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Analyze the causes and course of the women’s rights movement in the 1960s and 1970s: Second Wave Feminism


Topics on the Page

a. Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem
b. the birth control pill and reproductive rights for women
  • Margaret Sanger
c. the increasing number of working women
d. the formation of the National Organization of Women in 1967
e. the debate over the Equal Rights Amendment
  • Alice Paul
    • Current Efforts to Pass the ERA
      • Equal Pay Day
f. the 1973 Supreme Court case, Roe v. Wade
  • Babe Didrikson Zaharis
    • The Daughters of Bilitis and Barbara Gittings
President Jimmy Carter Signing Extension of Equal Rights Amendment Ratification, 10-20-1978
President Jimmy Carter Signing Extension of Equal Rights Amendment Ratification, 10-20-1978


Focus Question: What were the causes and the impacts of the women's rights movement in the 1960s and 1970s?


The women’s rights movements of the 1960’s started as a response to the oppression women faced during the 1950’s.
  • During the 1950’s, women were expected to fulfill traditional roles as full-time wives and mothers.
  • Those who did not follow traditional gender roles were labeled as deviant.
  • During the 1960’s and 70's, the feminist movement emerged to challenge these prescribed gender roles and fight for equality between the sexes.


timeline2_rus.svg.pngFor context on the women's rights movement in America, view this timeline spanning from 1848-2009.

game_icon.svg.png2015's Best and Worst States for Women

Second Wave Feminism

The Women's Rights Movement of the 60's and 70's is referred to as Second Wave Feminism because it succeeded the First Wave of the late 19th century and early 20th century, and was later followed by the Third Wave of Feminism that took place in the late 80's and early 90's.

As opposed to the first feminist movement in the early 1900s, which largely fought for women's political equality in areas such as voting rights, this second wave of feminism focused on women's dissatisfaction with domestic life and workplace discrimination.


Khan Academy article on Second Wave feminism, with some good questions to integrate into a lesson plan.

rotating gif.gifFor more on the First Wave of feminism link to

  • US I: 33 on the antebullum Women's Suffrage movement,
    • US II: 9 on the post-civil war struggle for African Americans and women.

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Click here for a video on Second Wave feminism that focuses on the contributions of women of color to the movement, as well as the gaps that excluded them.
Click here for a JSTOR article entitled "Multiracial Feminism: Recasting the Chronology of Second Wave Feminism".

Screen Shot 2017-02-24 at 12.30.24 PM.pngVarious lesson plans on the women's movement, including comparing and contrasting the first and second waves of feminism.


Female_Rose.pngAgents of Social Change: New Resources on 20th Century Women's Activism from Smith College features lesson plans and primary documents for middle and high school students.

a.) Betty Friedan


feminine-mystique.png

Betty Friedan
Betty Friedan

Betty Friedan wrote the famous book The Feminine Mystique, which detailed the lives of 1950's housewives; it was published in 1963.

Friedan discussed the unhappiness of many suburban women confined to traditional gender roles, and suggested that women's traditional financial and social dependence on their husbands made them feel worthless.

She argued that the solution to the identity crisis faced by these housewives was for women to become professionals and join the work force.

The Feminine Mystique encouraged many white middle class women to challenge traditional gender roles. The book did not address the hardships faced by working class women and women of color who did not have the luxury of the choice to stay home or work.

primary_sources.PNGHere is the transcript of an interview with Betty Friedan!


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  • Watch Betty Friedan explain how men benefited from women's liberation here

  • See Betty Friedan give a speech on womens' rights here

lessonplan.jpgClick here for a lesson plan on Betty Friedan and The Feminine Mystique, including the first chapter of the book.


Rotating_globe-small.gifWomen of color and working class women had a much different experience than middle class white women during the 1960's and 1970's, and this narrative is detailed in the article Why Women's Liberation is Important to Black Women by Maxine Williams

One of the issues surrounding the Second Wave of Feminism is that the voices of women of color and working class women were ignored. Becky Thompson discusses this issues in her article Multiracial Feminism: Recasting the Chronology of Second Wave Feminism

Gloria Steinem

Steinem.jpg
Gloria Steinem


Gloria Steinem is a graduate of Smith College and a leader in the feminist movement.
  • In 1962, she published an article in Esquire magazine documenting how women were being systematically forced to choose between family life and having a career.
  • In the early 1970’s, Steinem helped create Ms. Magazine, a famous feminist publication for which she serves as contributing editor.
  • Steinem also was a founding member of the MS Foundation for Women, which raises money for underprivileged girls and women, and the Coalition of Labor Union Women. She is also the author of two best-selling books, Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions (1983) and Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem (1992).

