive – practical

9Explain Sue’s reaction to David’s statements about women. Answer in one or two sentences using your own words.

10 Which improvements do the characters notice about the condition of women Two elements are expected in your answer.

11 Is Sue satisfied with the way women take advantage of these improvements Answer in one or two sentences using your own words.

Both texts

12 Compare what Catherine’s mother and Sue think about the condition of women.

13 What do Catherine’s and David’s mothers have in common regarding their children’s futures Two ideas are expected in your answer.

14 What types of relationships do Catherine and David have with their fathers

Uniquement pour les candidat(e)s de LV1 obligatoire.

15 1.To what extent do both mothers conform to the norm Answer with one sentence and justify with at least one element for each mother.

2.Explain what they fear and why.

Uniquement pour les candidat(e)s de la série L au titre de la LVA.

16 Compare Sue’s and Catherine’s personalities. Answer in a few sentences.

expression 10 points

Les candidat(e)s qui composent au titre de la LV1 obligatoire traiteront l’un des trois sujets suivants. (300 mots, +/- 10 %)

1David answers Sue. Write his letter.

2You are Phil / Emma Wilson, 18. You are a pupil at Finchley Hill High School. Your school has decided to organise a speech contest for Universal Children’s Day. Write the speech you will deliver to promote the right to education for all.

3To what extent can parents influence their children’s future

Les candidats de la série L composant au titre de la LVA traiteront les deux sujets suivants.

4David answers Sue. Write his letter. (250 words, +/- 10 %)

5“Now that the doors are open, why aren’t more women rushing in to gain entrance ” (l. 27-29) Has the situation changed (200 words, +/- 10 %)

Les clés du sujet

Texte 1


Ann Weisgarber est américaine. Elle a entamé une carrière de travailleuse sociale, puis a enseigné la sociologie, avant de commencer à écrire. The Promise est son premier roman.

Pour en savoir plus : annweisgarber.com

Résumé du texte

Catherine, la narratrice, n’arrivant pas à boucler ses fins de mois, va demander de l’aide à sa mère qui lui fait une leçon de morale, lui présentant à son avis la seule solution pour remédier à ses ennuis financiers : le mariage. Elle se met alors à écrire à l’ensemble de musique auquel elle appartenait pour reprendre contact, mais personne ne lui répond. Elle s’adresse ensuite à d’anciennes conquêtes et ami(e)s  ils ont tous une vie de famille qui leur prend tout leur temps. Enfin, elle écrit à un certain Edward.

Vocabulaire utile à la compréhension

A loan (l. 1) : un prêt  etched lines (l. 2-3) : ici : des rides bien marquées  in turmoil (l. 22) : tourmenté  complexion (l. 22-23) : le teint  sallow (l. 23) : jaunâtre  trunk (l. 23) : malle  former suitors (l. 24) : anciens prétendants  ­sagging (l. 30) : affaissé  whiskery (l. 30) : qui porte des rouflaquettes  widower (l. 30) : veuf  rotund (l. 31) : corpulent.

Texte 2


Jessica Brockmole est américaine et passionnée de romans historiques – elle en écrit et en fait des critiques. Elle a vécu plusieurs années en Écosse, ce qui lui a inspiré ce roman épistolaire.

Pour en savoir plus : www.jabrockmole.com

Résumé du texte

Il s’agit de la correspondance entre deux jeunes : David et Elspeth, surnommée Sue. David ne sait pas quoi faire dans la vie, mais trouve le désir d’Elspeth d’étudier la biologie à l’université étonnant. En réponse, Elspeth s’insurge contre cette vision stéréotypée des femmes et défend leur droit à l’éducation.

Vocabulaire utile à la compréhension

Home economics (l. 16-17) : économie domestique  to settle down (l. 29) : se caser  to dress (l. 31) : ici, préparer a helpmeet (l. 35) : un(e) aide, une compagne  irate (l. 37) : courroucé, furieux.

Les points de convergence

Les deux textes se situent au début du xxe siècle et abordent la position de la femme dans la société. Mais les velléités d’indépendance de la narratrice dans le premier texte se heurtent rapidement au schéma familial traditionnel prôné par sa propre mère, tandis que la femme dans le deuxième document parvient à affirmer sa volonté d’y déroger.

