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The Women's Liberation
Movement of the 1960s
By Vintee Sawhney (Editor's Note: Vintee Sawhney is a high
school student living in Wisconsin. This essay was originally
produced for her American Studies class. Vintee conducted an
e-mail inteview with CWLU Herstory Project member Estelle Carol
as part of her project.)
the life of a woman before the 1960s. Her life had been difficult
denied basic rights, trapped in the home her entire life and
discriminated against in the workplace. Then, the 1960s came
along with it, the thought that women could have a say in their
government, that they could perhaps leave the home without feeling
guilty about leaving their children alone, and that they could
receive a job and earn wages like men.
liberation movement of the 1960s helped all these changes to
come about through its scores of policies and radical ways of
thinking. In fact, to illustrate some of these radical ways
of thinking, some extremist women made a Freedom Trash
Can and filled it with representations of women trapped
in the home. They threw objects like heels, bras, girdles, hair
curlers, and magazines like Cosmo, Playboy and
Ladies Home Journal in it. The women who put the
Trash Can together planned to set it on fire, but decided not
to do so because burning of the contents prohibited a city law
(Echols 150). Nevertheless, given the numerous obstacles put
in place to stop women from changing their status in society,
the womens movement of the 1960s made significant changes
for women in regards to basic rights, in the home and in the
workplace for the better.
denied basic rights in most aspects of society, from political
rights to reproductive rights, women in the United States fought
vigorously for equality.
women fought for their rights not to symbolize beauty
objects or sex objects. In 1968, 100 women
protested the Miss America Beauty Pageant because it promoted
physical attractiveness and charm as the primary measures
of a womans worth, especially the swimsuit portion
of the contest (Echols 149). Also, according to Estelle Carol,
the founder of the Chicago Womens Liberation Union, women
began to get over this idea in the 1960s, but many women still
Overly obsessed with [their] body shapes and were
often prisoners of the fantasies [they] got from TV and magazine
advertising. But [they] were learning to question these things
and even some of the so-called supermodels spoke
out bravely about the need to get past this ridiculous beauty
the presence of the media displayed beauty as the only way for
happiness, the idea that womens only importance was for
their bodies became more widespread. Later, once women recognized
that they were worth more than just looks, they took the measures
to overcome the medias hype about womens bodies.
The largest protests staged, the Miss America protest and the
Freedom Trash Can protest, helped women claim national attention
towards their struggles. Because of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement
that was also going on at the time, the climate seemed just
right for women to speak out as well, therefore they received
attention too (Echols 153). Women also fought for the right
to abortion or reproductive rights, as most people called it.
to the 1960s abortion effort, women established an underground
abortion hospital called Jane in Chicago. Following
Janes example, other secret clinics launched up everywhere.
In big cities, womens health clinics, rape-crisis centers
and womens bookstores developed. As a result of the New
York Radical Women, a group founded in 1967, a womens
community developed throughout cities and neighborhoods
around the nation (Echols 160). In these communities women got
together to talk about their problems, usually dealing with
male chauvinism, and they discussed how to overcome their problems.
Probably the largest achievement for women regarding abortion
rights came in 1960 when the Food and Drug Administration approved
birth control pills and approved them for marketing a year later
(National Womens History Project). This proved to be a
major step for women in regards to their reproductive rights.
Now that women had an abortion option, they were not as tied
to the home as they had been. They had the ability to work and
go out without having to always feel the burden childbearing
or childcare until they were ready. If perhaps a woman made
a mistake and became pregnant before she was ready, the opportunity
of abortion was always available to her. To conclude, women
during the 1960s fought hard to earn rights that society denied
domestic changes for women were accomplished during the 1960s.
For example, childcare became a 1960s issue. Ms. Gwen Diab,
an activist and supporter of the womens struggle during
the 1960s declares, Women were hesitant to leave the home
before the 1960s because they felt guilty leaving their children
all alone. By the 1960s, women started to get over this feeling
of guilt and left the house more frequently to go to womens
clubs or meetings (Interview). Society believed that a
woman could either be a career woman or she could stay at home
and have children. There was no way she could do both
(Sanger 517). Society also believed that if a woman were to
become pregnant, she would stay in the home, caring for her
children, because that is where she belonged. Margaret Sanger,
a traditionalist, also concluded that if a woman took the risk
of getting pregnant and if she was a working woman, [she]
should not have more than two children (Sanger 519). Childcare
was the first step towards breaking down societys view
that the sole responsibility rested with the woman (The
Womens Movement 419).
