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Women's Right's 1950 - 1970

Updated on December 29, 2014

Women March

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Even Hermione Wants to Fight for Women's Rights in 2014!

The Struggle

A lot was done for American women between the years of 1950 and 1970. There were a lot of changes made to American society when it came to women. For one thing, in the 1950s, more women were going to work than ever before. By the time the 1960s came around working women were plentiful, women were attending universities and doing extremely well, and they were very active in the Civil Rights community. During the 1970s women fought to get better education opportunities and better jobs, as well as equal pay and a right to be looked at as equals to men. The 1960s also gave rise the recognized feminist rights activists who chose to speak up and speak out like Gloria Steinem. Caucasian women were not the only ones to fight for women's rights as African American women and Native American women also fought to gain rights for women. Over time the fight for women's right s and the fight for civil rights became movements that were put together and turned into a fight for equal rights for everyone.

By the time the 1950s had rolled around women had more than proved that they could be just as tough as men. Starting from the times of the American Revolutionary War and the Civil War where women actually joined in the battles instead of just taking on the role of nurses as they had during World War I and World War II, women have proven that they can do anything a good or better than most men. Women's rights activists were even active in between the time of the American Revolution and the Civil War as can been seen by the uprising of Hannah Mather Crocker who "was the leading American political theorist between 1800 and 1820 to engage the controversial question of sex equality" (Botting & Houser, 2006). Even in World War I and World War II women proved their equality to men, and if it were not for working and factory women during these time periods, American economy would have had a serious downfall and a lot of US soldiers would have been stuck without clothes to cover their backs or ammo for their weapons. This could have turned a victory into a loss very quickly. This is why women fought to gain their right to be treated as equals to men instead of being treated as though they were lesser beings.

After the war, Americans wanted to achieve normalcy once again. In order to do this a new form of family rose up, suburbanites. These families were families that moved into middle class homes and the fathers normally worked while the mothers stayed at home and cared for the house and children. This great American ideal was a wonderful hope, but as the 50's pushed further on it was realized that it took more than one person working in a household in order to maintain the type of suburbanite lifestyle that everyone so enjoyed. Women began to go back to work and in fact, "the female labor forced expanded from seventeen million in 1946 to twenty-two million in 1958" (Moss and Thomas, 2013). This female expansion into the workforce included numerous African American women who joined the workforce because "technological progress in agriculture, a changing demand for key products, and the government's economic and industrial policy effected a major transition in southern labor markets. African-American male labor-force participation rates (LFPR) and employment rates fell precipitously during the 1950s, while female participation rose markedly" (Heinicke, 2000).

African American women unknowingly joined the fight for two movements rather than just one. As they entered to workforce like the Caucasian women did, they also entered the entertainment industry, giving exposure to both the Civil Rights and feminist movements. "As activist-entertainers, however, they also stood out. In their public performances and their political protests—and crucially, in the myriad instances when the lines between those blurred—many black women drew attention to unequal relationships between blacks and whites and to relationships between men and women" (Feldstein, 2012). The 1950s gave rise to the working woman and the African American woman entertainer/activist, however, the 1960s would be a much more crucial turning point for women than ever before.

The 1960s gave rise to a lot of things. The Civil rights movement started gaining momentum and the Vietnam War gave rise to a new type of household, along with Anti-War Activists. During this time, women, though working, also had to deal with their men being in another country, risking their lives for seemingly no reason since the war in Vietnam only cost America money and lives, for which they gained nothing. "By 1962, married women accounted for nearly two-thirds of the female workforce" (Moss & Thomas, 2013). This was due to the fact that there were so many men at war and females had to care for families financially as well as keeping up with the role of taking care of families as housewives. More and more women were also attending colleges and getting an education. " In the late 1960s and early 1970s the gender divide in American higher education narrowed rapidly as women shifted their aims from homemaking to careers" (Jones, 2009). "In 1961, women received over 40 percent of all baccalaureate degrees awarded" (Moss & Thomas, 2013). Even though women were entering the workforce and beginning to get good educations, they still took on female jobs, like nursing and domestic service jobs, all of which paid much less than a man's wages. Around this time the societal view of family was pushed onto women through male controlled sources, like women's magazines. To make matters worse there was no organized group interested in fighting for women's rights. Women did not share a cultural experience with other women, but rather looked at their personal experience as their own struggle. Around this time Women's Rights activist Betty Friedan wrote a book called 'The Feminine Mystique'. In this book Freidan basically said that the 1950s view of women kept them stifled and caused women to live unhappy lives, as if they were in a cage with no hopes of ever escaping. This gave rise to women becoming more involved in the struggle for equal rights.

