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The Women's Rights Movement of 1960s and 1970s

Page history last edited by Robert W. Maloy 1 year, 2 months ago


President Jimmy Carter Signing Extension of Equal Rights Amendment Ratification, 10-20-1978

President Jimmy Carter Signing Extension of Equal Rights Amendment Ratification, 10-20-1978



Topics on the Page


a. Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem and Second Wave Feminism


b. the birth control pill and reproductive rights for women



c. the increasing number of working women

d. the formation of the National Organization of Women in 1967

e. the debate over the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA)



  • Current Efforts to Pass the ERA



 eBook Connection: Alice Paul and the Equal Rights Amendment

f. the 1973 Supreme Court case, Roe v. Wade



 The Daughters of Bilitis and Barbara Gittings


  • Angela Davis 

Special Topic page: Women's Political Participation Around the World



Focus Question:

What were the causes and the impacts of the women's rights movement in the 1960s and 1970s?




This time period (1960s-1970s) was when Second Wave feminism grew. It was characterized by women being dissatisfied with their lives as homemakers and wanting to go into the workforce and have the same work rights as men. This wave of feminism focused on acknowledging gender roles and breaking them down. Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and Margaret Sanger were important figures of Second Wave feminism. There was a debate about adopting the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) which would prohibit discrimination based on sex

(Karli Doney, May 2022).  

The Second Wave Feminist Movement transformed gender relations and contributed to the advancement of women’s rights in the U.S. through creating Constitutional laws that protected gender equality in work forces, creating reproductive rights for women, as well as creating the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Title VII also prohibited discrimination by employers on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, nationality, or association to prevent biased or discriminatory behavior in the workforce.

(Callie Sullivan, April 2023)



In April 2023

Washington State Senator Patty Murray Becomes First Women to Cast 10,000 Votes in the U.S. Senate





The women’s rights movements of the 1960’s started as a response to the oppression women faced during the 1950’s.


  • During the 1950’s, women were expected to fulfill traditional roles as full-time wives and mothers.


  • Those who did not follow traditional gender roles were labeled as deviant.


  • During the 1960’s and 70's, the feminist movement emerged to challenge these prescribed gender roles and fight for equality between the sexes.

For context on the women's rights movement in America, view this timeline which includes events from 1769-2017. 

2015's Best and Worst States for Women


Second Wave Feminism


The Women's Rights Movement of the 60's and 70's is referred to as Second Wave Feminism


  • It succeeded the First Wave of the late 19th century and early 20th century, and was later followed by the Third Wave of Feminism that took place in the late 80's and early 90's.


  • As opposed to the first feminist movement in the early 1900s, which largely fought for women's political equality in areas such as voting rights, this second wave of feminism focused on women's dissatisfaction with domestic life and workplace discrimination.


Khan Academy article on Second Wave feminism, with some good questions to integrate into a lesson plan.


For more on the First Wave of feminism link to




Click here for a video on Second Wave feminism that focuses on the contributions of women of color to the movement, as well as the gaps that excluded them.

Click here for a JSTOR article entitled "Multiracial Feminism: Recasting the Chronology of Second Wave Feminism".


 Various learning plans on the women's movement, including comparing and contrasting the first and second waves of feminism.





Here is a poster that was made advocating for Women Workers, Minority women and lesbians at the Radical Women Annual Conference in 1976. This event includes panels, workshops, role playing, and dinner and a party.


This poster advocates for women of all races, showing women of all diversities on the poster. This poster promotes childcare, registration, and lodging that is provided for those who register. 






a.) Betty Friedan


Betty Friedan

Betty Friedan wrote the famous book The Feminine Mystique, which detailed the lives of 1950's housewives; it was published in 1963.

Friedan discussed the unhappiness of many suburban women confined to traditional gender roles, and suggested that women's traditional financial and social dependence on their husbands made them feel worthless.

She argued that the solution to the identity crisis faced by these housewives was for women to become professionals and join the work force.

The Feminine Mystique encouraged many white middle class women to challenge traditional gender roles. The book did not address the hardships faced by working class women and women of color who did not have the luxury of the choice to stay home or work.

Here is the transcript of an interview with Betty Friedan!