to Estelle Carol, since the number of workingwomen increased
in the 1960s, men felt reluctant to share housework, but this
improved and men have been taking more responsibility for childcare
as well (Interview). However, domestic issues went far beyond
childcare in the 60s. For instance, an anonymous woman
in Iowa wrote many letters to her sister relating her dealings
with her feelings on the issue of domesticity. Many times, she
wrote about how she felt as though she was the only woman that
said anything in the homeowners meetings. Because of her
openness, the other women became scared of her and her seemingly
radical ways. Therefore, she felt as though she didnt
quite fit in with the other women in her community. One man
even felt scared of her because he thought that she was too
smart to be a woman. She stated, Nobody expects a woman
to talk. It bothers them all especially men when
a woman talks (Gornick 150).
how America still belonged a the traditional times where women
were expected to stay at home and take care of the home and
children. These feelings soon changed with the growing participation
of women in their communities. It took time for men to start
to think of women as equals, and not just the second sex.
Unfortunately, these changes took a long time in coming because
women were thought to be feminist militants if they wanted any
type of change in society and called communists and man haters
if they had anything to do with the liberation movements (60s
Radicalism 150,151). Because of these accusations, many
housewives felt scared to get involved in the movement, while
the career women tried to gain their support (Gwen Diab).
Because the career women did not really have backing or support
for the movement, there were few gains in the early years. It
was only when women such as Gloria Steinem, Simone de Beauvoir
and Angela Davis got involved, that normal housewives felt that
they could make a difference and that their rights were worth
fighting for. As one can see, the 1960s made many advances for
women in the area of domestic issues.
and major area, in which the 1960s made significant changes
for women, was in the workplace. As stated by Estelle Carol,
In the 1960s, there were no women bus drivers, welders,
firefighters, news anchors, CEOS or Supreme Court Justices.
Women professors, doctors, scientists or lawyers were rare
(Estelle Carol). Later, as the economy of America began to expand,
women started working for a second family income, although they
only made 60% of what men were earning (Echols 152). Denied
credit by banks before the 60s, women could not receive
capital to start their own small businesses because a man always
received first priority when it came to funds for starting up
a business (Gwen Diab). According to Ms. Diab,
was no way a woman could get $25,000 to start up her own business!
There was always a Sam, Peter or a Joe in front of her to get
it first. Always! (Gwen Diab). Fortunately, after a long
struggle, the National Credit Union Administration accepted
feminism as a field and let them draw credit (60s Radicalism
160). Women even began to have their own professional and labor
organizations to keep themselves progressing.
the early stages of the 1960s, many changes were put in place
to help women get to the top. For instance, in 1961 President
Kennedy created the Presidents Commission on the Status
of Women, chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt. Fifty other parallel
state commissions were eventually established. Also, the Equal
Pay Act, which was planned in 1940, finally acknowledged equal
pay for men and women who worked the same jobs. Another major
achievement for women in regards to the work place was in 1964,
when Title VII of the Civil Rights Act barred employment
discrimination by private employers, employment agencies and
unions based on race, sex and other grounds. To investigate
complaints and enforce penalties, it established the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission, which received 50,000 complaints of
gender discrimination in its first five years (National
Womens History Project). By 1965, President Johnsons
Executive Order 11246 ordered federal agencies and federal
contractors to take affirmative action in overcoming
employment discrimination (National Womens History
setback that women faced in the 1960s was that as men realized
what women were trying to do, some did as much as they could
to keep fully qualified women out of their workplaces. Gwen
Diab related an experience where an employer at the business
that she and some of her friends had applied to had a spot open
for work: Since it was women who were seeking the employment,
the employers usually lied, saying that there were no spots
open, and then the next day hired a male worker for the very
same position, even if he was less qualified! (Interview).
In 1969, a Supreme Court Ruling changed all this. In the case
of Bowe vs. Colgate-Palmolive, the Supreme Court ruled that
women meeting the physical requirements could work in
many jobs that had been for men only (National Womens
History Project). As one can see, the 1960s made many positive
changes for women in regards to the workplace.
the 1960s really did make many significant changes for women
in regards to basic rights, domestic issues and their abilities
to get fair job opportunities in the workplace. Although women
still only make about 70 cents for every dollar a man makes,
are still the main caretakers of the home, and are still struggling
for abortion rights, women have come a long way from the traditional
attitudes of old, Puritan America. The radical 1960s provided
background and support for everything that the women accomplished.