In 1963 Steinem went undercover at the Playboy Club in New York in order to get an inside look at the organization. She wrote about her experiences in her work, "A Bunny's Tale", which many considered to be a "muckraking" piece of the feminist movement. Similar to Friedan's piece, she discussed the role of women in a male dominated society.Through her work she discovered that the feminist movement would only be successful if women stepped up and took charge of the sexual revolution in gaining equal rights for women.

Click here to see an interview with Gloria Steinem.

Multimedia.pngWatch Gloria Steinem discuss contemporary women's issues on this PBS video

b.) The Birth Control Pill and Reproductive Rights for Women


external image 200px-Hebrew_timeline2_rus.svg.pngTimeline of the development of the birth control pill.
Margaret Sanger
Margaret Sanger


For background, see The History of Women's Reproductive Rights from a professor at Mt. Holyoke College.

One of the most important goals of the feminist movement was to ensure that women had control over their sexuality and reproduction. As a result, the movement prioritized fighting for access to birth control and abortion. which would give women a greater degree of sexual freedom.

Feminists Margaret Sanger (1879-1966) and Katharine McCormick(1875-1967) approached doctor Gregory Pincus (1903-1967) about the development of an oral contraceptive, which they have long lobbied for.

In 1960, the birth control pill was put on the market in the United States. However, several states had laws prohibiting access to birth control.


Margaret Sanger

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Screen Shot 2016-03-25 at 12.47.12 PM.pngGriswold v. Connecticut (1965)
Estelle Griswold, 1963
Estelle Griswold, 1963

In 1965 the Supreme Court struck down state laws prohibiting birth control for married couples in the court case Griswold v. Connecticut.
  • The court stated that laws prohibiting birth control violate the right to privacy.

Multimedia.png Click for a Video Summary of Griswold V. Connecticut

timeline2_rus.svg.pngTimeline of Important Reproductive Freedom Cases Decided by the Supreme Court, ACLU

external image Red_apple.jpgPBS's Teacher's Guide: Suggestions for Active Learning provides excellent lesson plans for teaching about birth control pills.



c.) Working Women


Rosita the Riveter, 2006
Rosita the Riveter, 2006

Women's involvement in the workforce increased dramatically during World War II when women took over jobs previously held by men who were now fighting the war abroad. After the war in the late 1940's and the 1950's, there was a push for women to return to the home and return to traditional gender roles. During the 1960’s and 1970’s, an increasing number of women entered the work force. Many women went began to work in professions that had been extremely male dominated in the 1950’s. Women began to work as lawyers, doctors, professors, and businesspeople. This was a major shift from the 1950’s when women were limited to working in low wage jobs or in care taking professions such as nursing, teaching, and secretaries.

Click here for a link to a short article on Women's Employment during World War II Due to the depleted supply of the male workforce during the war, women were expected to fill positions. For the first time in their lives married women, minority women, and even mothers left their position in the household to work in outside employment.

primary_sources.PNGTitle VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination by employers on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, nationality or association. This was a landmark piece of legislation because of how it broadened protections for women workers.

lessonplan.jpgClick here for a PBS lesson plan on comparing the experiences of white women and women of color in the Civil Rights Era.

multicultural.pngbook.pngFor more information on the experiences of women of color during Second Wave Feminism, see Benita Roth's Separate Roads to Feminism: Black, Chicana, and White Feminist Movements in America's Second Wave.

d.) The Formation of the National Organization of Women (NOW) in 1967


In 1967, the National Organization of Women (NOW) was founded by a small group of women and men attending the Third National Conference of the Commission on the Status of Women. The organization was formed to bring feminist activists together to fight for equality and justice. Since its creation, NOW has fought for abortion rights, same sex marriage, equal pay for equal work, federally sponsored child care, and other feminist initiatives. Currently, the organization has 500,000 members.

