The Path of the Women’s Rights Movement in U.S.

A Timeline of the Women’s Rights Movement 1848 – 1998

1848 The world’s first women’s rights convention is held in Seneca Falls, NY, July 19-20. A Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions is debated and signed by 68 women and 32 men, setting the agenda for the women’s rights movement that followed.

1849 Elizabeth Smith Miller appears on the streets of Seneca Falls, NY, in “turkish trousers,” soon to be known as “bloomers.”

1849 Amelia Jenks Bloomer publishes and edits Lily the first prominent women’s rights newspaper.

1850 Quaker physicians establish the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania, PA to give women a chance to learn medicine. The first women graduated under police guard.

1855 Lucy Stone becomes first woman on record to keep her own name after marriage, setting a trend among women who are consequently known as “Lucy Stoners.”

1855 The University of Iowa becomes the first state school to admit women.

1855 In Missouri v. Celia, a Black slave is declared property without right to defense against a master’s act of rape.

1859 American Medical Association announces opposition to abortion. In 1860, Connecticut is the first state to prohibit all abortions, both before and after quickening.

1859 The birth rate continues its downward spiral as reliable condoms become available. By the late 1900s, women will raise an average of only two or three children.

1860 Of 2,225,086 Black women, 1,971,135 are held in slavery. In San Francisco, about 85% of Chinese women are essentially enslaved as prostitutes.

1866 14th Amendment is passed by Congress (ratified by the states in 1868), the first time “citizens” and “voters” are defined as “male” in the Constitution.

1866 The American Equal Rights Association is founded, the first organization in the US to advocate women’s suffrage.

1868 The National Labor Union supports equal pay for equal work.

1868 Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan Anthony begin publishing The Revolution, an important women’s movement periodical.

1870 For the first time in the history of jurisprudence, women serve on juries in the Wyoming Territory.

1870 Iowa is the first state to admit a woman to the bar: Arabella Mansfield.

1870 The 15th Amendment receives final ratification. By its text, women are not specifically excluded from the vote. During the next two years, approximately 150 women will attempt to vote in almost a dozen different jurisdictions from Delaware to California.

1872 Through the efforts of lawyer Belva Lockwood, Congress passes a law to give women federal employees equal pay for equal work.

1872 Charlotte E. Ray, Howard University law school graduate, becomes first African-American woman admitted to the US bar.

1873  Bradwell v. Illinois: Supreme Court affirms that states can restrict women from the practice of any profession to uphold the law of the Creator.

1873 Congress passes the Comstock Law, defining contraceptive information as “obscene material.”

1877 Helen Magill is the first woman to receive a Ph.D. at a US school, a doctorate in Greek from Boston University.

1878 The Susan B. Anthony Amendment, to grant women the vote, is first introduced in the US Congress.

1884 Belva Lockwood, presidential candidate of the National Equal Rights Party, is the first woman to receive votes in a presidential election (appx. 4,000 in six states).

1887 For the first and only time in this century, the US Senate votes on woman suffrage. It loses, 34 to 16. Twenty-five Senators do not bother to participate.

1899 National Consumers League is formed with Florence Kelley as its president. The League organizes women to use their power as consumers to push for better working conditions and protective laws for women workers.

1900 Two-thirds of divorce cases are initiated by the wife; a century earlier, most women lacked the right to sue and were hopelessly locked into bad marriages.

1909 Women garment workers strike in New York for better wages and working conditions in the Uprising of the 20,000. Over 300 shops eventually sign union contracts.

1912 Juliette Gordon Low founds first American group of Girl Guides, in Atlanta, Georgia. Later renamed the Girl Scouts of the USA, the organization brings girls into the outdoors, encourages their self-reliance and resourcefulness, and prepares them for varied roles as adult women.

1913 Alice Paul and Lucy Burns organize the Congressional Union, which later becomes the National Women’s Party. Members picket the White House and engage in other forms of civil disobedience, drawing public attention to the suffrage cause.

1914 Margaret Sanger calls for legalization of contraceptives in her new, feminist publication, The Woman Rebel, which the Post Office bans from the mails.

1917 During WWI women move into many jobs working in heavy industry in mining, chemical manufacturing, automobile and railway plants. They also run street cars, conduct trains, direct traffic, and deliver mail.

