Feminism: 20th Century

During World War II America saw 2.2 million women go into the work force to support their families as the men went overseas. The women worked on planes, in factories, and at the shipyards. Some 350,000 women served in the U.S. Armed Forces, both at home and abroad. They included the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots, who on March 10, 2010, were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.

One of the greatest inspirations during World War II for women was Rosie the Riveter. The made-up character had a poster of her showing off her biceps and saying “We Can Do It.”

After the war was over the men returned and took the jobs that the women had been doing in their place. This was a blow to feminism because women were reduced to being just homemakers again. Some women were happy to go back to the home and others were not happy.

In 1960 the first oral contraceptive, Enovid, was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

In 1965 the Supreme Court gave married couples the right to use birth control, ruling that it was protected in the constitution as a right to privacy.

In 1970, feminists challenged the safety of oral contraceptives (the Pill) at well publicized congressional hearings. As a result, the formulation for the Pill was changed and the package insert for prescription drugs came into being.

In 1972 on March 22nd the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) is passed by Congress and sent to the states for ratification. Originally drafted by Alice Paul in 1923, the amendment reads: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” The amendment died in 1982 when it failed to achieve ratification by a minimum of 38 states.

On January 22, 1973, it was made legal for a women to have an abortion. This was made legal in a case of “Roe vs. Wade.” Roe claimed that the law prohibiting her from having an abortion violated her constitutional right to privacy. There were restrictions on when the women could have the abortion however.

In 1976, it was made illegal for a man to force his wife to have sex. With this law it was considered marital rape.

In 1981, Ronald Regan nominated Sandra O’Conner to the U.S. Supreme Court. She received unanimous Senate approval, and made history as the first woman justice to serve on the nation’s highest court. She retired in 2006 after serving for 24 years.

I will be continuing my views on feminism and equality in the next post.


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