August 26, 1970: The Women’s Strike for Equality takes place. The strike was held on the fifty year anniversary of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, giving women the right to vote. The strike was sponsored by the National Organization of Women (NOW) which was founded in 1966 by Betty Friedan and 48 others. Betty Jameson Armistead, historian, sent a letter to Friedan and others proposing a strike. Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique, and leader of the feminist movement, planned the event to coincide with the landmark decision and highlight the issues of the day. These included lack of equal pay for the same job, regardless of the passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, as well as numerous other employment inequities.
Women were paid about 59 cents per dollar earned by men for similar jobs. They were also forbidden to enter certain occupations and made up only 5-10% of college admissions. Sandra Day O’Connor, future Supreme Court Justice graduated at the top of her class at Stanford Law School and yet was only offered secretarial positions after passing the bar. There were 43 states which limited the amount of weight a woman could pick up on the job at 25 pounds (apparently not necessary if a mother was carrying a small child and his/her accoutrements). There were laws in some states forbidding women from obtaining credit cards, making wills, or even owning property in her own name. Some states prohibited women from sitting on juries.
Friedan first proposed the strike to NOW, but they were hesitant, fearful of failure and setting themselves up for mockery. Friedan did not back down and spent months organizing. The planning was not smooth and the group was clearly divided between younger “radical” and older “bourgeoisie” women. Friedan never gave up even after asking New York City to close Fifth Avenue and being refused. Around 5 PM, women began to gather – this allowed working women to participate. About 20,000 women gathered at the main event in New York City, but other smaller protests were held across the country.
Reactions were mixed. A National Celebration of Womanhood was held in response with many women dressed in frilly dresses and doing “women’s work” to support traditional roles. Even national news coverage was derogatory, including Eric Sevareid, who called the women a “band of braless bubbleheads”. Women were upset at the media, claiming bias and a condescending attitude. The women were portrayed as angry and their message and cause of their distress was ignored. President Nixon supported the women and issued a proclamation calling the day to be known as “Women’s Rights Day”. Even with mixed reviews, the day’s event were seen as a watershed moment and brought the cause to the nation’s attention.
Men weren’t really the enemy; they were fellow victims suffering from an outmoded masculine mystique that made them feel unnecessarily inadequate when there were no bears to kill.
A woman has got to be able to say, and not feel guilty, ‘Who am I, and what do I want out of life?’
Protectiveness has often muffled the sound of doors closing against women.
The only way for a woman, as for a man, to find herself, to know herself as a person, is by creative work of her own. There is no other way. – all from Betty Friedan
Also on this day: The Terminal Man – In 1988, Merhan Karrimi Nasseri hit the airport.
Explosive – in 1883, Krakatau began to erupt.
Negligence – In 1928, the first negligence case was started.
Big Chuck – In 1966, Charles de Gaulle entered Paris.
Up In Smoke – In 1980, Harvey’s Resort was damaged by a bomb detonation.