The Civil Rights of Women: Timeline, Leaders & Ongoing Issues

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  • 0:03 The Civil Rights of Women
  • 0:33 Women's Civil Rights…
  • 1:24 Women's Civil Rights…
  • 4:38 Women's Civil Rights…
  • 5:09 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jennifer Williams

Jennifer has taught various courses in U.S. Government, Criminal Law, Business, Public Administration and Ethics and has an MPA and a JD.

In this lesson, we will review the timeline of the civil rights of women. We will take a closer look at the background of the rights, what they include and what they mean to society today.

The Civil Rights of Women

Civil rights are considered the basic rights that all citizens of a society should have regardless of their race or gender. Not all individuals in the United States have always had their basic civil rights protected, such as women, who didn't always have the right to vote or equal treatment under the law. It took a lot of work on the part of energized and dedicated members of our society to gain women civil rights that were protected by the law.

Women's Civil Rights in the 1800s

In 1848, the Declaration of Sentiments was written at the first women's rights convention held in Seneca Falls, New York. This document set out the issues and goals of the women's civil rights movement. At the very core, the declaration asked for equal rights for women, including voting rights.

Twenty years later, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton created the National Women Suffrage Association. The main goal of this group was to gain passage of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would result in voting rights for women. In 1893, Colorado became the first state to adopt a state amendment granting women the right to vote. A handful of states followed suit over the next few years.

Women's Civil Rights in the 1900s

In 1913, Alice Paul and Lucy Burns created the Congressional Union that had the goal of working towards a federal amendment to give women the right to vote. Sometime later, the name of the group was changed to the National Women's Party. Members of the National Women's Party picketed federal buildings and protested in various ways in order to raise awareness of the issue. It would not be until 1920, nearly 100 years after the women's rights movement started, that the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution would be passed - guaranteeing women the right to vote.

Other highlights of the women's civil rights movement in the 20th century include the formation of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. This group, formerly the American Birth Control League, focused on the health and reproductive rights of women. Planned Parenthood supported the opening of the first women's birth control clinic in New York in 1916. The clinic was shut down multiple times by the courts but ultimately support was gained in 1923, and the clinic was allowed to remain open. The Food and Drug Administration, however, did not approve birth control pills for widespread use until 1960.

It would not be until the late 20th century that the workplace came to the forefront of the women's civil rights movement. In 1963, the Equal Pay Act was passed by Congress and made it illegal to pay women lower rates for the same job on the basis of their gender. Shortly after, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was created with the primary purpose of investigating complaints and imposing penalties for gender and race discrimination.

One of the first big decisions by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was to rule that sex-segregated help wanted ads in newspapers violate the law. This ruling was challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court and had the dynamic result of opening doors for higher-paying jobs for women that they had not even been able to apply to before.

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