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The Modern Women’s Movement

There were 72 years between the First Woman’s Rights Convention and ratification of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote in 1920. After that long struggle, the Women’s Rights Movement seems to have lost a focal point just as it achieved its great victory. There were, however, important events:

An Equal Rights Amendment was introduced in 1923. Alice Paul, the leader of the National Women’s Party, read a draft version on the steps of the First Presbyterian Church in Seneca Falls, since the Wesleyan Chapel, site of The First Women’s Rights Convention had all but vanished. (It would be saved by the Women’s Rights National Historical Park 57 years later.)

Information on birth control became available through the efforts of Margaret Sanger, a public health nurse. She advocated a woman’s control over a decision about motherhood. A debate that continues in many forms today.

The Modern Women’s Movement regained momentum from two significant events:

President Kennedy created the Commission on the Status of Women under Eleanor Roosevelt.

Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique, which became an immediate bestseller and galvanized a generation of Feminists.

By 1964, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex, race, religion or national origin. In 1966, The National Organization for Women, NOW, was formed to advocate civil rights for women. Young women, already active in the civil rights movement, supported it. In 1972, Title IX of the Education Codes became law. This granted equal access to higher education and professional schools for all, but it is probably best known for its impact on women’s sports. The Equal Rights Amendment was reintroduced in 1972, but never was ratified. Many political leaders saw the ERA as controversial, and after a decade of debate it was still short of ratification.

The Women’s Movement has marked modern milestones without the ERA. Although there is evidence that barriers to advancement still exist – a “Glass Ceiling” – more women enter leadership roles in business, the professions and politics each year.