Women in America
Laws and Practices in America 1600-present
As a majority of humankind, women
comprise the largest group in the world
yet they also participate in nearly every
other group in society. The simultaneous
oneness and diversity has confounded
almost everyone who has studied it.
Why Study Women?
The story of women and the law in the
United States is intimately tied to the
story of women and culture. And, one’s
rights were often dependent upon social
status, race, and geography as well as
one’s status as a woman.
3 Hours of
Women’s History in US
Timeline of women’s history (not focused
on law in particular) in US
History of the Laws relating to women
10 Fast Facts
About Women in US
Women hold 50.3% of all management and professional positions
yet only 7.9% of Fortune 500 top earners are women
Every year approximately 4 million American women are victims
of serious assault by husbands or partners
In 2007, earned 77 cents for every $1 earned by men
82.8 million =
Estimated number of mothers of all ages in the United States
Nearly 6.5 million =
The number of women-owned businesses in 2002
10 Fast Facts
About Women in US
Percentage of female citizens 18 and older who reported voting in the 2004
presidential election yet 16% of representatives are women and we are 69th in
the world in that percentage
Total number of active duty women in the military, as of Sept. 30, 2006
Number of stay-at-home mothers nationwide in 2006, up from 4.6 million a
Proportion of women with computers in the home in 2003 who made use of
that computer, 2 percentage points higher than the corresponding proportion
Number of girls who participated in high school athletic programs in the 2005-
06 school year
Spanish women suffered the hardships and dangers of exploration
Gathered food, cooked, tended the sick, cared for their families
and laundered for the men
Few women owned property and businesses because Spanish law
allowed them to do so
Spanish law also allowed women to inherit, own and operate
property/ receive land grants from the Crown.
Women could testify in a legal proceeding and they could testify
against their spouse. Unwed women also had recourse in the
Rape not considered immoral in Spain.
Hundreds of different tribes of Native Americans
2,000 distinct language groups
Considered their destiny to marry and have children. They
performed these chores as well as farming chores.
Poor women came to Virginia as indentured servants.
25 % of the indentured servant population was female
Nearly 75% of the women in the colonies were serving an
Many women were sent to the colonies as brides by the London
company (had to have letters attesting to their virtue and
Different laws in different colonies. Women in Maryland who
were single could own 100 acres of land. Land was also
available in South Carolina.
Slave women were at the bottom of society. Slave fertility was
important and slave mammies often served as wet nurses.
Slave families were matrifocal.
Maryland landowner Margaret Brent argued in 1648 that her
status as a property holder entitled her to the right to vote.
In New Netherlands, Dutch women were very involved in
religious and educational training for immigrants.
New Orleans had 88 inmates of a jail in Paris. The Ursuline
Sisters tried to keep these inmates in line by placing them
on wooden horses and beating them. Eventually, many
Anne Hutchinson was tried in 1637 for behavior unbefitting
a woman. She is known for thus pioneering the American
principles of free speech and freedom of conscience.
17th century practice of bundling where courting couples could
slept together with their clothes on.
Puritan ministers berated women for tempting man but also
considered a wife a comfort and companion.
Girls in Massachusetts around this time were only expected to
be able to read the Bible, not more.
Despite cultural norms, Anne Bradstreet wrote poetry.
Salem Witch trials in 1692 – most defendants and accusers
were women. There were either good women or witches.
Females were entitled to protection by fathers, husbands or
legal guardians. Marriage contracts were only in the husband’s
name. Personal effects including clothing belonged to
Femme soles or women alone could however conduct business
on their own.
English law referred to widow as a relic. Widows were entitled
to 1/3 husband’s estate.
In New Netherlands, women had same legal status as men and
could own and inherit property.
Most women in the colonies averaged 12 births.
Phillis Wheatley’s poems published in 1761.
1776 -- Abigail Adams requests husband John
remember the ladies at the Continental Congress
Birth rate is about 5/6 per woman
1777 -- Women participated in American Revolution
Women made a show of hats to give enemy impression
men were there.
They raised money, converted homes, served as
spies. Estimates say 10,000-20,000 Review
Advice Literature began to spring up touting 4 Cardinal
virtues: piety, purity, submissiveness, domesticity
In the 1820s, the textile industry became a major factory
system in the United States. Factory girls worked 12-15
hours a day.