  • Watch Betty Friedan explain how men benefited from women's liberation here


  • See Betty Friedan give a speech on women's rights here


Click here for a learning plan on Betty Friedan and The Feminine Mystique, including the first chapter of the book.

Women of color and working class women had a much different experience than middle class white women during the 1960's and 1970's, and this narrative is detailed in the article Why Women's Liberation is Important to Black Women by Maxine Williams

One of the issues surrounding the Second Wave of Feminism is that the voices of women of color and working class women were ignored. Becky Thompson discusses this issues in her article Multiracial Feminism: Recasting the Chronology of Second Wave Feminism

Gloria Steinem


Gloria Steinem is a graduate of Smith College and a leader in the feminist movement.


  • In 1962, she published an article in Esquire magazine documenting how women were being systematically forced to choose between family life and having a career.


  • In the early 1970’s, Steinem helped create Ms. Magazine, a famous feminist publication for which she serves as contributing editor.


  • Steinem also was a founding member of the MS Foundation for Women, which raises money for underprivileged girls and women, and the Coalition of Labor Union Women. She is also the author of two best-selling books, Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions (1983) and Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem (1992).

In 1963 Steinem went undercover at the Playboy Club in New York in order to get an inside look at the organization.


  • She wrote about her experiences in her work, "A Bunny's Tale", which many considered to be a "muckraking" piece of the feminist movement
  • Similar to Friedan's piece, she discussed the role of women in a male dominated society.
      • Through her work she discovered that the feminist movement would only be successful if women stepped up and took charge of the sexual revolution in gaining equal rights for women. 

Click here to see an interview with Gloria Steinem

Watch Gloria Steinem discuss contemporary women's issues on this PBS video

b.) Margaret Sanger, the Birth Control Pill and Reproductive Rights for Women


Margaret Sanger Gets Canceled - WSJ





















Click here for a article by Womenshistory.org on Margaret Sanger and her contributions to women's healthcare. 


c.) Working Women


Rosita the Riveter, 2006

Rosita the Riveter, 2006

Women's involvement in the workforce increased dramatically during World War II when women took over jobs previously held by men who were now fighting the war abroad.


After the war in the late 1940's and the 1950's, there was a push for women to return to the home and return to traditional gender roles. During the 1960’s and 1970’s, an increasing number of women entered the work force.


Many women went began to work in professions that had been extremely male dominated in the 1950’s. Women began to work as lawyers, doctors, professors, and business people. This was a major shift from the 1950’s when women were limited to working in low wage jobs or in care taking professions such as nursing, teaching, and secretaries.

Click here for a link to a short article on Women's Employment during World War II Due to the depleted supply of the male workforce during the war, women were expected to fill positions. For the first time in their lives married women, minority women, and even mothers left their position in the household to work in outside employment.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination by employers on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, nationality or association. This was a landmark piece of legislation because of how it broadened protections for women workers.

Click here for a PBS lesson plan on comparing the experiences of white women and women of color in the Civil Rights Era.


Click here for a short video shows a public service announcement informing viewers of their rights under the equal pay law. This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work prepared by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person’s official duties under the terms of Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 105 of U.S. Code. They use the characters of Batman, Robin, and Batgirl to fight against unequal pay. 


For more information on the experiences of women of color during Second Wave Feminism, see Benita Roth's Separate Roads to Feminism: Black, Chicana, and White Feminist Movements in America's Second Wave.

d.) The Formation of the National Organization of Women (NOW) in 1967

In 1967, the National Organization of Women (NOW) was founded by a small group of women and men attending the Third National Conference of the Commission on the Status of Women. The organization was formed to bring feminist activists together to fight for equality and justice. Since its creation, NOW has fought for abortion rights, same sex marriage, equal pay for equal work, federally sponsored child care, and other feminist initiatives. Currently, the organization has 500,000 members.

external image Red_apple.jpg See Sisters of '77 Lesson Plan for a lesson plan dealing with the National Organization of Women. The lesson helps students understand the struggle fore racial and gender equality and understand the economic, social , and cultural developments in the contemporary United States.

e.) The Debate over the Equal Rights Amendment


Alice Paul, 1915


Alice Paul, 1915


First Lady Betty Ford supporting the Equal Rights Amendment, 1975


First Lady Betty Ford supporting the Equal Rights Amendment, 1975

The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was a proposed Constitutional amendment to make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sex.




