US Civil Rights - Women - Factors


The actions of women themselves


  • Intense activism in the Progressive Era - prohibition (Women's Crusade, WCTU)
    • Suggests women working together were able to exert a powerful force in influencing federal policy
  • Jane Addams campaigned for legislation to regulate working hours and conditions for women
  • Elizabeth Stanton and Susan B Anthony worked to liberalise divorce laws and secure the right of divorced women to have access to thier children
  • 19th Amendment - AWSA, NWSA, CUWS 


  • Women's involvement in prohibition was 'permitted' because it was seen as an extension of women's role - protecting the home and the family
  • Repeal of prohibition (women also involved) can be contributed with the failure of the policy and the need for tax from alcohol to combat the struggle from the Depression
  • 20 states had already guaranteed women the right to vote before the 19th Amendment
  • Some women had a negative impact eg. Phyllis Schlafly - significant in the failure of the ERA and has been credited with reducing the impact of Roe v Wade (Right to Life Committee)
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Federal government


  • Civil Rights Act prevented discrimination on the basis of gender
  • In 1967 LBJ expanded affirmative action to include women
  • Pregancy Discrimination Act (1978), financial incentives given to companies to adopt equal pay - shows the government were willing to pass supportive legislation and see it inforced


  • 15th Amendment did not protect the right to vote for women, Minor v Happersett
  • Comstock Laws (1874) made contraceptives illegal
  • NRA established the principle of lower pay for women (Francis Perkins)
  • 'GI Bill of Rights' (1944) - ex-servicemen were funded for higher education (women were not)
  • Hyde Amendment (1972) barred the use of certain federal funds to pay for abortion unless the pregnancy arose from incest or r*pe, or to save the life of the mother
  • JFK's CSW promoted special training for young women for marriage and motherhood
  • The federal government continuously refused to legislate for paid maternity leave
    • By the mid-1980s only 5 states provided partially paid maternity leave and affordable childcare was still hard to find by 1992
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Societal and economic shifts - Help

  • Changes in the economy essential for middle class women in breaking down the 'seperate spheres' assumption
  • The periods in which the US experienced the most significant economic developments have conincided with the most fundamental transformations of the view of women's role and status
  • Periods of economic expansion provided greater access to white collar employment, educational opportunities and consumer goods
    • Growth of the service industry in the 1950s increased further work opportunities for women, and there was an increased acceptance of women in the workplace, especially in the 1960s, due to the desire of families for increased disposable income
  • The Cold War and the Space Race increased opportunities in education - Title IX of the Education Amendments
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Societal and economic shifts - Hinder

  • Key federal legislation of the 1960s was more to do with the climate of change as a result of the AA CR movement than to do with the economy
  • Arguably the challange to feminism and the campaign against the Equal Rights Amendment coincided with, and was partly the product of, the economic conditions of the 1980s whhich rejected the Keynsianism and liberalism of the New Deal and Great Society
  • Scientific advances were potentially more significant eg. the development of safe contraceptives and abortions
  • Limited impact on the position of poor women, particularly those from ethnic minorities
    • Despite the economic growth towards the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries, low-paid factory work, domestic service or sharing the tasks on smallholdings remained the norm for AA women
    • The New Deal was a result of the Depression, a major economic shift - Aid to Dependent Children (1935) which helped young women with young families who were unable to work and had no breadwinner was mostly given to white women
      In 1978, female headed AA families earned a medain income of $6 000, and economic equality continued with a 20% wage gap between black and white women in 1989, despite a period of relatively steady economic growth
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