Moralistic authors stressed that it was a woman’s
responsibility to the weaker sex to control a man’s lust
and his possible assaults on her.
Women’s days still filled largely with chores. Laundering
took the most time.
Oberlin becomes coeducational and awards degrees to
Women are taught science and math.
Sarah Grimke begins career as abolitionist/women’s right
Lucretia Mott, a Quaker activist, organizes first National
Female Anti-Slavery Society meeting in NY
1839 --Miss passes first Married Woman’s Property Act
1840 -- American delegates to World Anti-Slavery
Convention in London are rejected because they are
1844 -- Female textile workers in Massachusetts organize
the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association
1848 -- Seneca Falls Convention and Harriet Tubman
escapes from slavery – NY passes Married Womens
1850 Amelia Jenks Bloomer launches dress reform movement
The bloomer was later believed by some suffragists to
detract from the cause.
Women on the trail west were responsible for assembly,
supplies, sewing, and packing.
On the trail, performed every job including butchering.
Women sought lucrative work in California in mining
camps. Some came West to work in bars, brothels.
Prostitution became lucrative.
1851 Sojourner Truth delivers Ain’t I a Woman speech in Akron,
1852 Harriet Beecher Stowe publishes Uncle Tom’s Cabin
1852 Lucretia Mott writes Discourse on Woman arguing that
women’s inferiority is attributable to lack of education
1859 Birth rate declines and condoms become available
1861-5 Civil war as a training ground for women
During the war, women served as nurses. Mary Bickerdyke
was known as the calico colonel for supplying Sherman’s
troops with food and clothing. She tended to over 2,000
Some women took government jobs during the war. Others
volunteering on the battlefront.
About 400 masqueraded as men and fought with the Union
In the South, there were bread riots. Some women served
by following armies, others disguised themselves and some
Black freewomen still had few rights.
1865 Southern Confederate groups led by women create
1865 Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony form
American Equal Rights Association to focus on suffrage for
1868 14th Amendment is ratified and defines voters and citizens
1870 15th Amendment enfranchises black men and Mormon
women in Utah were granted the right to vote
1871 Lawsuits by women argue for the right to vote and the right
to practice law – all of them fail
1872 Susan B. Anthony is arrested for attempting to vote for
Ulysses S Grant for president (2oo others did too) some
disguised as men
1874 The Woman's Christian Temperance Union is founded by
Annie Wittenmyer. One of the most vehement opponents to
women's enfranchisement is the liquor lobby, which fears
women might use the franchise to prohibit the sale of liquor.
First women’s prison opened in Indianapolis.
1876 to 1879 Lawyer Belva Ann Lockwood is denied permission to
practice before the Supreme Court. She becomes
the first woman to do so in 1879.
1884 In the presidential election, Belva Ann Lockwood runs for
president on the National Equal Rights Party ticket and a
reform platform. She wins 4,149 votes in six states.
1890 The NWSA and the AWSA are reunited as the National
American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) under the
leadership of Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
1890 Ida B. Wells-Barnett launches her nation-wide anti-lynching
campaign after the murder of three black businessmen in
1893 Hannah Greenbaum Solomon founds the National Council of
Jewish Women (NCJW) Colorado becomes the first state to
adopt a state amendment enfranchising women.
1900 Women made up 25% of workforce, 30%
of all African American women worked
outside of the home. Few professionals
1903 Mary Dreier, Rheta Childe Dorr, Leonora O'Reilly, and others
form the Women's Trade Union League of New York
1912 Theodore Roosevelt's Progressive (Bull Moose/Republican)
Party becomes the first national political party to adopt a
woman suffrage plank.
1913 Members of the Congressional Union organize suffrage
parade, carefully scheduling it for the day before
President Wilson's inauguration (it is said that when
Wilson arrived in town, he found the streets empty of
welcoming crowds and was told that everyone was on
Pennsylvania Avenue watching the parade)
1916 Jeannette Rankin of Montana becomes the first American
woman elected to represent her state in the U.S. House of
1917 Women win the vote in NY.
1917 About 30,000 serve in WWI. Others worked as
1920 Following ratification by the necessary thirty-six states, the
Nineteenth Amendment is adopted. 26 million women can
vote. (note: after Sweden, Scotland, Ireland, Australia,
etc.) 21 states on east coast did not ratify. Map.
