History

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This page and timeline overviews U.S. women’s history, specifically in the work place and other professional spheres, from the Women’s Rights Movements in 1848 to today with Executive Feminism.  Click Here to jump to descriptions of the monumental events that took place from 1848 to leave us where we are at today.

Movements

Women’s Rights Movement (1848-1920)

  • The U.S. Women’s Rights Movement started with a group of reformers who gathered to discuss instructional and social barriers to woman’s rights, and ended with the passage of the 19th amendment, granting women the right to vote.  Leaders of the movement often disagreed (i.e. on how to achieve suffrage with either federal versus state strategies, or pro-war versus pacifists), which experts say foreshadowed the internal divisions among women in Congress today.  Women activists had initially been motivated by the anti-slavery movement before promoting women’s rights.  This period is also known as “First-Wave Feminism”, and was a time where women advocates were deemed “radicals” by men and media.

Growth of Women’s Rights (1920-1950)

  • After the women’s suffrage movement and most of its leading activists had died, advances in technology and changes in politics dramatically shaped the institutions of work and family by setting new standards and creating new definitions of American culture.  The “Roaring Twenties” reflects a time where women had a new sense of liberty and independence, sporting shorter haircuts, tighter-fitting clothing, and cigarette smoking.  Household appliances and indoor plumbing made housework easier for women, and divorce rates went skyrocketing.   Women became socialized into secondary jobs such as nurses and secretaries.  With the stock market crash of 1929, the 30s were a time where men had to reinvent their dominant masculine role, thus women jobs were on the decline, especially with The New Deal government programs.  As World War II hit the U.S. in the 1940s, men were sent off to fight while women again had to enter the workforce.  The 1940s saw the largest proportional increase in female workers of the 20th century, and era where “Rose the Riveter” was born.  When men returned from war, and expectations for women’s education and careers were higher.

Women’s Liberation Movement (1960s-1970s)

  • Considered “Second-Wave Feminism”, this movement began featured women of color and developing nations, unlike predominantly middle class women in first-wave feminism (Women’s Suffrage Movement).  However, some feminists believe the movement excluded African Americans, which prompted Black Feminism in the 1970s.  Women such as Gloria Steinhem and Betty Friedan are most notable figures during this era, as well as NOW.  Feminists of this movement spoke of getting rid of sexism, and coined terms such as “the personal is political”, and “identity politics”, especially after the 1950s domesticated the wife while the man was identified as the “breadwinner”.  Anti-Vietnam protests and the Civil Rights Movement sparked this movement especially due to the stagnant growth of women progress between 1930 through the 1950s.  The movement included events such as protests and “consciousness-raising sessions to share personal experiences and incite discussion about pertinent women’s issues and sexuality.” (Conger)

“Grrl” Movement (1990s)

  • After “The Feminist Sex Wars” of the 1970s and 1980s, a period focused on feuds for or against pornography, the Riot Grrls came to surface.  Inspired by a group of punk rockers in Port Olympia responding to the male-dominated music industry, the Grrl Movement was influenced by post-colonial and post-modern thinking and includes notions of “universal womanhood”, body, gender, sexuality, and heteronormativity.  “Grrls” transcend cyberspace and tends to be multicultural and global, and most often they rejected being called “feminists”.

Executive Feminism (2012-present)

  • With no major movements until recently, journalists are calling the newest trend with female elites speaking out about gender inequality and work-life balance “executive feminism”.  The major figures of this “movement” are Marissa Mayer, who has made headlines with her anti-telecommuting policy as CEO of Yahoo!, as well as Sheryl Sandberg and Anne-Marie Slaughter who debate about how to achieve success as a top professional female while balancing motherhood.  We are currently experiencing executive feminism, but many critique that it is exclusive being that it can only apply to privelaged women.

Events

Seneca Falls begins the Women’s Rights Movement

  • 1848 (July 19-20): In Seneca Falls, New York, 68 women and 32 men signed a Declaration of Sentiments, “which outlines grievances and sets the agenda for the women’s rights movement.”  Twelve resolutions were adopted, that included equal treatment for women and men under the law, as well as the women’s right to vote.  This small gathering marked the beginning of the women’s rights movement.

National Woman’s Rights Convention Serves as First National Meeting and Call to Action

  • 1850 (October 24): Over 1,000 participants attended the first National Woman’s Rights Convention in Worcester, Massachusetts.  The goal of the two-day convention was to create a national organization and plan of action.  This was a pivotal point in the women’s rights movement because “the vast majority of people believed that a legal system that disenfranchised women, gave men complete control over married women’s earnings, property, and children, and excluded women from higher education, the pulpit, and the professions was both proper and ‘natural.’”

First Females Receive Patents

  • 1809 & 1885: In 1885, Sarah E. Goode became the first African-American woman to receive a patent for a folding cabinet-bed.  76 years earlier, Mary Klies became the first women to receive a patent for weaving straw and silk together.

