Women Role in the Civil Rights Movement

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The women’s movement can be considered as a platform that transformed the women’s lives in the long-run. There were so many changes that accompanied this movement. The main reason why the women during this time engaged in the formation of this movement was to fight for their rights in all aspects of life, and to foster change.

What inspired formation of the women’s movement

The civil rights movement played a key role in as far as formation of the women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s was concerned. It was the second wave of feminism after the first one, which had taken place during the earlier half of the twentieth century. The first wave of feminism had dwelt on legal issues like property rights and suffrage. This second wave of feminism (the women’s movement) was also referred to as the women’s liberation movement or the feminist movement.

The 1963 bestselling book “The Feminine Mystique” by Betty Friedan is credited for having inspired the movement. It clearly objected to the media’s image of a woman. It explicitly indicated that women’s opportunities had been limited due to the fact that they only stayed at home hence; they did not fully exploit their talents and potential (Roth 168).

Formation of the women’s movement

The women’s movement was formed by the sisters of the United States, who came together to protest against the unfairness that was prevalent during this time. It is evident that the movement was formed in the late 1970s but, membership drastically escalated during the early 1970s. This is indicated by the membership of (National Organization for Women) NOW as mentioned below.

The large numbers of women engaged in a war that aimed at improving various facets of the society for example public offices, the media, abortion, job inequalities, gender stereotypes, child care, independence and sexist oppression. The women’s movement enabled the women to develop great pride and it helped to bring about change among many women who opted to fight for what they believed in (Roth 172).

Influence of the women’s movement

A large proportion of those making up this movement were from the middle class. They took part in this spirit of rebellion that had a great impact on a substantial number of middle-class youth in the 1960s. In addition, the sexual revolution of the 1960s was another factor that triggered the creation of this movement. The sexual revolution period was in turn inspired by invention and sale of the birth-control pill. The legislation reform process was yet another factor why change was vehemently sought during this time.

Conservatives aimed at ensuring that an amendment was created during the 1964 debate on Civil Rights bill. This amendment was meant to outlaw discrimination based on race and gender. The amendment passed and so did the bill itself thus; the women were able to gain a legal tool that ensured protection of their rights (Baldez 248-252).

The women’s movement enabled the women to have a different view of the world in which they lived in hence sought to alter the boundaries that society had set for them, and consequently become free. They were able to break free from the stereotypical roles of the 1950s. Women engaged in activities aimed at empowering their lot. The women’s movement experienced various victories in relation to legislature such as the 1963 equal pay act.

In addition, there was also the 1964 title vii of the civil rights act and the Griswold v. Connecticut Supreme Court in 1965 (Baldez 251). NOW was founded in 1966 and initially consisted of 28 women including Betty Friedman. Its purpose was to ensure that American women became full participants in issues related to American society.

After one year, 1000 women were part of NOW and membership was at 15, 000 four years later. NOW and such related organizations made women aware of their scarce opportunities and subsequently enhanced their ability to escalate them (Baldez 251-234).

Early 1970s was the time when the women’s movement activities reached their peak. Gloria Steinem, a journalist, garnered the support of some other women and together they established a new magazine known as ‘Ms.’, whose publication took place in the year 1972. The women continued to enjoy successes and during the period between 1971 and 1976, a woman’s health collective managed to sell 850, 000 copies of “Our Bodies, Ourselves”, a handbook they had developed (Roth 177-9).

Women’s right to carry out an abortion was sanctioned in 1973 by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade. This sanction was applicable with regard to the early months of pregnancy. This was a great achievement for the women’s movement. Other significant victories after the formation of NOW were the 1967 executive order that extended full affirmative action rights to women, and the equal credit opportunity act of 1974 (Baldez 257).

Endorsement of the ERA

There was so much pressure mounted by activists to enable the ratification of an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the constitution. It was endorsed by Congress in 1972 and it declared that, “equality of rights based on the new law would not be denied or abridged, by not only the United States but all other States, to any individual irrespective of their sex” (Baldez 265). The amendment was ratified by 35 out of 38 states after some few years. Sexual equality was also advocated for.

It was drafted by Alice Paul, who was a suffragist leader and the pioneer of the National Woman’s Party. The ERA was incorporated in all sessions of Congress between 1923 and 1972. The ERA however was ratified based on article V of the constitution, which stated that the ERA was ratified with a seven-year deadline for ratification by the stipulated three-quarters of the legislatures (Baldez 265).

Failure of ratification of the ERA

The women’s movement however became dormant during the mid to the late 1970s. It did not manage to extend its appeal outside the middleclass fraternity. Moderate and radical feminists began to draw apart. Conservative opponents on a different spectrum organized a campaign against the ERA. The ERAmerica was formed to support the ratification of the ERA in 1976. During the same year, numerous professional and women’s organizations staged a boycott against all those states that were not willing to endorse the ERA.

These women continued holding their conferences while simultaneously putting so much pressure on the states so that they could agree to ratify the ERA before 1979, which was the supposed deadline. ERA still needed three more states for it to get ratified. However, Elizabeth Holtzman, a Congresswoman was able to lead a successful bill that extended the ERA’s deadline to 1982 (Baldez 278-280).

In 1982, the ERA was actually diminished when it lacked to get the 38 states that were required for its ratification. ERA has always been reintroduced during every session of Congress after its ratification failed in 1982. Twenty-two states added a version of ERA in their state constitution but ERA campaigns are still continuing up to the present time. Most of those people who propose to the idea of ERA are of the view that the ERA is still viable for addition in the constitution if it would be ratified by the remaining states (Baldez 281).


The women’s movement played a key role in fostering change with regard to the perception that had long been held about women in the world. This movement indicated that women had power to defend their rights in society. Despite the fact that the ERA did not succeed in getting ratified in 1982, it cannot be considered as a vestige because some of it is part of the constitution in some states of America.

Works Cited

Baldez, Lisa, Lee Epstein and Andrew Martin D. Does the U.S. Constitution Need an Equal Rights Amendment? Journal of Legal Studies 35.1 (2006): 243–283.

Roth, Benita. Separate Roads to Feminism: Black, Chicana, and White Feminist Movements in America’s Second Wave. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

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