Green Full suffrage
Orange Presidential suffrage
Dark Blue Primary suffrage
Yellow Municipal suffrage
Light Blue School, bond, tax suffrage
Dark Red Municipal suffrage cities
Pink Primary suffrage cities
Bright Red No suffrage Return
1921 Margaret Sanger founds the American Birth Control
League, which evolves into the Planned Parenthood
Federation of America in 1942. Hollywood becomes
1932 2 million invisible unemployed and homeless (pink collar
1935 Mary McLeod Bethune organizes the National Council of
Negro Women, a coalition of black women's groups that
lobbies against job discrimination, racism, and sexism
1936 Female friendships were close – shared
The corset was popular.
Folk remedies were used by many women.
Disapproval of women in competitive sports.
1941 WWII – 400,000 women join US military forces
WASP – During World War II, a select group of young
women pilots became pioneers, heroes, and role
models. They were the Women Airforce Service Pilots,
WASP, the first women in history trained to fly American
1938 Chinese women strike against garment factories
1943 Women were 33% workforce
1944 Cult of Domesticity returns/pinups
1945 Chinese and Japanese immigration after war
1954 Brown v. Board of Ed decided
1955 Cult of domesticity/ invention of Barbie
1955 Rosa Parks bus boycott
1960 The FDA approves birth control pills.
1962 Rachel Carson publishes Silent Spring
1963 Congress passes the Equal Pay Act, making it illegal for
employers to pay a woman less than what a man would
receive for the same job
1964 Title VII of the Civil Rights Act bars discrimination in
employment on the basis of race and sex. At the same time
it establishes the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission (EEOC) to investigate complaints and impose
1965 In Griswold v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court strikes
down the one remaining state law prohibiting the use of
contraceptives by married couples.
1967 Executive Order 11375 expands President Lyndon Johnson's
affirmative action policy of 1965 to cover discrimination
based on gender. As a result, federal agencies and
contractors must take active measures to ensure that
women as well as minorities enjoy the same educational
and employment opportunities as white males.
1970s 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: quot;Equality of
rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by
the United States or by any State on account of sex.quot; The
amendment died in 1982 when it failed to achieve
ratification by a minimum of 38 states.
1972 June 23 Title IX of the Education Amendments bans sex
discrimination in schools. It states: quot;No person in the United
States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from
participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected
to discrimination under any educational program or
activity receiving federal financial assistance.quot; As a result of
Title IX, the enrollment of women in athletics programs and
professional schools increases dramatically.
1973 As a result of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court establishes a
woman's right to safe and legal abortion, overriding the anti-
abortion laws of many states.
1976 The first marital rape law is enacted in Nebraska, making it
illegal for a husband to rape his wife
1978 The Pregnancy Discrimination Act bans employment
discrimination against pregnant women. Under the Act, a
woman cannot be fired or denied a job or a promotion
because she is or may become pregnant, nor can she be
forced to take a pregnancy leave if she is willing and able
1984 EMILY's List (Early Money Is Like Yeast) is established as a
financial network for pro-choice Democratic women running
for national political office. The organization makes a
significant impact on the increasing numbers of women
elected to Congress.
1986 Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, the Supreme Court finds
that sexual harassment is a form of illegal job
1992 In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Supreme Court
reaffirms the validity of a woman's right to abortion under
Roe v. Wade.
1993 Ruth Bader Ginsburg appointed to Supreme Court, Connie
Chung became television anchor
1994 The Violence Against Women Act tightens federal penalties
for sex offenders, funds services for victims of rape and
domestic violence, and provides for special training of police
1996 In United States v. Virginia, the Supreme Court rules that the
all-male Virginia Military School has to admit women in order
to continue to receive public funding. It holds that creating a
separate, all-female school will not suffice.
