Rise of Women`s Movement in 1960s

Published 21 Feb 2017

Women were historically considered inferior to men physically, mentally and intellectually. Early civilizations, laws and religions considered women as the source of temptation and evil and seldom respected them. For example, a famous theologian opined that “woman was created to be man’s helpmeet, but her unique role is in conception . . . since for other purposes men would be better assisted by other men.” Women are naturally considered as feeble compared to men as they are unable to perform work that need high muscular and labor involvement. Women are confined to the jobs that require less labor from the beginning of the world itself. Maternity, which is the biological and natural role of women has been considered as their one and only role, which created the saying that a ‘woman’s place is in the home’ (Boris, 1994). Women were suffering under these racial, ethnic and religious barriers right from the birth of America. In the early history of United States, men virtually owned their wives and children as mere material possessions (Bataille, 1991). There were times in United States when the role of women was confined to wifehood and motherhood. Throughout the history of United States, women had fewer legal and career opportunities compared to men.

A legal right guaranteed by the 15th amendment to the US constitution; guaranteed to women by the 19th amendment really gave the ‘right to vote’ to women. Women, to a certain extent fought for the reevaluation of the traditional views and accomplished many rights and privileges.

Several factors led to the rise of the women’s movement in the 1960s. The status of women started rising right from the beginning of the twentieth century. They attained the right to vote and came up in the education and career field. However, various types of racial, ethnic, class and religious discriminations that exist in United States really slowed down the progress achieved by women (Anderson, 1996). Women never became completely relieved from discrimination and still are ill treated in colleges, schools and work places. Women belonging to certain racial groups and ethnic minorities are highly disadvantaged because of this segregation in institutions.

The reformation activities for the improvement of women’s rights commenced by the beginning of the twentieth century and finally culminated into the great period of the 1960s. From the nineteenth century onwards women started working in small firms, mostly garment shops and textile mills. Women used to work for long hours in those times (nearly 12-14 hours) and were not much privileged in their work places (Jones, 1998). But legislations were passed in United States by 1910 reducing the working hours and improving the working environments. More and more women started prospering in their education as well as career and found themselves in several important designations in government and private sectors. American women, mostly belonging to the white middle class became privileged enough to attend higher education and professional training during the period from 1900 – 1930. The revolutionary second half of the twentieth century was really a favorable period as far as American women are concerned. In United States, the number of professional women was just 100,000 in 1870. The reforms and legislations happened during these periods raised the number to 2 millions by 1960.

However before the reforms of the 1960s women did not enjoy any crucial rights in America. None of the legislations really helped them. Standardized testing promoted segregation since these sorts of assessments are influenced by social and cultural history of the participants as a result of which minority racial groups score less. Segregation-discouraging legislations did not help women to a good extent. Women belonging to lower class and ethnicity were still under grave discrimination. Several of the legislations were found to be multifaceted and vaguely defined and women were least benefited out of it. Racial discriminations are found to be maximum to the women belonging to inferior races. Even though it is true that more and more women were occupying high paid jobs, the number of women working as managers, officials, and other high administrators were still less compared to men. Women are paid less that that of men even though there came up several legislations that demanded equal wage policy. Thus women were still under the shadow of discrimination based on race, ethnicity, class and religion during the first half of the twentieth century, even though several measures have improved their previous ill privileged condition. The highly discriminated plight of the women during these periods led to the rise of women’s movement in the 1960s

Women were under various curses in the early periods. Motherhood, which is the cultural pressure before women to get married and become mothers, was blocking many talented women from going for higher studies and pursuing their careers. Many academically bright women were found to be leaving their studies and jobs and joining the baby sitter duty in their homes. The cultural, racial, religious and other pressures were subduing women to a good extent. Young girls were supposed to follow their mother’s path of cooking, cleaning and child caring and were supposed to become good house wives as they grow up. Scholastic achievements of women were also not valued much and they were not supposed to prepare themselves for their studies and career.

The legal status of women was also too poor during the early periods. Even though the Legal Status of Women has progressed substantially since they achieved the voting rights, in United States, women were not allowed to maintain their own property and were not permitted to occupy significant positions in offices. In certain regions and ethnic groups, women are supposed to virtually surrender all the properties under her name to their husband’s name even though law permits women to sue her husband and also to maintain property in their names separate from their husbands (in United States). Women suffered wrong and unjust discriminations because of the racial, ethnic and religious segregations that existed in United States. Women were vulnerable to racial, religious and ethnic segregations, compared to men (Anderson, 2006). Women belonging to non-white race were discriminated and insulted in colleges, job places and schools. Race, ethnicity and religious segregations limited the impact of all favorable reforms for women in American society. Even though laws and privileges uphold women to a good extent, all recruitments, admissions and all other actions were still found to be highly biased. Race, religion and ethnicity were crucial in all the important dealing happening in the society.

