Women’s Rights in America – Timeline | By John Halasz
This article will discuss the ways in which discrimination against women has changed over time and the way in which women’s rights have expanded in ways never conceivably possible in the past. What this article will evaluate is whether or not the rights granted to women are enforced or if women are still not treated completely equal. It is the purpose of this evaluation to present the way in which these laws against discrimination have been enforced and implemented.
There are two aspects in which one can evaluate this. One such way is through the popular wheel meaning the constitutional amendments that provided these rights, what circumstances lead to these rights and why they were implemented when they were, and the second is judicial power and how it played a major role in the future of women’s rights especially through privacy and abortion laws. This topic serves particular importance when looking at contemporary society and the function of women. Although it is true that women do have much more political power than ever before, and more positions in the job market, there are many hardships and struggles that women must overcome in reaching such positions, struggles that do not stand in the way of most men in America. Therefore, the main purpose of this evaluation is to deem women’s rights as it serves in American society today, efficient enough to realistically create a justifiably equal playing field for both men and women in terms of schooling, career, politics and so forth.
First, I will discuss the element of the popular wheel and its contribution to the existence of women’s rights. The concept of women’s suffrage was nothing out of the ordinary and in fact had been brewing in the minds and writings of women for decades particularly rooted in the 1700’s. One major issue was voting rights, which had begun being openly advocated by women beginning in the 1820’s. The first time a woman could vote freely was in 1756 when a colonial forerunner, Lydia Chapin Taft was granted the right by the town of Uxbridge, Massachusetts colony. After this voting rights were achieved in sparsely populated territories of Wyoming in 1869 and for a short period in Utah in 1870.
Although small progress was made, the timeline is slow. It was not until 1920, with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States of America Constitution, that women gained the right to vote. This victory only came after decades of demonstration and objection and was an extensive and complicated struggle. Between 1878 when the amendment was first presented to Congress and 1920 when it was first ratified, supporting groups of voting rights for women worked tirelessly in order to achieve their goal. One particularly influential group called the Silent Sentinels, protested in front of the White House for 18 months which in turn begun to raise vast awareness of the issue’s importance and a year later the President Woodrow Wilson announced his support for the amendment.
Of course, in order to strengthen the position and constitutionality of the Nineteenth Amendment the Supreme Court and its power must step in and reinforce it which it did by its decision in Leser v. Garnett in 1922. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to decide “Whether the Nineteenth Amendment has become part of the federal Constitution”. The Plaintiffs argued that it was unconstitutional based on three claims; first they stated that the power to amend the American Constitution did not cover this amendment due to its nature, second there were a number of states which ratified the amendment had Constitutions which restricted women from voting, declaring that therefore the Court was unable to ratify in a different way, and lastly they claimed that the ratifications of Tennessee and West Virginia were void since they were accepted without following the regulations of legislative procedure in place in those states.
In opposition to those claims, a unanimous decision addressed each argument. In response to the first position the court compared the Nineteenth Amendment to that of the Fifteenth, first demonstrating a distinction to discrimination rights of African-Americans to discrimination rights of women. In accordance to this they stated that since there was such similarity between the two and the Fifteenth had been accepted for more than fifty years, it would be unjust to declare the new amendment invalid.
Second, the court responded by stating that when state legislatures ratified the amendment they exercised power that was only within a federal capacity which the Constitution recognizes and deems a power which “transcends any limitations sought to be imposed by the people of a state.” In terms and Tennessee and West Virginia, the court stated that the additional ratifications were unsound because they had already been turned down in other states who attempted similar alterations. This decision, along with its extensive justifications behind its verdict, confirmed the constitutionality of the Nineteenth Amendment and it was then clear that it would be enforced. The Nineteenth Amendment became the basis of many disputes among those who held on to beliefs against women’s rights and those who sought out to confirm more rights. This ongoing struggle closely resembled that of the African-American group and their battle with discrimination in the United States of America.
The judicial power and its ability to set new precedents and influence many laws had much impact on the issue of women’s rights and suffrage. Two very central topics are of focus for this particular essay; the constitutional right to privacy, and abortion rights. Griswold v, Connecticut (1965) was the landmark case which protected a right to privacy. This was the first time such a right was protected in such a way and it made the right Constitutional, changing the very meaning of privacy to many people. In this particular case privacy was in regard to a woman’s right to use contraceptives.