2006 Supreme Court ruling, 5-4, upholds the Partial-Birth
Abortion Ban Act, a federal law passed in 2003, is the first to
ban a specific type of abortion procedure. Writing in the
majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy said, quot;The a ct
expresses respect for the dignity of human life.quot;
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who dissents, called the
decision quot;alarmingquot; and said it is quot;so at odds with our
jurisprudencequot; that it quot;should not have staying power.”
So, now that you have a general idea of
the cultural, social, and economic
backdrops for laws, let’s look at different
categories of women and explore how
they have fared under the law in the
Native American Woman and the Law
1600 Roles varied depending on tribe.
Basically roles were controlled by NA practices until 1924.
1924 NA women could not vote until U.S. Congress passes a law declaring all
Native American U.S. citizens, entitling Native people to the right to vote
in national elections (1924)
1975 In 1975 alone, some 25,000 Native American women were permanently
sterilized--many after being coerced, misinformed, or threatened. One
former IHS nurse reported the use of tubal ligation on quot;uncooperativequot; or
quot;alcoholicquot; women into the 1990s.
1980 In the 1980s, Wilma Mankiller, Cherokee, became the first modern woman
leader of the Cherokee Nation. Mankiller was re-elected Was principal chief
of the Cherokee Nation in 1991.
2000 On most reservations today, tribes prosecute misdemeanors committed by
Indians, and the state prosecutes crimes committed by non- Indians against
non-Indians. But when a non-Indian victimizes an Indian, only U.S. attorneys
can file charges. But U.S. attorneys often don’t pursue such cases.
How does this impact women? If a white man, victimizes an Indian, she
must rely on the United States Attorney to prosecute.
Hispanic American Woman and the Law
Depended on geography -- By continuing the Spanish practice of
giving limited, specific rights to married women, Texans (many
whom were Hispanic) avoided the English common-law practice of
vesting the wife's legal identity in her husband.
Anglo-American law confined married women more than the
Hispanic system, and a Texas statute enacted in 1840 guaranteed
rights that women have had ever since: to own separate property
(the personal effects, real estate, and stocks and bonds
possessed at the time of marriage) and to share equally with
their husbands the wealth amassed during marriage.
By requiring each voter in primary elections to pay a poll tax, for
example, the Terrell Election Laws of 1903 and 1907 barred
many African and Mexican Americans from voting.
It was not until 1954, Texas women first served on juries.
Women and the Law
1790 First recorded arrival of Asian Indians in the United
Chinese first appear in court in California.
California passes law against importation of Chinese,
Japanese, & quot;Mongolian“ women for prostitution.
Page Law in Congress bars entry of Chinese,
Japanese, and quot;Mongolian“ prostitutes, felons, and
1922 Cable Act declares that any American female
citizen who marries quot;an alien ineligible to citizenship“
1943 Congress repeals all Chinese exclusion laws,
grants right of naturalization and a very small
immigration quota to Chinese (105 per year).
African American Woman and the Law
1656 Elizabeth Key, whose mother=slave and father=white planter, sued for her
Freedom, claiming her father's free status and her baptism as grounds -- and
the courts upheld her claim
1662 Virginia House of Burgesses passed a law that a child's status followed the
mother's, if the mother was not white, contrary to English common law in which
the father's status determined the child's
1663 Maryland passed a law under which free white women would lose their freedom if
they married a black slave, and under which the children of white women and black
men became slaves
1670 Virginia passed a law that quot;Negroesquot; or Indians, even those free and baptized,
could not purchase any Christians, but could purchase quot;any of their own nation
1780 Massachusetts passed a law abolishing slavery and giving African American men
(but not women) the right to vote
1808 (January 1) importing slaves to the United States became illegal; about 250,000
more Africans were imported as slaves to the United States after slave imports
1809 New York began recognizing marriages of African Americans
1833 in Connecticut, Prudence Crandall admitted an African American student to her
girls' school, reacted to disapproval by dismissing the white students in February
and, in April, reopened it as a school for African American Girls and Connecticut
passed a law forbidding the enrollment of black students without own permission,
under which Prudence Crandall was jailed for one night -- the county jury did not
reach a decision on the case and the Superior Court dismissed the case
African American Woman and the Law (cont.)