 Biography of Alice Paul from the National Women's History Museum


Alice Paul from Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument, District of Columbia



Link to The History of the Equal Rights Amendment from the Alice Paul Institute


  • In 1972, Congress passed the Equal Right Amendment and sent it to the states for ratification.
    • It needed to be ratified by 38 states within seven years in order to become a part of the Constitution.


Click here for a short history of the Equal Rights Amendment.

Christian Right activist Phyllis Schlafly led a movement to urge states not to ratify the ERA.


  • The anti-ERA movement claimed that the amendment would lead to tax dollars being spent on abortion, civil rights for same sex couples, women being drafted into the military and unisex bathrooms.


    • The anti-ERA campaign was successful and the amendment never passed.

Link to a chronology of the Equal Rights Amendment Lesson plan on the ERA.



  • Link to HipHughes' History video on the ERA here


  • Link to a Video on the ERA and why it has repeatedly failed.

Current Efforts to Pass the ERA

Go the website of Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (New York's 12th District) for more information on her efforts to reintroduce the Equal Rights Amendment.

Nevada Passes the Equal Rights Amendment . . . 35 Years After the Deadline (March 2017)



external image 200px-Dollar_Sign.svg.pngEqual Pay Day

Go here for information about Equal Pay Day, the day each year when wages for women finally catch up with men's earnings from the previous year.



f.) The 1973 Supreme Court case, Roe v. Wade

The Supreme Court Case Roe v. Wade struck down state laws banning abortion on the basis that they violated the right to privacy, which the court had established in Griswold v. Connecticut. This was a major victory for the feminist movement, which is committed to reproductive freedom. Roe v Wade is one of the most controversial Supreme Court decisions in modern U.S. history. After the ruling, an active anti-abortion movement developed that has since tried to overturn the decision.


For more information on Roe v. Wade, see PBS's Thirty Years of Roe v. Wade.

external image Red_apple.jpgClick here for a lesson plan on "Passionate Politics: How the Modern Women's Movement Changed America.

For a video on Roe v. Wade, click here

Additional video that dives into the legal details of Roe.


Babe Didrikson Zaharis, Woman Athlete and Equality Pioneer

Mildred (Babe) Didrikson Zaharis was America's greatest multisport star, including track and field (shot put, hurdles, high jump), baseball and golf. Click here for her Records of Achievement in different sports.

Didrikson Was a Woman Ahead of Her Time from ESPN Sports Century.

See also


  • Babe Didrikson from National Women's History Museum. 
    • Didrikson qualified for all five individual women's track and field events in 1932, but was allowed to compete in only three of them (see picture on this page).

Babe Didrikson, 50 Greatest Athletes from YouTube.

Remembering a 'Babe' Sports Fans Shouldn't Forget, a podcast from NPR.

This Life I've Led: My Autobiography from Internet Archive.

Me, Babe, and Prying Open the Lesbian Closets of Women Athletes from On The Issues Magazine, June 2012.

Click for a link that addresses the lack of acceptance of black women within the feminist movement During the 1960s in particular, the feminist movement lacked a significant amount of racial diversity and often disregarded the issues of black women. Black women received double discrimination for being both female and black, and were often victim to rape by racist white men.

The Daughters of Bilitis and Barbara Gittings


  • First formed in 1955, The Daughters of Bilitis was the first U.S. lesbian rights organization.


  • The organization utilized this era's rhetoric of equality and integration in order to pursue its own agenda of challenging homophobia and sexism within the U.S.


  • In 1956 they began publishing The Ladder, which was the first nationally distributed lesbian publication in the U.S.


  • One of their most notable members was Barbara Gittings, one of the organizers of the New York chapter. To read more on Gittings' involvement with the movement, click here
    • Barbara was a public activist who worked closely with other protesters in picket lines to bring attention to government employment bans on homosexual citizens.


  • On July 4th, 1965, a group of gay rights activist assembled outside of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. They held picket signs that demanded for legislation that would secure LGBTQ rights. Pickets like this one took place across the U.S. as all different groups including African Americans, women and LGBTQ citizens fought for equal rights.


  • Lesbian organizations at the time received backlash from other feminist groups. Organizations like NOW often times ignored lesbians and disallowed them from joining thinking that they would undermine their own feminist movement.


