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Women's Rights Movement in the U.S.

Timeline of Key Events in the American Women's Rights Movement
1921–1979

by Ann-Marie Imbornoni

Discover the key events of the women's rights movement in the United States. This timeline covers the years of 1921 to 1979, which includes the formation of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the first lesbian organization in the U.S., plus the FDA approval of birth control pills and the establishment of legal abortion.

1921

Margaret Sanger founds the American Birth Control League, which evolves into the Planned Parenthood Federation of America in 1942.

1935

Mary McLeod Bethune organizes the National Council of Negro Women, a coalition of black women's groups that lobbies against job discrimination, racism, and sexism.

1936

The federal law prohibiting the dissemination of contraceptive information through the mail is modified and birth control information is no longer classified as obscene. Throughout the 1940s and 50s, birth control advocates are engaged in numerous legal suits.

1955

The Daughters of Bilitis (DOB), the first lesbian organization in the United States, is founded. Although DOB originated as a social group, it later developed into a political organization to win basic acceptance for lesbians in the United States.

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1960

The Food and Drug Administration approves birth control pills.

1961

President John Kennedy establishes the President's Commission on the Status of Women and appoints Eleanor Roosevelt as chairwoman. The report issued by the Commission in 1963 documents substantial discrimination against women in the workplace and makes specific recommendations for improvement, including fair hiring practices, paid maternity leave, and affordable child care.

1963

Betty Friedan publishes her highly influential book The Feminine Mystique, which describes the dissatisfaction felt by middle-class American housewives with the narrow role imposed on them by society. The book becomes a best-seller and galvanizes the modern women's rights movement.

June 10

Congress passes the Equal Pay Act, making it illegal for employers to pay a woman less than what a man would receive for the same job.

1964

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act bars discrimination in employment on the basis of race and sex. At the same time it establishes the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to investigate complaints and impose penalties.

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1965

In Griswold v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court strikes down the one remaining state law prohibiting the use of contraceptives by married couples.

1966

The National Organization for Women (NOW) is founded by a group of feminists including Betty Friedan. The largest women's rights group in the U.S., NOW seeks to end sexual discrimination, especially in the workplace, by means of legislative lobbying, litigation, and public demonstrations.

1967

Executive Order 11375 expands President Lyndon Johnson's affirmative action policy of 1965 to cover discrimination based on gender. As a result, federal agencies and contractors must take active measures to ensure that women as well as minorities enjoy the same educational and employment opportunities as white males.

1968

The EEOC rules that sex-segregated help wanted ads in newspapers are illegal. This ruling is upheld in 1973 by the Supreme Court, opening the way for women to apply for higher-paying jobs hitherto open only to men.

1969

California becomes the first state to adopt a "no fault" divorce law, which allows couples to divorce by mutual consent. By 1985 every state has adopted a similar law. Laws are also passed regarding the equal division of common property.

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1970

In Schultz v. Wheaton Glass Co., a U.S. Court of Appeals rules that jobs held by men and women need to be "substantially equal" but not "identical" to fall under the protection of the Equal Pay Act. An employer cannot, for example, change the job titles of women workers in order to pay them less than men.

1971

Ms. Magazine is first published as a sample insert in New York magazine; 300,000 copies are sold out in 8 days. The first regular issue is published in July 1972. The magazine becomes the major forum for feminist voices, and cofounder and editor Gloria Steinem is launched as an icon of the modern feminist movement.

1972
Mar. 22

The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) is passed by Congress and sent to the states for ratification. Originally drafted by Alice Paul in 1923, the amendment reads: "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex." The amendment died in 1982 when it failed to achieve ratification by a minimum of 38 states.

Also on Mar. 22

In Eisenstadt v. Baird the Supreme Court rules that the right to privacy includes an unmarried person's right to use contraceptives.

June 23

Title IX of the Education Amendments bans sex discrimination in schools. It states: "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving federal financial assistance." As a result of Title IX, the enrollment of women in athletics programs and professional schools increases dramatically.

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1973

As a result of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court establishes a woman's right to safe and legal abortion, overriding the anti-abortion laws of many states.

1974

The Equal Credit Opportunity Act prohibits discrimination in consumer credit practices on the basis of sex, race, marital status, religion, national origin, age, or receipt of public assistance.

In Corning Glass Works v. Brennan, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that employers cannot justify paying women lower wages because that is what they traditionally received under the "going market rate." A wage differential occurring "simply because men would not work at the low rates paid women" is unacceptable.

1976

The first marital rape law is enacted in Nebraska, making it illegal for a husband to rape his wife.

1978

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act bans employment discrimination against pregnant women. Under the Act, a woman cannot be fired or denied a job or a promotion because she is or may become pregnant, nor can she be forced to take a pregnancy leave if she is willing and able to work.

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Did you know?
The oldest president inaugurated was Reagan (age 69); the youngest was Kennedy (age 43).

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