1834 Prudence Crandall closed her school for African American girls in the
face of harassment
1855 In Missouri v. Celia, a Slave, a Black woman is declared to be property
without a right to defend herself against a master's act of rape
1865 slavery ended in the United States with the passage of the 13th
Amendment to the Constitution
14th Amendment to the US Constitution granted US citizenship to
African American men
1896 Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson upholds Louisiana law segregating
railway cars, invalidating the Civil Rights Act of 1875, and leading to the
passage of many more Jim Crow laws
1920 19th Amendment to the US Constitution became law, but practically this
did not give the vote to Southern African American women, who, like
African American men, were largely prevented by other legal and extra-
legal measures from exercising the vote
1954 Brown v. Board of Education, Supreme Court orders schools
desegregate quot;with all deliberate speedquot; -- finds quot;separate but
equalquot; public facilities to be unconstitutional
US Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law
White American Woman and the Law
1701 The first sexually integrated jury hears cases in Albany, New York.
All states pass laws which take away women’s right to vote.
1900 By now, every state has passed legislation modeled after New York’s Married
Women’s Property Act (1848), granting married women some control over
their property and earnings.
1908 Muller v State of Oregon, 208 U.S. 412 (1908): The U.S. Supreme Court
upholds Oregon’s 10-hour workday for women. The win is a two-edged
sword: the protective legislation implies that women are physically weak.
1918 New York v. Sanger, 222 NY 192, 118 N.E. 637 (Court of Appeals 1917),
National Archives, Records of the U.S. Supreme Court, RG 267 (MSDME-CDS
C 15:298). Margaret Sanger wins her suit in New York to allow doctors to
advise their married patients about birth control for health purposes.
1932 The National Recovery Act forbids more than one family member from
holding a government job, resulting in many women losing their jobs.
1963 The Equal Pay Act is passed by Congress, promising equitable wages for the
same work, regardless of the race, color, religion, national origin or sex of the
1964 Title VII of the Civil Rights Act passes including a prohibition against
employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national
origin, or sex.
White American Woman and the law
1968 Executive Order 11246 prohibits sex discrimination by government
contractors and requires affirmative action plans for hiring women.
1969 Bowe v. Colgate-Palmolive Company, 416 F. 2d 711 (7th Cir.1969), the
Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals rules that women meeting the physical
requirements can work in many jobs that had been for men only.
1971 Phillips v. Martin Marietta Corporation, 400 U.S. 542 (1971): The U.S.
Supreme Court outlaws the practice of private employers refusing to hire
women with pre-school children.
1972 Title IX (Public Law 92-318) of the Education Amendments prohibits sex
discrimination in all aspects of education programs that receive federal
Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973) and Doe v. Bolton, 410 U.S. 179 (1973):
The U.S. Supreme Court declares that the Constitution protects women’s
right to terminate an early pregnancy, thus making abortion legal in the U.S.
1974 Housing discrimination on the basis of sex and credit discrimination against
women are outlawed by Congress.
1978 The Pregnancy Discrimination Act bans employment discrimination against
1993 The Family and Medical Leave Act goes into effect.
1994 The Violence Against Women Act funds services for victims of rape and
domestic violence, allows women to seek civil rights remedies for gender-
related crimes, provides training to increase police and court officials’
sensitivity and a national 24-hour hotline for battered women.
These states did not vote for suffrage for
women in 1920.
What are Connecticut, Vermont, Delaware,
Maryland, Virginia, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina,
Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Mississippi.
The remaining twelve states of the Union took over
sixty years to add their ratifications of the 19th
amendment. Ten of these states originally had
rejected ratifying the amendment. Mississippi was the
last state of the 48 states to ratify the amendment
when it did so on March 22, 1984.
This woman helped unite the NWSA and the
AWSA as the National American Women
In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that
the all-male Virginia Military School has to
admit women in order to continue to
receive public funding. It holds that
creating a separate, all-female school will
Women’s history is a story of the struggle between maintaining an identity and
deconstructing myths about it
Interaction between society/environment
Often ideas begin as commonly held assumptions that assume a pattern and
become an institution: a social structure that supports the values and beliefs of
the dominant culture as they evolve.
Role in economy
Role in wars
Role in the home
Role in social movements
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