The position of women, 1917-80

  • Created by: TeganLM
  • Created on: 11-04-19 11:43

Impact of WW1

  • before WW1- women were still trying to get the vote
  • war gave them a chance to work- although wages for women were mostly lower than for men
  • after the war: most women were fired
  • gained the vote under the 19th Amendment in August 1920
  • under the same conditions as men
  • 1920: League of Women Voters set up
  • however: many poorer women didn't vote or voted in the same way as their husbands and few black women voted, especially in the South
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The 1920s

  • economic boom
  • mass production of cheap, labour-saving devices meant women were able to leave the house for longer
  • road building- cars could travel further
  • expectation from many that once the war ended, women would return to their traditional position as home-makers 
  • most married women didn't work and some jobs (e.g. teaching) were barred to married women
  • Women's Bureau of Labor created 1920
  • Between 1910 and 1940: the number of working women increased from 8.3% to 9.8% of the population
  • women were usually paid less and 'last hired, first fired'
  • flappers- made the most of their independence- worked, smoked, drank and drove their own cars, some went to jazz clubs and speakeasies alone
  • shifted public perception of women, although they were only a small percentage of the female population
  • some gains: Nellie Tayloe Ross becomes first woman elected as a Governor in Wyoming
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Impact of the Depression and New Deal

  • poorer women with families worked to supplement income
  • 1932 Women's Bureau of Labor report: 97% of female workers in slaughtering and meatpacking were the only wage earner in the family/boosting their husband's wage, rather than because they wanted to work
  • some legislation hindered women's progress e.g. Supreme Court ruling 1908 Muller v Oregon ruled that women shouldn't work more than 10 hours per day- women were forced to break this rule 
  • labour regulations often didn't apply to farming or domestic service where the majority of workers were black and female
  • New Deal: New Deal's Aid for Families with Dependent Children= provided some benefits for the poorest families 
  • A special woman’s division was created within FERA (Federal Emergency Relief Administration)
  • Works Progress Administration (WPA) employed 460,000 women in 1936 
  • Eleanor Roosevelt held the White House Conference for unemployed women in 1934
  • However: For every $1 earned by a white man: a white woman earned $0.61 and a black woman $0.23
  • most organisations mainly supported white men (e.g. CCC) and camps for jobelss women provided no work or wages
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Impact of WW2

  • women returned to work 
  • 1940 Selective Training and Service Act- prepared to draft men into the military and train women to fill their places
  • only 16% of married women worked in 1940 (mainly due to childcare problems)
  • 1941 Lanham Act: provided childcare for working women- by 1944: 130,000 children in day care
  • % of married women in the workforce rose from 15% to 23%
  • Women's Land Army of America- provided farm workers nationwide
  • non-whtie women had a different experience: black women could train for positions where they had previously not been welcome
  • e.g. no. of black women on nursing courses rose from 1,108 in 1939 to 2,600 in 1945
  • after the war: many women not re-employed by factories that changed from making war goods to other goods
  • Lanham Act childcare provision ended 1946
  • despite a brief dip immediately after the war: female employment rates rose again
  • wider range of jobs were available to women 
  • non-white women continued to work in the jobs they had been trained for after the war- widening their employment options - however white women were given preference 
  • 1942: only 13% of people thought married women shouldn't work- rose after the war
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Suburban living, 1941-60

  • building boom made houses more affordable
  • usually socially segregated
  • Black American women lived similar lives to white women, only in black suburbs
  • often, black americans who chose to live in a white suburb were attacked and intimidated (e.g. William and Daisy Myers in 1957: 3,000 neighbours threw stones through their windows and crosses were burned on their lawn)
  • in 1960: 19 million more people lived in suburbs than 1950
  • the majority of women stayed at home - working women were often excluded from social gatherings etc.
  • suburban living was portrayed as the American Dream for women
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The women's liberation movement, 1961-80

  • 1961: Kennedy creates Commission of Enquiry on the Status of Women
  • 1961: Equal Pay Act
  • womens' wages were uniformly lower and minimum wage didn't apply to many of the sectors that women worked in 
  • 1964 Civil Rights Act includes gender equality
  • 1963: Betty Friedan publishes The Feminine Mystique which encourages educated, wealthy white women to think about their rights
  • National Organisation for Women (NOW) founded in June 1966
  • lobbied for passing of Equal Rights Act and greater sexual equality
  • other radical strand to the womens' rights movement: young, college-educated white women, many of whom had worked with black American civil rights organisations
  • however: much of the media focused on radical elements of feminism (in the same manner as the coverage of the civil rights movement in the 1960s)
  • almost every feminist group took part in a national strike of women on 26th August 1970
  • wanted women to have equal rights, opportunities and pay
  • wanted rights to contraception for all women, married or not, and the right to an abortion
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opposition to women's rights

  • attracted much opposition, especially among men
  • some radical women's groups declared that all men were the enemy
  • conservatives rejected the movement- stressed its 'un-American' nature and the abandonment of traditional roles
  • swing away from 1960s liberalisation to 1970s conservatism- demands for women's liberation lost support
  • many objected to calls for free contraception and abortion
  • Phyllis Schlafly created STOP ERA in 1972 to campaign against the Equal Rights Act
  • argued that 'women were designed to have babies' and therefore shouldn't be equal in the matter of work
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Gains and limitations


  • Equal Pay Act 1963
  • Civil Rights Act 1964
  • 1967: LBJ extends executive order on affirmative action in federal employment to cover sexual discrimination
  • 1972: Eisenstadt v Baird allows unmarried women the same access to contraception as married women
  • 1973: Roe v Wade federally legalised abortion, although there were rules about timing and the health of the mother
  • 1972: ERA was passed by Congress


  • ERA needed ratification by 38 out of 50 states to pass- never achieved that amount
  • USA didn't sign up to 1979 UN policy of introducing non-discrimination against women in all aspects of life
  • very difficult to enforce equality legislation
  • many non-white and working-class women felt excluded from the movement e.g. National Black Feminist Organisation 1973
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