Women’s Movement

The Women's Liberation Movement of the 1960s and '70s emerged during a time period of enormous historical change  in the United States.  More women were in the work force than ever before and these women were limited to "women's work" that was characterized by low pay and lack of opportunity for advancement.  Safe, affordable childcare was practically nonexistent and sexual harassment was a silent, widespread problem.  Women flooded into colleges and universities, but many hoped only to achieve their "Mrs." degree.  Access to knowledge and new ideas nonetheless influenced many of these young women whose aspirations began to change.  The invention of the birth control pill meant that women had more control over their reproductive lives and they could choose to postpone and the number of children they conceived.  Ideas about sexuality began to change.  At the same time African American women as well as some Euro-American women in the South became involved in Civil Rights Movement.  They learned to name their own oppression and articulate ideals of equality.  They developed skills in organizing, fundraising, and challenging the status quo.  Young women in the North joined the emergent student movement that focused on grassroots democracy and opposing the increasing role of the United States in the Vietnam War.  By the late 1960s some of these young women had left the student movement and the Civil Rights Movement to focus on the effort to gain rights for women.  They joined the group of older women who were organizing through the National Organization for Women, founded by Betty Friedan.  Inspired by Friedan's bookThe Feminine Mystique, these women sought equal opportunity in education, employment, and more equitable roles in marriage.  These various groups of women came together in the early 1970s to create the powerful and important Women's Liberation Movement.

Betty Friedan's 1957 questionnaire at Smith College.  The survey that started it all!


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