For example, women belonging to non-white race were found to be suffering from racial profiling problems in United States. Non-white women were unnecessarily suspected because of the inferior nature of her race, nationality, ethnicity or religion. Police officers often stop, check, and examine their vehicles without any reason or proof about the misbehavior or criminality of the person. Racial, ethnic and religious segregations totally nullified the advantages of all the reforms and laws that are supposed to uplift women from the discriminated situation. No laws really served the purpose during these periods of discrimination. These factors pressed American women to cry for the reforms that started during the 1960s.

Various reforms like Prohibition (A law made through a constitutional amendment forbidding the sale of alcoholic beverages in the period from 1920 to 1933 in United States), right to vote, birth control and laws that limit economic exploitation have uplifted women to the mainstream of the society. More and more women are occupying top positions in government and other private sector offices (Baron, 1991). Legislations have definitely contributed to the overall improvement of women. The first two decades of twentieth century were very much favorable for the women who wanted to come to the mainstream of the society. Women, in almost all countries gained the right to vote in the beginning years of the twentieth century. In United States, during the period from 1902-1919, more and more women started coming up in education, career, literary and sports fields.

They are several notable American women who gained fame and popularity in their respective fields. State passed various legislations in the first decade of the twentieth century to improve the working conditions and privileges of women. Women used to work in poor environments and for more than 12 hours a day before the reforms brought in the twentieth century (Baxandall, Rosalyn, and Linda, 1995). United States government, in 1920, passed legislation for bettering the working conditions of women and for reducing their working hours. Women were thus paid better salary and were given more privileges and facilities. During the nineteenth century women were involved only in low class and low paying factory labor or domestic work. However, by the beginning of the twentieth century, more and more women started coming up in the teaching and writing jobs. During the nineteenth century not many women were found in professional careers and other prestigious jobs. But by the1930s more and more women gained admission in leading medical schools. American Medical Association started admitting women members. Women started appearing in the political arena of United States by the beginning of twentieth century (Chafe, 1974). The result of the Women’s rights convention, Declaration of Independence and various other women advancement legislations started appearing by the early years of the twentieth century.

A great revival started appearing among the women in United States during the 1990-1930 periods as a result of various campaigns and legislations like the Union victory in the Civil War and several other legislations. However, certain legislations like the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution presented citizenship and suffrage only to racially backward minorities, and not to women. National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) and few other associations fought for the rights of women and attained several privileges for women during the period from 1990-1930. The fruits of various reform movements that happened in the last decade of the nineteenth century appeared in the beginning of the twentieth century.

The reform movements enhanced the education facilities and rights, initiated prison reforms, and also brought about the banning of alcoholic drinks during the 1990-1930 periods, in United States. Various favorable legislations and improvements have uplifted women from discrimination to a certain extent. For example, policies like affirmative action intended to help minorities, particularly the women. In general, it is true that women have made giant leaps through affirmative action as women started occupying nearly half of all corporate middle-management jobs. The percentage of women-owned business has increased substantially in the recent years. Affirmative action initially served as a means to strive for equality, indiscrimination and inclusiveness. Women made giant leaps through affirmative action as they are found to nearly half of all corporate middle-management jobs. The percentage of women-owned business has increased by 57% since 1982. Affirmative action has helped several people (many women and also many people from the minorities group) to find success in their careers. Reforms of the 1960s changed the plight of women. Women actively took part in numerous campaigns for agrarian as well as labor reforms, and most importantly for birth control. Women started becoming conscious about their rights and privileges during these periods.

Women started acquiring a new sense of self worth and ability and started showing their presence and power in jobs and other major sectors of the society. They started becoming more committed to their career relate and appointments and even started appearing in public meetings, parties and shows (Boris, 1994). Rising importance of feminism during these periods also increased the identity and status of American women. Reforms began during the first half of the twentieth century and finally led to the reform period of 1960s.


  • Bataille, Gretchen M. Native American Women: A Biographical Dictionary. New York: Garland Publishing, 1991.
  • Chafe, William H. The American Woman: Her Changing Social, Economic, and Political Roles, 1920-1970. New York: Oxford University Press, 1974.
  • Jones, Jacqueline. American Work: Black and White Labor since 1600. New York: W. W. Norton, 1998.
  • Anderson, Karen. Changing Women: A History of Racial Ethnic Women in Modern America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
  • Baron, Ava, ed. Work Engendered: Toward a New History of American Labor. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1991.
  • Baxandall, Rosalyn, and Linda Gordon, eds. America’s Working Women: A Documentary History. 2nd ed. New York: W. W. Norton, 1995.
  • Boris, Eileen. Home to Work: Motherhood and the Politics of Industrial Homework in the United States. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994. “A Question of Fairness” Ladies Home Jorunal, March 1996, p 17-20.
  • Boston, Thomas. “Ready, Aim, Fire” Black Enterprise. March 1996, p 24.
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