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The Second Wave

The 1960s saw a second wave of feminist activism.

In 1961, Esther Peterson was the director of the Women’s Bureau of the Dept. of Labor. She believed it was the government’s responsibility to take a role in addressing discrimination against women. President Kennedy established the Commission on the Status of Women.

In 1963, Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique. The book inspired thousands of women to look for fulfillment beyond the role of homemaker.

Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibited employment discrimination on the basis of sex as well as race, religion, and national origin. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received 50,000 sex discrimination complaints in its first five years.

In 1966, the National Organization for Women was founded.

New Issues Come to the Fore

Small groups of women worked on grassroots projects like establishing women’s newspapers, creating battered women’s shelters and rape crisis hotlines, forming child care centers, and opening women’s clinics to provide birth control and family planning counseling.

Title IX in the Education Codes of 1972 granted equal access to higher education and to professional schools. The long-range effect has been a significant rise in the number of female professionals. The rise in girls’ and women’s participation in athletics is another result of Title IX.

In society at large, the Women’s Rights Movement has brought about measurable changes, especially in the area of women’s financial independence. Until the 1970s married women could not get a credit card in their own name nor obtain a bank loan without a male co-signer.

The National Organization for Women (NOW) took a case to the Supreme Court to make it possible for a woman today to hold any job for which she is qualified.

Many of these changes resulted from legislation and court cases pushed by women’s organizations, while other advances were personal: getting husbands to help with the housework or regularly take responsibility for family meals; getting a long-deserved promotion at work; gaining the financial and emotional strength to leave an abusive partner.

More Complex Issues Surface

A third wave of the Women’s Rights Movement has expanded beyond the issue of equal rights to more controversial topics such as:

  • Women’s reproductive rights
  • Women’s enrollment in military academies and service in active combat
  • The mommy track. Should businesses accommodate women’s family responsibilities, or should women compete evenly for advancement with men, who often have fewer family obligations?
  • Sexual harassment—where does flirting leave off and harassment begin?


Source: The Second Wave
© By Bonnie Eisenberg and Mary Ruthsdotter, the National Women’s History Alliance. 1998

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