Le sujet d’expression 1 4

Pistes de recherche

Deux possibilités s’offrent pour la réponse de David à Sue : soit il va aller dans le sens du machisme et considérer que c’est bien la place de la femme d’être aux fourneaux, soit il va modérer son propos en disant que c’est un constat de sa part mais qu’il regrette que les femmes elles-mêmes ne prennent pas la place que la société leur offre désormais.

Vocabulaire utile

It gets on my nerves (ça m’énerve)  to be in the kitchen (être aux fourneaux)  to pave the way for (ouvrir la voie à).

Le sujet d’expression 2

Pistes de recherche

Le sujet du discours est plus ouvert et ne se limite pas au sexisme : on peut inclure l’accès à l’éducation pour les élèves handicapés, etc. Néanmoins, dans le cadre d’un discours axé sur le sexisme, on pourra s’inspirer du discours d’Hillary Clinton à Pékin en 1997 ou de celui d’Emma Watson, l’actrice qui incarne Hermione Granger dans le film Harry Potter, devant les Nations unies en 2014, dans le cadre de la campagne « HeForShe ».

Vocabulaire utile

To be discriminated against (être discriminé)  it’s high time (il est grand temps)  gender inequality (l’inégalité entre les sexes)  to be sexualised (être discriminé sur la base du genre)  free from prejudice (dénué de préjugés)  a struggle (une lutte).

Le sujet d’expression 3

Pistes de recherche

Les deux textes donnent des exemples de parents qui interfèrent dans la vie, tant professionnelle que personnelle, de leurs enfants alors que ceux-ci sont adultes. On vous demande « dans quelle mesure cette influence s’exerce-t-elle » : la réponse variera selon l’âge de l’enfant (l’influence sera moindre au fur et à mesure que l’autonomie grandit) et les domaines ­d’action. Pousser par exemple un enfant à être ambitieux ne signifie pas choisir son métier et sa carrière, qui d’ailleurs n’est pas toujours compatible avec l’idée d’une vie heureuse ou épanouie.

Vocabulaire utile

To encourage (inciter)  a career (une carrière)  to be self-reliant (être autonome)  to be intrusive (être envahissant).

Le sujet d’expression 5

Pistes de recherche

Depuis le xxe siècle, la situation a changé, notamment lors des guerres qui ont vu les femmes prendre les postes de production laissés par les hommes. Le mouvement féministe qui a lutté pour le droit de vote avec les suffragettes, et dans les domaines de la contraception et le droit du travail, a fait que les femmes peuvent à présent voter ou mener une carrière et occuper des emplois auparavant réservés aux hommes.

Néanmoins, on constate qu’on est loin de la parité (qui doit être imposée par la loi), ou même de l’égalité, par exemple en ce qui concerne les salaires.

Voir le discours d’Emma Watson devant les Nations unies.

Vocabulaire utile

Birth control (le contrôle des naissances)  voting rights (le droit de vote)  parity (la parité)  equal pay (égalité des salaires)  there’s still a long way to go (il y a encore du chemin)  to be acknowledged (être reconnu)  renowned (renommé).



Text 1

1 Catherine is a twenty-nine-year-old single pianist.

2 The narrator is given money when she is in Philadelphia. The narrator’s father dies. The narrator is back in Dayton. The narrator asks for money. The narrator decides to write to visitors again.

3 At first, the mother is angry because of her daughter’s financial dependence due to her to the fact that she’s not married, which she disapproves of. Then she softens in order to convince her daughter to settle down.

4 Both of them provide for their daughter’s needs, giving her money. The father does so without hesitation, proud of her achievements and her career, whereas the mother makes her feel her disapproval and is reluctant to help her, as she focuses on marriage instead.

51. False: “My thoughts in turmoil, I was unable to sleep, and my complexion turned sallow” ( l. 22-23).

2. False: “I am married, former suitors wrote” (l. 27).

3. True: “Marriage to any one of them would be the final humiliation and the very idea of it repulsed me” ( l. 31-33).

Uniquement pour les candidat(e)s de LV1 obligatoire.

6 She wants her daughter to get married in the future, first because it is for her a way to have one’s needs provided for, second because it is what a woman should do according to the norm.

Uniquement pour les candidat(e)s de LVA.