Women began to join the struggle for equal rights, using the political exposure that being involved in such activities brought about. They compared their struggle with the struggle for racial rights and even stated that the same people who were trying to keep the African Americans from being equal, were the same people who wished females to remain unequal as well. All different sorts of groups began to rise up and use the Civil Rights movement's ideals and tactics; "Among civil rights groups of the time were African American organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Southern Christian Leadership conference (SCLC), led by Martin Luther King, and women’s groups like the National Organization for Women (NOW). Civil rights groups most often focused on lobbying, education, and creating legal change. Power groups responded to the limits of civil rights groups with more radical rhetoric and actions. Numerous Power groups advocated Black Power, Brown Power, Red Power, and Radical Feminism—groups such as the Black Panthers, Brown Berets, American Indian Movement (AIM), and New York Radical Feminists" (Langston, 2003). Even though each one of these groups had a different name they all shared one thing in common, they all wanted to be counted as equals when it came to being compared with white male Americans. Out of this came the Equal Pay Act.

"In 1963, Congress passed the Equal Pay Act, the first comprehensive federal bill that prohibited employment discrimination" (Blankenship, 1993). In the more than "50 years since President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, women's pay has risen significantly, but still lags that of men, making the elimination of gender-based pay discrimination a priority for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency reaffirmed today" (Lanham: Federal Information & News Dispatch, Inc, 2013). The Equal Pay Act is not an act that is based on all forms of discrimination. In fact, the Equal Pay Act itself states nothing about equal pay discrimination based off of religion, race or anything that does not deal with gender;

[No employer having employees subject to any provisions of this section shall discriminate, within any establishment in which such employees are employed, between employees on the basis of sex by paying wages to employees in such establishment at a rate less than the rate at which he pays wages to employees of the opposite sex in such establishment for equal work on jobs the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions, except where such payment is made pursuant to (i) a seniority system; (ii) a merit system; (iii) a system which measures earnings by quantity or quality of production; or (iv) a differential based on any other factor other than sex: Provided, That an employer who is paying a wage rate differential in violation of this subsection shall not, in order to comply with the provisions of this subsection, reduce the wage rate of any employee] (US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 2013).

Even though women pretty much lumped their struggle in with the struggle of Civil Rights they had a few demands of their own to make that African Americans were just not interested in. For one thing, feminists decided that in order for women to be able to work and even have a small chance of being equal to men that they should be able to have free child care, paid for by the federal government, for any pre-school aged child. Women also demanded an end to all forms of any kind of gender discrimination and also demanded equal pay for equal work. "There was also a radical dimension of the emerging feminism of the 1960s that grew out of the experiences of young women in the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) and SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee). These radical young women coined the term 'sexism'" (Moss & Thomas, 2013). Not all Women's Rights activists thought as these free radical women did. NOW was in the process of fighting for equal pay while radical feminists like Mary King and Casey Hayden were fighting for things like "wider distribution of birth control literature, tougher enforcement of rape laws, the sharing of housework and child-rearing duties with their husbands and the right to abortion on demand" (Moss & Thomas, 2013). Though women were doing great things, a lot of women, and of course most men, disagreed with feminist ideals. Because of this, women faced a lot of challenges, some that even came from within the movement.