  • For lesbians this meant facing the burden of both heterosexism and sexism within the U.S.


  • However, both lesbian and feminist movements played a critical role in social transformations of the era.


  • To read more about lesbian feminism, click here.
      • To learn more about The Daughters of Bilitis, read Marcia Gallo's book entitled, Different Daughters: A History of The Daughters of Bilitis and the Rise of the Lesbian Rights Movement.


Podcast of the "Lavender Menace" and the "homophobic rift" in second wave feminism that led to lesbian feminism in the 1970s.


 Angela Davis

File:Angela Davis, 1974.jpg 


  • Angela Davis (1944- ) is an activist and former member of the Black Panther Party


  • She is still a source of controversy today because she was a member of the Communist Party


  • She is still an influential woman because she fought for women's rights, civil rights, and prison reform


  • Today, she is a professor at UCLA, and an author of books such as Are Prisons Obsolete? and Women, Race and Class 


A quick biography of Angela Davis , from the National Women's Hall of Fame


Video of an oral historian and student having a conversation about Angela Davis's life and impact


Minority in Feminism


This source provides an insight to Asian-American invisibility during the Second Wave Feminist Movement. Second Wave Asian-American feminists argue that Asian women were politically active but ultimately rendered nameless by mainstream feminism. Eminent Asian-American feminists such as Mitsuy Yamada and Nellie Wong vocalize their frustrations regarding such invisibility in the anthology, This Bridge Called My Back: Writings By Radical Women of Color




[[#_ftnref1|[1]]] Betty Friedan. Retrieved May 3, 2007, from National Women's Hall of Fame Web site: http://www.greatwomen.org/women.php?action=viewone&id=62

[[#_ftnref2|[2]]] Glorian Steinem. Retrieved May 3, 2007, from Soapbox Inc: Speakers Who Speak Out Web site: http://www.soapboxinc.com/bio_steinem.html

[[#_ftnref3|[3]]] The Pill. Retrieved May 3, 2007, from PBS Online Web site: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/pill/timeline/timeline2.htm

[[#_ftnref4|[4]]] About NOW. Retrieved May 3, 2007, from National Organization for Women Web site: http://www.now.org/organization/info.html
[[#_ftnref5|[5]]] Roe v. Wade. Retrieved May 3, 2007, from MSN Encarta Web site: http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761595572/Roe_v_Wade.html

"Betty Friedan." Retrieved April 12, 2009 from National Women's Hall of Fame Web site: http://www.greatwomen.org/women.php?action=viewone&id=62
"Gloria Steinem" Retrieved April 12, 2009 from National Women's Hall of Fame Web site: http://greatwomen.org/women.php?action=viewone&id=150
"American Experience: The Pill Timeline." Retrieved April12, 2009 from the PBS Website: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/pill/timeline/index.html

New Sources:

Teacher's Guide: Suggestions for Active Learning (2002). Retrieved 3 April 2011 from PBS's site: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/pill/tguide/index.html.
Timeline: The Pill (2002). Retrieved 3 April 2011 from PBS's site: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/pill/timeline/index.html.
Margaret Sanger (2001). Retrieved 3 April 2011 from PBS's site: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/pill/peopleevents/p_sanger.html,
Katharine McCormick (2001). Retrieved 3 April 2011 from PBS's site: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/pill/peopleevents/p_mccormick.html.
Gregory Pincus (2001). Retrieved 3 April 2011 from PBS's site: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/pill/peopleevents/p_pincus.html.
Sisters of '77 Lesson Plan (2005). Retrieved 3 April 2011 from independentlens's site: http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/sistersof77/edu_1.pdf.
NOW--Who We Are (2011), Retrieved 3 April 2011 from the National Organization for Women's site: http://www.now.org/history/history.html.
Thirty Years of Roe v. Wade (2011). Retrieved 3 April 2011 from PBS's site: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/extra/features/jan-june03/abortion.html.
Passionate Politics: How the Modern Women's Movement Changed America. retrieved 3 April 2011 from: http://monadnockstories.org/curriculum/passionate_politics/Passion_and_Politics.htm.
Roe v. Wade (2011). Retrieved 3 April 2011 from CBS's site: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=2380314n.
New images obtained from Wikimedia Commons.

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