external image Red_apple.jpgprimary_sources.PNGSee Sisters of '77 Lesson Plan for a lesson plan dealing with the National Organization of Women. The lesson helps students understand the struggle fore racial and gender equality and understand the economic, social , and cultural developments in the contemporary United States.


e.) The Debate over the Equal Rights Amendment


Alice Paul, 1915
Alice Paul, 1915

First Lady Betty Ford supporting the Equal Rights Amendment, 1975
First Lady Betty Ford supporting the Equal Rights Amendment, 1975
primary_sources.PNGThe Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was a proposed Constitutional amendment supported by feminists to make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sex.
  • It was first written in 1921 by Alice Paul.

  • In 1972, Congress passed the Equal Right Amendment and sent it to the states for ratification.
    • It needed to be ratified by 38 states within seven years in order to become a part of the Constitution.

Christian Right activist Phyllis Schlafly led a movement to urge states not to ratify the ERA.
  • The anti-ERA movement claimed that the amendment would lead to tax dollars being spent on abortion, civil rights for same sex couples, women being drafted into the military and unisex bathrooms.
    • The anti-ERA campaign was successful and the amendment never passed.

Link to a chronology of the Equal Rights AmendmentLesson plan on the ERA.

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  • Link to HipHughes' History video on the ERA here
    • Link to a Video on the ERA and why it has repeatedly failed.

Current Efforts to Pass the ERA

Go the website of Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (New York's 12th District) for more information on her efforts to reintroduce the Equal Rights Amendment.

Nevada Passes the Equal Rights Amendment . . . 35 Years After the Deadline (March 2017)

Equal Pay Day
external image 200px-Dollar_Sign.svg.pngGo here for information about Equal Pay Day, the day each year when wages for women finally catch up with men's earnings from the previous year.

f.) The 1973 Supreme Court case, Roe v. Wade


The Supreme Court Case Roe v. Wade struck down state laws banning abortion on the basis that they violated the right to privacy, which the court had established in Griswold v. Connecticut. This was a major victory for the feminist movement, which is committed to reproductive freedom. Roe v Wade is one of the most controversial Supreme Court decisions in modern U.S. history. After the ruling, an active anti-abortion movement developed that has since tried to overturn the decision.

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Outside of the Roe vs. Wade trial


For more information on Roe v. Wade, see PBS's Thirty Years of Roe v. Wade.

external image Red_apple.jpgprimary_sources.PNGClick here for a lesson plan on "Passionate Politics: How the Modern Women's Movement Changed America.

Multimedia.pngFor a video on Roe v. Wade, click here
Additional video that dives into the legal details of Roe.



Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 12.56.56 PM.pngBabe Didrikson Zaharis
Babe Didrikson, 1932.
Babe Didrikson, 1932.


Mildred (Babe) Didrikson Zaharis was America's greatest multisport star, includling track and field (shot put, hurdles, high jump), baseball and golf. Click here for her Records of Achievement in different sports.

Biography icon for wiki.pngDidrikson Was a Woman Ahead of Her Time from ESPN Sports Century.

See also
  • Babe Didrikson Zaharis Legacy Fades, New York Times, June 25, 2011.
  • Babe Didrikson from National Women's History Museum
  • Didrikson qualified for all five individual women's track and field events in 1932, but was allowed to compete in only three of them (see picture on this page).

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Babe Didrikson, 50 Greatest Athletes from YouTube.

Remembering a 'Babe' Sports Fans Shouldn't Forget, a podcast from NPR.

primary_sources.PNGThis Life I've Led: My Autobiography from Internet Archive.

200pxrainbow flag.svg.pngMe, Babe, and Prying Open the Lesbian Closets of Women Athletes from On The Issues Magazine, June 2012.

Click for a link that addresses the lack of acceptance of black women within the feminist movement During the 1960s in particular, the feminist movement lacked a significant amount of racial diversity and often disregarded the issues of black women. Black women received double discrimination for being both female and black, and were often victim to rape by racist white men.