1917 Jeannette Rankin of Montana becomes the first woman elected to the US Congress.

1919 The House of Representatives passes the women’s suffrage amendment, 304 to 89; the Senate passes it with just two votes to spare, 56 to 25.

1921 Margaret Sanger organizes the American Birth Control League, which becomes Federation of Planned Parenthood in 1942.

1923 Supreme Court strikes down a 1918 minimum-wage law for District of Columbia women because, with the vote, women are considered equal to men. This ruling cancels all state minimum wage laws.

1933 Frances Perkins, the first woman in a Presidential cabinet, serves as Secretary of Labor during the entire Roosevelt presidency.

1941 A massive government and industry media campaign persuades women to take jobs during the war. Almost 7 million women respond, 2 million as industrial “Rosie the Riveters” and 400,000 join the military.

1945 Women industrial workers begin to lose their jobs in large numbers to returning service men, although surveys show 80% want to continue working.

1957 The number of women and men voting is approximately equal for the first time.

1960 The Food and Drug Administration approves birth control pills.

1960 Women now earn only 60 cents for every dollar earned by men, a decline since 1955. Women of color earn only 42 cents.

1963 The Equal Pay Act, proposed twenty years earlier, establishes equal pay for men and women performing the same job duties. It does not cover domestics, agricultural workers, executives, administrators or professionals.

1963 Betty Friedan’s best-seller, The Feminine Mystique, detailed the “problem that has no name.” Five million copies are sold by 1970, laying the groundwork for the modern feminist movement.

1964 Title VII of the Civil Rights Act bars employment discrimination by private employers, employment agencies, and unions based on race, sex, and other grounds. To investigate complaints and enforce penalties, it establishes the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which receives 50,000 complaints of gender discrimination in its first five years.

1966 In response to EEOC inaction on employment discrimination complaints, twenty-eight women found the National Organization for Women to function as a civil rights organization for women.

1968 New York Radical Women garner media attention to the women’s movement when they protest the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City.

1968 The first national women’s liberation conference is held in Chicago.

1968 The National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) is founded.

1968 National Welfare Rights Organization is formed by activists such as Johnnie Tillmon and Etta Horm. They have 22,000 members by 1969, but are unable to survive as an organization past 1975.

1968 Shirley Chisholm (D-NY) is first Black woman elected to the US Congress.

1970 Women’s wages fall to 59 cents for every dollar earned by men. Although nonwhite women earn even less, the gap is closing between white women and women of color.

1970 The Equal Rights Amendment is reintroduced into Congress.

1973 Billie Jean King scores an enormous victory for female athletes when she beats Bobby Riggs in “The tennis tournament watched by nearly 48,000,000 people.”

1973 The first battered women’s shelters open in the US, in Tucson, Arizona and St. Paul, Minnesota.

1973 In Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court establishes a woman’s right to abortion, effectively canceling the anti-abortion laws of 46 states.

1974 MANA, the Mexican-American Women’s National Association, organizes as feminist activist organization. By 1990, MANA chapters operate in 16 states; members in 36.

1974 Hundreds of colleges are offering women’s studies courses. Additionally, 230 women’s centers on college campuses provide support services for women students.

1975 The first women’s bank opens, in New York City.

1978 For the first time in history, more women than men enter college.

1981 At the request of women’s organizations, President Carter proclaims the first “National Women’s History Week,” incorporating March 8, International Women’s Day.

1981 Sandra Day O’Connor is the first woman ever appointed to the US Supreme Court. In 1993, she is joined by Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

1984 Geraldine Ferraro is the first woman vice-presidential candidate of a major political party (Democratic Party).

1990 The number of Black women in elective office has increased from 131 in 1970 to 1,950 in 1990.

1992 Women are now paid 71 cents for every dollar paid to men. The range is from 64 cents for working-class women to 77 cents for professional women with doctorates. Black women earned 65 cents, Latinas 54 cents.

1993 Take Our Daughters to Work Day debuts, designed to build girls self-esteem and open their eyes to a variety of careers.

1996 US women’s spectacular success in the Summer Olympics (19 gold medals, 10 silver, 9 bronze) is the result of large numbers of girls and women active in sports since the passage of Title IX.