US Civil Rights - Women - Turning Points


19th Amendment - Help

  • Many women believed gaining the vote was central to further advancement of women's rights
  • Carrie Chapman Catt referred to the vote as the 'emblem of women's equality' - established the National League of Women Votors (1920) in response to the 19th Amendment and worked to help women gain a larger role in public affairs
  • Francis Perkins because secretary for labour just over a decade after the 19th Amendment was passed - shows its' significance in increasing female involvement in politics
  • Catt's work was used as inspiration for the National Women's Political Caucus (1971)
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19th Amendment - Hinder

  • Many women failed to recognise the importance of the 19th Amendment and remained disengaged with politics
  • Majority of women voted how their husbands did - most women were concerned with marriage, the home and the family and saw politics as a 'man's thing'
  • Politicians saw no need to appeal to female votes
  • 19th Amendment did not extend vote to all women (AA + immigrant women still couldn't vote)
  • Women were not united so did not vote 'en block' and could not influence politicians 
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WW1 - Help

  • WW1 vastly increased the amount of work opportunities for women - 11 000 served in the Navy as nurses and more than 1 million women worked in industry 1917 - 1918
  • Slogans such as 'everyone has to be a helper' emphasised patriotism and created the environment for women's active involvement in many industries
  • Women's activism in raising money and supplies for soldiers boosted the position of NASWA
    • House of Representatives voted in favour of women's sufferage in 1918 - Sentate dissented but still an important step


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WW1 - Hinder

  • Women still paid hald that of men, and conditions were unhealthy and often dangerous 
  • Despite the emergence of the NWTUL etc, women remained largely uninionised as 'male only' existing unions remained hostile to women workers
    • Some protection from NWLB but women could still be exploited - several women employed to do the job of one man, or skilled tasks divided into several less skilled stages
    • Following the end of the war, women were expected to return to their former roles
    • The war did little to change the perception of women with regards to their own ole - even as late as 1968, 65% of girls aged 15 - 19 wanted to be housewives by the age of 35
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New Deal - Help

  • FDR appointed women to leading positions: Francis Perkins became Secretary for Labour and Florence Allen became the first female judge in the Court of Appeal
  • Fair Labour Standards Act and the NRA indirectly benefitted women in the workplace
  • Social Security Act helped married women struggling to bring up their children, and the Aid to Dependent Children Act helped mothers with no male head of household
    • While much of this legislation was not specifically targeted at women, much of it emerged from proposals by female social workers and reformers in the 1920s
  • 300% increase in unionised female labour between 1930 and 1940
  • Increase in married women in work 1930 - 1940 - reflected a need for employers to keep costs down
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New Deal - Hinder

  • Principle of lower pay for women established under the NRA
  • Women in domestic work did not benefit from a lot of New Deal legislation
    • Women who worked in industry in the South were often disadvantaged by legislation, which often raised costs
    • Agricultural policies were often unhelpful for AA women who worked as sharecroppers, either independently or alongside their parters
  • Priority was to get men back to work - family stability depended on the male breadwinner
  • The women progressing into policis were often restricted to traditional women's roles eg. social policy and family matters - the number of women who took an active role in political life and national decision making did not dramatically improve in the FDR era
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WW2 - Help

  • By 1945, there were 5 million more women in the workforce, many of them married
    • Women had once again shown (after doing the same in WW1) that they were more than capable in the workplace
  • There was also a change in attitudes in grassroots women, with 75% of women wishing to remain in employment after the war
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WW2 - Hinder

  • As was the case in WW1, when soldiers returned home they took back their jobs and women returned to the home
  • The 'GI Bill of Rights' impacted the ability of women to enter professional occupations - even social work (traditionally the preserve of women) was taken over by young male uni students
    • There were fewer opportunities in professional occupations for women - the number of men in professional occucpations increased by 40%
    • It would take affirmative action during the 1970s and in particular the increase in promoting women to higher education as a result of the Cold War for women to be able to compete with men in professional occupations, as they would now have the training to do so
  • As a result, WW2 had a short term positive impact but a long term negative one
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1960s - Help

  • The influencial Report on American Women (1963) revealed the extent of inequality - led to moves towards reforms under JFK and Johnson (Equal Pay Act and CR Act)
  • The reforms lead to a revival of organised protest by women, and the effectiveness of this increase in campaigning was assisted by greater awareness or minority rights as a result of the AA CR movement and extensive media coverage of protests
  • Betty Freidan spearheaded an assertive feminist movement, whose book 'The Feminine Mystique' was highly influencial - condemned a false attitude towards women for preventing women from realising their true abilities and potential
  • Changes to family size, the widespread avaliability of and acceptability of birth control (especially the development of the pill), the increased rate of divorce, the expansion of uni education and of welfare provision helped accelerate gender equality
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1960s - Hinder

  • For many women (especially in racial minorities) there was little cange as the majority of working women were in low paid and low skill jobs - secretaries, saleswomen and waitresses
  • Many of the changes were controversial and contested
  • Women played key roles in the AA CR movement byt also faced prejudice from some chauvanistic activists
  • In 1968 a group called Radical Women attracted national attention and divided opinion by protesting against the Miss America contest, throwing bras, cosmetics and other symbols of womanhood in the rubbish bin (the origin of the legend of bra burning)
  • Abortion became a major issue, both because of the number of illegal (and often risky) abortions and because radical feminists regarded it as a right
  • The more controversial methods of protest and demands by feminist campaigners alienated many and contributed to the backlash against the campaign for the ERA, led by Phyllis Schlafly
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Increased availability of contraception

  • Following the lengthy campaign of Margret Sanger for family planning and birth control, the right for allo women, married and unmarried, over 18 to have access to the contraceptive pill was enforced by Eisenstadt v Baird (1972)
  • Partnered with the ruling of Roe v Wade (1973), this encouraged a 'work now, marry later' attitude among women and meant that women could take advantage of career and educational opportunities to an unprecidented extent
  • in 1980, 40 of women in higher education had their sights set on a career compared with just 21% a decade earlier
  • The number of girls 15 - 19 who wanted to be housewives had decreased from 65% in 1968 to 35% by 1978
  • Women were now beginning they had the right to make choices
  • The legalisation of the use of contraception was important in the advancement of women's rights as it made it clear that the home and the family were no longer the only option for American women
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Roe v Wade (1973) - Help

  • Significant as it was underpinned by arguments relating to a women's right to control her body and make decisions on childbearing
  • The ruling encouraged a 'work now, marry later' attitude, meaning women were more likely to take advantage of the more progressive federal legislation of the 1960s and 1970s
  • By 1978, only 25% of girls saw their role as solely in the home, compared to 65% of girls a decade earlier
  • Perhaps the most significant outcome was the impact of the feminist movement surrounding the case, which helped to increase political awareness amongst the crucial mass of women
  • The 1970s shows a marked upturn in the number of women voting in state elections and for Congress, which constasts sharply with the apathy displayed by many women voters in the aftermath of the 19th Amendment
  • It may be argued that Roe v Wade was the most significant turning opint as not only did it increase social and economic opportunities for women, it also encouraged women to take advantage of their right to vote, which forced politicians to give some recognition to female issues
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Roe v Wade (1973) - Hinder

  • Minimal impact on economic inequality in itself - needed Equal Pay Act
  • Male double standards remained - opposition to abortion shows the continued mindset of women as 'baby machines'
  • Case was not presented as a women's issue - was won on the fact that Roe's lawyers suggested it was not the place of the government to tell (male) doctors how to treat their patients
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