On August 18th, 1920, women in America won the right to vote when the 19th Amendment was passed. Although this was a tremendous victory, it did not mean women were suddenly treated in a manner equal to men. Women continued to fight for equal rights, and one of the most significant decades was the 1960s, when women fought both the laws and stereotypes that narrowly defined a woman's role in society.
The Civil Rights Movement
The 1960s in America saw the peak of the civil rights movement, during which many people fought to earn equal rights for minorities -- in particular, African-Americans -- and to end segregation. The unequal treatment of minority groups in America also served to shed light on the fact that American women were also treated unfairly. For women, however, it was a different issue than minorities. Although women were paid less than men, they were not segregated. They were, however, discriminated against in the workplace, limited in their career choices and expected to be subservient to men. Women's groups were formed in the 1960s to fight for equal rights and raise consciousness about treatment of women in society. Some of these groups also organized and led protests to draw attention to their cause.
Women's rights groups in the 1960s tended to focus specifically on the fight to obtain equal legal rights for women; primarily on how to change unfair laws in the workplace. The first such group was the Commission on the Status of Women, which was led by Eleanor Roosevelt. The Commission found that many businesses discriminated against women, but nothing was done about it until 1964, when a prohibition on gender discrimination was added to the Civil Rights Act. However, this was rarely enforced. As a result, the National Organization for Women was formed in 1966 with the primary goal of bringing attention to women's rights and lobbying Congress for laws meant to protect women in the workplace.
Many of the women's groups during the 1960s focused on what was called "women's liberation," or the freedom of women to pursue a life outside of being a wife and mother, and the desire of women to be seen as more than sex objects. The goal of some of these groups was to raise consciousness about the role of women in society. They wanted to open the eyes of both women and men to make them realize that women were often oppressed and forced into roles that limited their talents and abilities. Many women's groups during this time -- and in today's world -- had a wider goal of eliminating all incorrect assumptions and unfair treatment based on sex roles.
NOW was perhaps the most influential women's group of the 1960s, and it is still active today. In fact, NOW was responsible for one of the first protests in the 1960s, in 1967. NOW members protested the "New York Times" practice of segregated job ads according to gender. In 1968, a women's group called the New York Radical Women -- which was a consciousness raising group -- protested the live broadcast of the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, New Jersey, saying it objectified women. The protesters threw beauty tools into trash cans, including hair curlers, beauty magazines and even bras. This was the first protest heavily covered by the media and it drew a lot of attention -- some of it negative -- to the cause.
- National Archives: 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Women's Right to Vote
- History.com: Civil Rights Movement
- Tavaana.org: The 1960s-70s American Feminist Movement -- Breaking Down Barriers for Women
- Encyclopedia Britannica: President’s Commission on the Status of Women
- National Organization for Women: History of Marches and Mass Actions
- PBS: people & Events -- The 1968 Protest