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Gender Roles

I think we can all agree that gender roles were very different over a century ago. Males and females each had their own sphere that only occasionally came together in sharing responsibilities. In a typical household, the men provided for the family through an occupation (farmer, craftsman, etc…)and managed the money he made. A woman’s role was nurturing and raising her children, cooking, cleaning, with perhaps a small trade of her own. As mentioned before, sometimes these spheres would merge together in certain areas. Sometimes women would work alongside husbands in the fields, or milk cows, have a small trade of her own, etc. But it is certain that each gender had his/her main responsibilities. This activity is a simulation that allows students to step into what would have been their gender role in Utah pioneer times.

This activity does require much preparation, but it is worth every bit of it for the education your students will gain in return.


  • Budget sheets (1 for every boy in the class)
  • Sugar snap peas (find in produce section of grocery store)
  • Can
  • Basic classroom cleaning supplies
  • Washboardand Tub(optional)
  • Basic sewing supplies and fabric (with administration approval)

For the boys… Prepare a budget sheet (much like the ones used in the Oregon Trail computer games). The boys in your class will need to divide their earnings between needs and wants. Along with obvious needs (flour, sugar, oats, etc…), also include things such as livestock, tools, clothing and fabrics that will make the student really ponder if he needs it or not. I also like to include things such as sweets, musical instruments ( i.e. banjo or fiddle), and I’ll even include “gift for wife”. They write down the quantity of the item they wish to purchase, and start deducting the prices from the total amount. It is up to the student if he would like to put any into his savings account.

For the girls… For the girls in my classroom, I will assign a few to clean the room. Pick up papers, organize backpacks under desks, spray and wash desks, counter-tops, board, etc. I found that even though students don’t like doing this on a typical day, these girls will actually get into their roles and start going to work, sometimes with a smile on their face! For the other girls, I will purchase sugar snap peas (still in the pod!) and their job is to open all the pods and empty out the peas into a can. If school policy allows, or with administration permission, you can even let some girls sew simple fabric together with a needle and thread.

After this simulation, I actually match up a boy to a girl as “husband” and “wife”.* Yes, at first there will much gagging, and comments such as, “…ew, gross!” But it’s important to show that even though each gender had its own role to fill, they also shared responsibilities as well.

Once paired up, the “wives” go back to their husbands and see what they’ve done with the budget. Seeing what “husbands” have done with their money can get some funny reactions! “What? You spent $15 on candy?” “A banjo? What do you need a banjo for?” If there are disagreements to how the money was spent, they need to compromise and make some changes.

After this simulation experience, follow up with a class discussion on what the students thought about their respective gender role. If you’re doing the Day in the Life… book, add another page describing the differences and similarities between men and women of today, compared to early Utah days.

*If there are uneven numbers, you can have there be widowers or widows. Widowers take a turn doing peas, while widows do their own budget sheet. I recommend doing it this way instead of having polygamous men…but, hey, it’s your classroom.

One Response to “Gender Roles”

  1. I attened the recent Social Studies conference in which you shared this website and activity. I am interested in doing it with my students and was wondering if you could email me a copy of the budget sheet you use with your students.

    Stasha Wheeler

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