Carol, Estelle. E-mail Interview. March 30th, 2001.
Ms. Carol wasa founding memberof the CWLU, or Chicago Womens
Liberation Union. She was a womens liberator
in the 1960s and provided a great deal of information regarding
the Womens Liberation Movement of the 1960s. Much of this
information came from first hand experience.
Deckard, Barbara Sinclair. The Womens Movement:
Political, Socioeconomic, and Psychological Issues. New York:
Harper & Row, 1979
This book is about the changing role of women in society
and how women themselves are changing with the times. It also
mentions the processes women went through to become liberated
from the society that held them down. Much of this public
information is secondary, although some is primary. The author
has no reason to lie and there is other information presented.
Diab, Gwen. Live interview. March 26th, 2001.
Ms. Diab is a secretary for the Wisconsin Womens Work
Initiative Corporation. She was an activist in the 1960s,
fighting for civil rights for blacks and equal rights for
women. She provided a lot of valuable information from firsthand
DuPlessis, Rachael Blau, and Ann Snitow. The Feminist
Memoir Project. New York: Three Rivers Press, 1998
This book is a collection of writings by various women liberators
on their experiences and their struggles to get equal rights
for women. This book has primary documents and is open to
the public. There is other information presented and the author
has no reason to lie.
Echols, Alice. Nothing Distant About It. New York:
Harper & Row, 1994.
This book is an excellent source dealing with the means of
protest that women used for their liberation movement. This
public book is a secondary source. The author has no reason
to lie, and there is other information presented.
Gornick, Vivian. Essays In Feminism. New York: Harper &
This book is a collection of essays that the author wrote
dealing with the changing times and how women should play
a larger role in these times. This book is a primary document
with other information presented. The author has no reason
to lie, as it is public information.
National Organization of Women. [Online] Available
http://www.now.org, Feb. 13th, 2001.
This website is the main site for the National Organization
of Women. It contains archives and many other links for useful
information. This site contains primary sources as well as
secondary sources. The authors have no reason to lie and it
is open to the public. Other information is presented.
National Womens History Project. [Online]
Available http://www.legacy98.com, Feb. 13th, 2001.
This website is an informative site for the Womens Liberation
Movement for all decades. It contains many archives, pictures,
links and articles. This public site contains primary and
secondary documents. The authors may have some inclination
to lie, but there is other information presented.
ONeill, Lois Decker. The Womens Book of World
Records and Achievements. New York: Anchor Books, 1979
This book is a collection of achievements that women have
accomplished throughout time. It covers almost every topic
one can think of and covers a very large period of time. This
compilation of accomplishments by women is public information
and is a secondary source. The author has no reason to lie,
but there is no other information presented.
Rossi, Alice S.
The Feminist Papers: From Adams to deBeauvoir. New York: Columbia
University Press, 1973
This book is mainly a collection of letters and essays that
active women in the womens liberation movement wrote.
2 of these women were very prominent in the 1960s Margaret
Sanger and Simone deBeauvoir. This book is filled with primary
documents, with no reason to lie and open to the public. There
is also other evidence presented.
Steinem, Gloria. Outrageous
Acts and Everyday Rebellions. New York: Holt, Rinehart and
This book is about the authors experiences through life
and what motivated her to become so actively involved in the
womens lib movement. She reveals what the world for
women is like from behind the scenes. This book
is a primary document with other evidence to present. The
author has no reason to lie and it is public information.
Thom, Mary. Letters To Ms. New York: Henry Holt and Company,
This book is an assortment of letters that were written to
the popular feminist magazine, Ms. Included in this book is
a very informative introduction about Ms. By Gloria Steinem.
This book is filled with primary documents and is open to
the public. There is no other evidence presented, and the
authors of the letters may have had a reason to lie.
- - - . Inside Ms.: 25 Years Of The Magazine And The Feminist
Movement. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1997
This book is about the history of the magazine Ms. and how
it helped move along the feminist movement. It is a secondary
source and is public information. Other evidence is shown,
and the author has no reason to lie.
White, William. North American Reference of Womens Liberation.
New York: Harper & Row, 1972
This book has a large list of women and their efforts involved
in the womens liberation movement. It is a secondary
source and public information. The author has no reason to
lie and gives other evidence.