7 The mother thinks that the only way for a woman to have financial security is to get married. She implies that it was the only way for her, that she had no other choice: she was compelled to find a husband and to remarry after losing Catherine’s father.

Text 2

8a. David is indecisive (“I’m not so sure what to do next”, l. 4-5 / “wondering what it is I might want to do”, l. 7-8 / “I’m not even sure which direction to take”, l. 8) and practical (“I’ve been looking in the newspaper at the jobs available”, l. 6-7).

b. Sue is defensive (“Why is it that things such as languages and literatures are ‘feminine’ courses of study ”, l. 22-23) and progressive ( “women have proven themselves competent as doctors, scientists, businesswomen”, l. 26-27 / “I’m not a suffragette, but when it comes to the topic of women and education, I do get irate”, l. 35-37).

9 Sue gets irritated by David’s view on women and education, as she rightly identifies that with the general stereotype of women devoted to becoming perfect housewives. She confirms that this idea is also shared by most women, but shows her disapproval, especially as it is becoming easier and easier for women to have access to higher education.

10 Both characters have noticed that more and more women attend college and work in sectors that were previously forbidden to them.

11 No, Sue isn’t satisfied with the situation, as she regrets that so few women try to climb the social ladder. She laments the fact that they keep to traditional gender roles and don’t try to improve their situation and become more self-reliant and ambitious.

Both texts

12 Catherine’s mother and Sue have completely different views on the condition of women. The first thinks that they should rely on men, get married and settle down, and doesn’t consider the idea of women earning money for themselves, while Sue, on the contrary, thinks that all women should take advantage of the possibility to study, have a career, and thus become self-reliant.

13 Both mothers are concerned about their children’s futures, and have an impact on their choices – regarding marital status for Catherine’s mother, or career for David’s. Both depend on societal pressure, and their environment or acquaintances, to find solutions for their children’s problems.

14 In the same way, in both texts, fathers are reassuring role models who plan for their children’s futures, smooth difficulties away by finding solutions or providing help. The support given by Catherine’s father was welcomed, which may not be the case for David who isn’t sure about his father’s choices.

Uniquement pour les candidat(e)s de LV1 obligatoire.

15 1. Both mothers conform to social standards, in one case by relying on friends (“at her bridge parties”, l. 10-11) to find her son a job, as she considers it disreputable to look for one in the newspapers in the other, by imposing her daughter to conform to the tradition of getting married and having children.

David’s mother: “undignified” (l.9), “discreetly” (l. 10), “respectable” (l. 11).

Catherine’s mother: “Catherine please… quickly” (l. 16-17).

2. Both mothers are worried about what other people think and how they may lose the respect of their peers.

Uniquement pour les candidat(e)s de la série L option LVA.

16 Neither Catherine nor Sue fit the traditional vision of women in this period. They have both chosen their own lives. On the one hand, Catherine submits to her mother’s will and decides to do as she was told and find a husband. She seems to be easily influenced, and give up the idea of living her own life. On the other hand, Sue is self-assertive and determined. Although she tries to remain moderate, she has strong convictions and defends her point of view.


1 4 Guidelines

Dear Sue,

No harm meant, and I do understand that it may get on your nerves to read or hear here and there that women are good for nothing except cooking and cleaning – God knows it’s not what I meant in my previous letter! It was merely an observation, and you can’t deny it – even though doors are open, as you say, and women theoretically have the possibility to graduate in more sophisticated or advanced subjects than home economics, in reality, they seldom do! Maybe you, and women like you, have to pave the way for future generations. Don’t get angry, but I fear it’s not the time!


5 Guidelines

A lot of things have changed since the early 20th century: thanks to the struggle of the Suffragettes, women can now vote they took advantage of the need for a work force during World War Two: instead of being housewives, they worked in factories and gradually asked for parity and pay equality during the feminist era. Nowadays, women have the possibility – at least in democratic countries – to study whatever they choose and start a career.

Indeed, many do and we may notice that some of them are now heads of big companies, acknowledged politicians (like Hillary Clinton) or scientists.

Yet, some surveys show that fewer women than expected take the chance to have a career, as many stay – willingly or unwillingly – at the bottom of a firm’s ladder, still devoted to their families and bringing up their children.

To conclude, parity as it is implemented in politics in some countries may provide a solution to grant women access to all fields of society, but it will not be efficient as long as women won’t take the chance.