Not everyone agreed with the liberal feminists view of how women were seen in society. "A 1970 Gallup poll showed that 70 percent of American women believed they were treated fairly by men. Other polls revealed that a majority of housewives stated they were content with their lives. Many resented being told by liberal feminists that raising families was boring. Other women questioned the emphasis that NOW spokespersons placed on the satisfaction of working from the home" (Moss & Thomas, 2013). Gloria Steinem, a very well known Women's Rights activist, even said herself that she knew she was catering to only a small percentage of women in America, but she also said that women had been brainwashed by society to believe that they should be in the role of the housewife and oppressed, which was the common view of most liberal feminists. Men disagreed with the feminists as much as housewives did, if not more. They were scared that they were going to lose the standing that they currently had in American culture as protectors and breadwinners. Religious individuals were even against the feminists because the roles that they were trying to work themselves into directly violated biblical roles and rules for women. Feminists even began to realize that there was a general difference between themselves and that not all women wanted the same rights or cared about the same things as some of the others did. This caused problems for feminist groups because they had issues deciding on which causes that they should make priorities. Though there were a lot of obstacles in their way, Women's Rights Activist would not be swayed from their agenda to gain equality.

A really big turning point for the Women's Rights movement was the outcome of the case of Roe v. Wade. This case was actually about abortion laws in Texas being unconstitutional and that a person should have a right to be able to choose what happens to their body. Even though it was more of a case questioning constitutional law and regulations, it did a lot for the Women's Rights movement. The decision of Roe v. Wade, which deemed Texas abortion law unconstitutional, is still a big issue with feminists in this year of 2014. This court decision is used every time someone wants to challenge the legality and ideals of abortion. This gave religious individuals yet another reason to dislike liberal feminists and everything that they stood for. "A three-judge United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas, 314 F.Supp. 1217, entered judgment declaring laws unconstitutional and an appeal was taken" (Supreme Court, 1973). Though a very unpopular decision was a correct one the is upheld by the American Constitution. The decision to keep a woman from having an abortion violates not only a woman's right to choose what happens to her body, but also Constitutional privacy rights as well. Feminists used this court decision in the 1970s, and still continue to use this decision, to defend women's rights. On the tenth anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, we see pro-choice activists stating that pro-life activists are trying to infringe upon all women's rights; "As in previous years, the gathering was protested by a small group of "pro-choice" activists, who paraded outside Faneuil Hall with placards saying "Keep your laws off my body," and "Keep abortion legal - the American way." Among them was Bill Baird, the longtime abortion activist, who criticized the anti-abortion forces for their "escalating fanaticism. They have declared war against all women's rights, but we'll keep fighting with every breath in us," he said (Constable, 1983). Though it may be interesting to hear a man make a statement like this, it is still a simple example of how pro-choice activists use the decision of Roe v. Wade and the knowledge that if someone tries to keep a woman from having an abortion they are violating the United States Constitution.

A lot was done for American women between the years of 1950 and 1970. There were a lot of changes made to American society when it came to women. Women took on roles of husbands that had gone off to war, they worked and became breadwinners for their families and they enhanced their educations in order to further their careers, instead of just holding menial jobs. They demanded equality to men and eventually achieved this equality through legislation like the Equal Pay Act. Birth control is readily available, as well as the options of abortion and adoption, though abortion is still quite the hot button issue. Women are paid the same as men to do the same work and employers can get into trouble if they do not follow the simple law of equal pay for equal work. Women are no longer seen as just your average housewife who is meant to stay at home and take care of children and housework. They can get jobs that are outside of the normal cultural view of what women's jobs should actually be, meaning, women are no longer forced into jobs such as nursing or being maids, and in fact, janitorial work has become something of a man's profession. Women sought to gain independence from roles that they were being forced into in the late 1940s and early 1950s and they earned it. It is because of these wonderfully, free thinking, feminists that women can do the things that they are able to do in this day and age. If it wasn't for women like Crocker, King, Hayden, Freidan, Steinem and Angelou, women would not have the freedom that they do.