200pxrainbow flag.svg.png The Daughters of Bilitis and Barbara Gittings
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Barbara Gittings picketing in 1965


  • First formed in 1955, The Daughters of Bilitis was the first U.S. lesbian rights organization.
  • The organization utilized this era's rhetoric of equality and integration in order to pursue its own agenda of challenging homophobia and sexism within the U.S.
  • In 1956 they began publishing The Ladder, which was the first nationally distributed lesbian publication in the U.S.
  • One of their most notable members was Barbara Gittings, one of the organizers of the New York chapter. To read more on Gittings' involvement with the movement, click here.
  • Barbara was a public activist who worked closely with other protesters in picket lines to bring attention to government employment bans on homosexual citizens.
  • On July 4th, 1965, a group of gay rights activist assembled outside of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. They held picket signs that demanded for legislation that would secure LGBTQ rights. Pickets like this one took place across the U.S. as all different groups including African Americans, women and LGBTQ citizens fought for equal rights.
  • Lesbian organizations at the time received backlash from other feminist groups. Organizations like NOW often times ignored lesbians and disallowed them from joining thinking that they would undermine their own feminist movement.
  • For lesbians this meant facing the burden of both heterosexism and sexism within the U.S.
  • However, both lesbian and feminist movements played a critical role in social transformations of the era.

  • To read more about lesbian feminism, click here.
  • To learn more about The Daughters of Bilitis, read Marcia Gallo's book entitled, Different Daughters: A History of The Daughters of Bilitis and the Rise of the Lesbian Rights Movement.
  • Podcast of the "Lavender Menace" and the "homophobic rift" in second wave feminism that led to lesbian feminism in the 1970s.






[[#_ftnref1|[1]]] Betty Friedan. Retrieved May 3, 2007, from National Women's Hall of Fame Web site: http://www.greatwomen.org/women.php?action=viewone&id=62

[[#_ftnref2|[2]]] Glorian Steinem. Retrieved May 3, 2007, from Soapbox Inc: Speakers Who Speak Out Web site: http://www.soapboxinc.com/bio_steinem.html

[[#_ftnref3|[3]]] The Pill. Retrieved May 3, 2007, from PBS Online Web site: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/pill/timeline/timeline2.htm

[[#_ftnref4|[4]]] About NOW. Retrieved May 3, 2007, from National Organization for Women Web site: http://www.now.org/organization/info.html
[[#_ftnref5|[5]]] Roe v. Wade. Retrieved May 3, 2007, from MSN Encarta Web site: http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761595572/Roe_v_Wade.html

"Betty Friedan." Retrieved April 12, 2009 from National Women's Hall of Fame Web site: http://www.greatwomen.org/women.php?action=viewone&id=62
"Gloria Steinem" Retrieved April 12, 2009 from National Women's Hall of Fame Web site: http://greatwomen.org/women.php?action=viewone&id=150
"American Experience: The Pill Timeline." Retrieved April12, 2009 from the PBS Website: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/pill/timeline/index.html

New Sources:

Teacher's Guide: Suggestions for Active Learning (2002). Retrieved 3 April 2011 from PBS's site: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/pill/tguide/index.html.
Timeline: The Pill (2002). Retrieved 3 April 2011 from PBS's site: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/pill/timeline/index.html.
Margaret Sanger (2001). Retrieved 3 April 2011 from PBS's site: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/pill/peopleevents/p_sanger.html,
Katharine McCormick (2001). Retrieved 3 April 2011 from PBS's site: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/pill/peopleevents/p_mccormick.html.
Gregory Pincus (2001). Retrieved 3 April 2011 from PBS's site: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/pill/peopleevents/p_pincus.html.
Sisters of '77 Lesson Plan (2005). Retrieved 3 April 2011 from independentlens's site: http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/sistersof77/edu_1.pdf.
NOW--Who We Are (2011), Retrieved 3 April 2011 from the National Organization for Women's site: http://www.now.org/history/history.html.
Thirty Years of Roe v. Wade (2011). Retrieved 3 April 2011 from PBS's site: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/extra/features/jan-june03/abortion.html.
Passionate Politics: How the Modern Women's Movement Changed America. retrieved 3 April 2011 from: http://monadnockstories.org/curriculum/passionate_politics/Passion_and_Politics.htm.
Roe v. Wade (2011). Retrieved 3 April 2011 from CBS's site: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=2380314n.
http://www.nps.gov/pwro/collection/website/rosie.htm
http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/statutes/titlevii.cfm
New images obtained from Wikimedia Commons.