To what extent can the 1960s be seen as the most important turning point in the position and role of women 1865-1992?

Essay plan concerning turning points

To what extent can the 1960s be seen as the most i

1960s- a turning point?


  • A new era in the workplace- improvement in economic position and has continued since.
  • Twice as many women worked than during the second world war
  • By 1970 women made up 43% of the workforce
  • 47% of all women had a job
  • Growth in the service industry meant that women could have a range of jobs, and jobs that were previously deemed appropriate for males only for instance working in the police force or being an engineer.
  • Greater equality in the work place, the pay gap between men and women was starting to close due to the 1963 Equal Pay Act
  • Increase in the number of married working women in the workplace (a second income was starting to become accepted)
1 of 8

Social/ Politcal Position

  • With the rise of "New Feminism" and the foundation of pressure groups such as NOW, women became more organised in protest for their rights.
  • Betty Friedan and the "Feminine Mystique" began to break down the vice like grip of the concept of "separate spheres" and the cult of true womanhood upon the lives of many women- a barrier that was holding them back. It represented a change in consciousness.
  • Establishment of NOW provided women with an organisation which would lobby for issues such as abortion which effected all women.
  • Inspired by the civil rights movement
  • The "Burial of True Womanhood" in 1968
  • Cold war context.
2 of 8

1960s not a turning point?

Anti-feminism and divides

  • Despite such progression in terms of the economic and social position of women, the new wave of feminism was faced with a fierce anti-feminist back lash.
  • Many still held traditional ideals close to heart
  • Swing to the right in the government of the 1970s/80s
  • The feminist movement was hugely divided by their beliefs, tactics, class and race (although it could be argued that such diversity may have been a good thing- helped women to cover a wide range of issues)

Many of the economic and social changes had begun far before the 1960s, it could be argued that the 1960s was a time when it all culminated. suggesting that there may have been other more important turning points. 

3 of 8

World War One

  • Industrial expansion and the leave of thousands of soldiers to fight in the war opened up the orpportunity for women to work (though it was mainly unmarried women) in jobs that were previously reserved for men eg in the factories.
  • Women were earning good wages for the first time, previously women worked in domestic occupations.
  • Undermined the concept of separate spheres- women not confined to the home and family
  • Huge migration of African American women north into urban cities
  • 1919- 19th ammendment gave women the vote long lasting change, though did spark economic progression.

  • Any changes in employment opportunity and social position were reversed as a result of the depression
  • Many were expected to return to their traditional roles in the home
  • Women were banned from working in the depression.
  • Women did not necessarily utilise or appreciate the vote.
4 of 8

Fist Wave Feminism and Second World War


  • In the boom period after the war a wave of feminism began with the emergence of flappers and the height of the jazz age (though this was not sustained until the 1960s)
  • Inventions such as the refigerator and vaccum changed the lifestyles of many American families but did not necessarily change their attitudes- rather it reinforced them, they were able to focus more on the family.

World War 2

  • Like the first world war, the second world war increased employment opportunities for women. 5 million women worked.
  • Attitude towards work was changing- the climate of WW2 was different to WW1 as many wanted to remain in employment and maintain family
  • Opportunity of employment for unmarried women continued to expand.
5 of 8

World War 2

  • However, the media presented this change in employment as temporary having a detrimental effect on progression- again it wasnt until the 1960s that the economic position of women advanced and was sustained.
  • Separate Spheres was not eradicated- it was still a central part of many women's lives.
  • Women moving into professional positions were held back by the GI bill of rights which gave veterans the opportunity to have higher education and were therefore more likely to enter professional positions than women.
6 of 8

Birth control, the contraceptive pill and Roe v. W

It could be argued that a major turning point in the position of women was the lifiting of the ban on contraceptives which had been enforced by the Comstock Laws in 1873.

  • Raised the issue of Women's freedom of choice and control of her body
  • Establishment of the ABCL by Margaret Sanger attempts made to improve the health of all women.

However, Margaret Sanger was ahead of her time and the availablity of contraception though no longer illeagal was limited by state governments, not to mention there were those who couldn't afford to pay, therefore resorted to back street abortions.

Real change in health for women only came and was maintained in the 1960s/ 1970s with the invention and easy access of the contraceptive pill and the landmark Supreme Court Case of Roe v. Wade

7 of 8

The Pill and Roe v. Wade

  • The contaceptive pill was made available to all women in 1970s
  • Control of their bodies and child bearing meant that women could focus on education and careers.

Roe v. Wade- huge turning point and was sustained

  • addressed the issue of freedom of choice
  • improved the health of women hugely
  • As the case was thrust into the centre of the political arena there was a growth in political awareness which contrasted to mid-century attitudes, women were beginnning to organise politcally and politicians were eager to attract the female vote.

However- hugely contraversial recieved huge antifeminist resistance (Phylis Schafly) and struck those who held traditonal values and the home and family closest to heart. There was also a religious and conservative backlash- republicans called for an ammendment to ban abortion again, and legislation was not always enforced state to state.

8 of 8




Very helpful :)

Similar History resources:

See all History resources »