We Can Do It!

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Resources

Resources

Baker, C. N. (2004). Race, Class, and Sexual Harassment in the 1970s. Feminist Studies, 30(1), 7-27

Blankenship, K. M. (1993). Bringing gender and race in: Employment discrimination policy. Gender and Society. 204-226 pp. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/189578

Constable, P., G. S. (1983, Jan 24). Roe v. Wade and the resistance. Boston Globe (Pre-1997 Fulltext) Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/294321120?accountid=32521

Botting, E. H. and Houser, S. L. (2006). "Drawing the Line of Equality": Hannah Mather Crocker on Women's Rights. The American Political Science Review, Vol. 100, No. 2. 265-278 pp. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/27644349

Equal pay act signed 50 years ago today. (2013). Lanham: Federal Information & News Dispatch, Inc. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1366058226?accountid=32521

Feldstein, R. (2012). “The World Was On Fire”: Black Women Entertainers and Transnational Activism in the 1950s. OAH Magazine Of History, 26(4), 25-29.

Heinicke, C. W. (2000). One Step Forward: African-American Married Women in the South, 1950-1960. Journal Of Interdisciplinary History, 31(1), 43-62. doi:10.1162/002219500551488

Jones, S. (2009). Dynamic Social Norms and the Unexpected Transformation of Women's Higher Education, 1965-1975. Social Science History, 33(3), 247-291.

Langston, D. H. (2003). American Indian Women's Activism in the 1960s and 1970s. Hypatia, 18(2), 114.

Moss G. D., & Thomas, E. A. (2013). Moving on: The American people since 1945 (5th ed.). Upper Saddle, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Supreme Court. (1973). Roe v. Wade. Retrieved from https://a.next.westlaw.com/Document/I32a9810a9c2611d993e6d35cc61aab4a/View/FullText.html?navigationPath=Search%2Fv3%2Fsearch%2Fresults%2Fnavigation%2Fi0ad7051e0000014a0a02e68fd9569714%3FNav%3DCASE%26fragmentIdentifier%3DI32a9810a9c2611d993e6d35cc61aab4a%26startIndex%3D1%26contextData%3D%2528sc.Search%2529%26transitionType%3DSearchItem&listSource=Search&listPageSource=e4f896280bbd187ca5eb460533fbdad9&list=ALL&rank=1&grading=na&sessionScopeId=aab9f5ff174cfee117ece1d510c54d30&originationContext=Search%20Result&transitionType=SearchItem&contextData=%28sc.Search%29

US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (1963). Equal pay act. Retrieved from http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/statutes/epa.cfm

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US Women’s Rights Movement Timeline 1848 – 2014
US Women’s Rights Movement Timeline 1848 – 2014 | Source

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    • Lyrykell profile image
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      Kelly Miller 2 years ago from Apollo, Pennsylvania

      I have to check some of this out. Thanks for some topic ideas.

    • poetryman6969 profile image

      poetryman6969 2 years ago

      With International Women's day I am hoping that the plight of third world women will be addressed. Especially issues like:

      • FGM

      • Honor killing

      • Strapping bombs to children

      • Enslaving women

      • Murdering homosexuals

      • Child marriage

    • Lyrykell profile image
      Author

      Kelly Miller 2 years ago from Apollo, Pennsylvania

      Thank you. You should check out the others!

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 2 years ago from Wales

      This is the first hub of yours that I am reading and I am very impressed. You certainly know your stuff and this was very interesting. Voted up,shared and now looking forward to many more by you.

      Eddy.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 2 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Gains for women in Ohio have been slow, but improving very much in the 2010s.

      Up until about 1980, at least one division of Nationwide Insurance used a small manual that instructed supervisors in how to lead women workers, suggesting that women were mentally damaged by hormones and had unstable cognition and emotions, along with hampered intelligence. I remember one man saying, "We have to let them work" (as if we were retarded, but would sue the company otherwise). EEO made many improvements to equality for everyone in the 1990s and 2000s.