In Connecticut there was a law that prohibited this which by a vote of 7-2 the Supreme Court invalidated the law on the basis that it infringed upon “the right to marital privacy.” Griswold was the Executive Director of the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut. She, as well as the Medical Director for the League, C. Lee Buxton, would give married couples any information they requested considering birth control and the way it was used and obtained. A law which prohibited the use of any drug for use for the purpose of preventing conception was passed in 1879, however almost never enforced. Buxton and Griswold were arrested, tried in court, found guilty, and fined. Griswold appealed to the United States Supreme Court on the grounds that it violated the Fourteenth Amendment.
The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was actually started in 1923 but it came to light in 1971 because of the feminist era. Although many women were pro women’s rights, many were not supporting the ERA. Those women who opposed it did so because it didn’t seem to give women anything. In fact, many thought it would make some situations more uncomfortable.
The major opposition came from Phyllis Schlafly and components of her conservative, “Eagle’s Forum.” There were a variety of issues that were stated by these women. Generally, they believed that The ERA would take away women’s rights rather than giving them. Schlafly said this amendment would take away a woman’s right to be supported by her husband, it would make women have to go to war, and it would insure the right to abortion and for homosexuals to marry (Francis, n.d., par. 28). Although the ERA had all of these components in the document, they were not necessarily in the way that Schlafly indicated. Some of the opposition also came because some legislative constituents felt that laws already existed to support women so there was no need for something new. As Senator Orrin Hatch stated:
“It is inadequate for ERA proponents to argue that all sorts of ‘common sense’ exceptions will be made to the ERA when this is already the law today. The courts will rightly assume that the intent of a new constitutional Amendment is to change the law. If the ERA would maintain in force the ‘common sense’ exceptions of present law, it would not be needed.” (as quoted in Rode, 2007, par. 11). Other women felt that the ERA would make abortion a legal right and put this into the Constitution. The reason this was part of the controversy was because of the issue around “Roe vs. Wade” in 1973. This had legalized abortion, then Harris v. McRae in 1980 took this right away. It was hoped that the ERA would look at this through taxpayer funding. The opponents of this bill said that this needed to be amended because they didn’t want legalized abortion paid for by tax payers (Schlafly, 1986, par.12).
Education would be affected, many said because it would force schools and colleges to make sure that the sports teams were integrated with both males and females. In their voice this would mean that long standing traditions like single-sex schools and colleges or separate fraternities would have to change in order to give women rights to these programs. This meant that the government would have a say in private education (Schlafly, par. 9). As to the idea of women and the draft, Jimmy Carter in 1980 proposed that women would be required to register for the draft like men (Berry, 1988, p. 74). This caused uproar because both women who supported the ERA and women who opposed it felt this was making them have to do involuntary military service in the name of equal rights. They were not happy with this decision.
Because the ERA couldn’t be ratified by all the states needed, it died. However, in the final years of the battle, there were more arguments that came to the forefront. There was the question of “unisex” insurance that said that insurance companies would have to charge the same amount of money for premiums to women as they did to men though the data showed that women drivers had fewer accidents. The second issue was that men would be denied veteran’s benefits because since most veterans were men, it would be discriminatory to give this money to them (Schlafly, par. 15). The ERA was a powerful piece of legislation but it seemed that it had too many loopholes that the opponents could find and use against the entire document. This was a difficult situation for women to deal with because the proponents felt this was necessary in order to give women all the rights they were entitled to under the law.
The conservative end with Schlafly and others was very determined to keep life for women as it always was; Schlafly went around the country to speak out against these different aspects. If it were not for Rosenberg who generally spoke about the history of women, this issue may have died in historical records. Ware has also chronicled information about this important legislation. Rode makes the point that opponents said that the opponents of the ERA were using scare tactics to stop the passage of this amendment but actually they were quoting historical facts (Rode, par. 21). Although this was true, we can see throughout history how people have chosen certain aspects of historical facts to make a point about any issue.
There is no doubt that the ERA is an important issue for many women and there is information on the Internet to say that it is still being talked about at length. Schlafly (2007) seems to still speak out against this Amendment and there doesn’t seem to be a reason for her thoughts at this time since the amendment died. In America, discrimination against women has dramatically improved throughout history. In the past, women were not even allowed to vote. Today, women have legal protection to enforce their rights as equal to men. Today’s workforce has become increasingly more diverse, and women are represented in many high-power political and business fields.
John Halasz is a former writing teacher and currently a professional writer and internet marketer. He has written SEO articles and ghostwritten novels, books, and scholarly articles.
A Canisius College graduate, he went on to the University of Buffalo for his teaching certificate in English writing, earning a 3.934 GPA before going on to teach in Brooklyn, NY.
With a love for writing, and a need for a stressfree life, John Halasz quit teaching to start several successful writing business, which truly represent all marketable genres of writing.