National American Suffrage Association (NAWSA) Becomes Face of Change

  • 1890 (May): The National Woman Suffrage Association and American Woman Suffrage Association merge to create the National American Women Suffrage Association (NAWSA) in order to achieve voting rights for women via state campaigns and federal strategies.  Initially, the non-partisan organization had limited success due to poor managerial coordination.  However, this progressive group represented face of women’s rights, creating a sphere of women activity outside the household, and eventually sparked the momentum for the 19th Constitutional amendment passed in 1920.

Women’s Trade Union League Forms To Advocate Better Working Conditions for Women

  • 1903: The Women’s Trade Union League was created in order to advocate for better working conditions and wages for women.  The group consisted of professional reformers, working class women, and women from privileged and wealthy families, and mainly supported the garment industry.  All women were willing to get their hands dirty, whether it was participating in a protest, donating money, or even getting arrested.  This organization became the foundation for working-class feminism, but dissolved in 1950.

First Women Elected to Congress

  • 1916: Jeannette Rankin, of Montana, is the first woman to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.  She also helped the 19th amendment to pass Congress, and was a committed pacifist.

19th Amendment Passes

  • 1920:  NAWSA President Carrie Chat proposed the “Winning Strategy” in 1915; a relentless and disciplined effort  to achieve suffrage by getting state-by-state by getting state referenda votes, especially in non-Western states.  President Wilson, a convert supporter of the women’s rights movement, urged Congress to pass a voting rights amendment in 1917, but it wasn’t until after World War II that women officially earned the right to vote with the passage of the 19th amendment in 1920 with the ratification by the state of Tennessee.

First Woman to Run a Major Corporation

  • 1934: Lettie Pate Whitehead became the first American woman to serve as director of a major corporation, The Coca-Cola Company. Whitehead was the individual who promoted the idea of bottling the drink for sales across the country. (Georgia Encyclopedia)

Eleanor Roosevelt appointed as Chairwoman of JFK’s President’s Commission on the Status of Women

  • 1961: Eleanor Roosevelt becomes appointed as chairwoman on the President’s Commission on the Status of Women.  The commission issued a report in 1963 that documented substantial workplace discrimination against women.  The report also makes precise recommendations of policies that would improve hiring practices, maternity leave, and affordable childcare for women.

Betty Friedan Publishes The Feminine Mystique

  • 1963: Betty Friedan publishes her highly influential book The Feminine Mystique, a best-seller that launches the modern women’s rights movement.  The book discusses this the “problem that has no name”, which includes the dissatisfaction felt by middle-class American housewives with the narrow role imposed on them by society. 

Equal Pay Act Passes in Congress

  • 1963 (June 10): Congress pases the Equal Pay Act, which makes it illegal for employers to pay women less than men. This act has only mitigated the wage gap about .18 cents, and the U.S. recognizes “Equal Pay Day” every April to push for more equal pay policies. 

Civil Rights Act includes Affirmative Action for Women and Creates EEOC

  • 1963-1967: The Civil Rights Acts establishes the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to investigate work place complaints and enforce penalties.  Furthermore, Title VII of the act bans discrimination in employment on the basis of race and sex.  In 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson expands this definition of affirmative action to cover discrimination on the basis of gender.  In doing so, federal agencies and contractors had to take actions to ensure that women and minorities enjoy the same educational and employment opportunities as white males.

First Woman on NYSE

  • 1967: Muriel Siebert becomes the first woman on Wall Street by owning a seat on the New York Stock Exchange.  After founding her own company in the same year, her brokerage firm is the only one that has a national presence.

National Organization for Women is Founded

  • 1966: Betty Friedan, among other feminists, found The National Organization for Woman (NOW).  NOW is the largest women’s rights group in the U.S.  It’s goal is to end sexual discrimination in the work place via lobbying, litigation, and public demonstrations.  The group also advocates for lesbian and reproductive rights, as well as promotes diversity and an end to violence.

EEOC Bans Sex-Segregation in Newspapers

  • 1968: The EEOC declares sex-segregated help wanted ads in newspapers are illegal.  The ruling was upheld in 1973 by the Supreme Court, after backlash from newspapers tried to shoot down the law.  This law opens the way for women to apply to higher-paying jobs that were previously only open to men.  (EEOC)

Gloria Steinhem Launches Ms. Magazine

  •  1972: Gloria Steinem launches herself as the modern feminist icon as the cofounder and editor Ms. Magazine first published in 1972.  The issue sold out in 8 days and became a major forum for feminist voices.

First Fortune 500 Women CEOS

  • 1972: Katharine Graham became the first woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company, The Washington Post Co.  Furthermore, General Motors hires Catherine B. Cleary to be the first woman director on the board of directors, which, as the time, was the nation’s largest industrial corporation and would be equivalent to number one on today’s Fortune 500 list.  The first woman of color Fortune 500 CEO became Andrea Jung in 1999.

Palin and Clinton Make Historic Ballot

  • 2008: In the same election year, Hilary Clinton wins the New Hampshire Democratic presidential primary, becoming the first woman in U.S. history to win a presidential primary contest. Meanwhile, Sarah Palin, governor of Alaska, becomes the first woman to run for vice president on the Republican ticket.

Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act Passes

  • 2009:  President Barack Obama signed his first piece of legislation, Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009.  The bill revises the previous legislation so employees can sue up to 180 days after receiving any discriminatory paycheck.