10 Things That American Women Could Not Do Before the 1970s

1960 womenIn the 1970s, Irish women could not own their own home or even go to a pub. They could not sit on a jury or refuse to have sex with their husbands. We learned all this in Irish Central’s charming post, “How things have changed – ten things that Irish women could not do in 1970s.” And that made us wonder, what were things like for women in America before the ’70s?

So while we still have a long way to go to secure total equality for women, let’s take a moment to celebrate how far we’ve come. Before the 1970s, an American woman could not:

1. Keep her job if she was pregnant.

Until the Pregnancy Discrimination Act in 1978, women could be fired from their workplace for being pregnant.

2. Report cases of sexual harassment in the workplace.

The first time that a court recognized sexual harassment in the workplace was in 1977 and it wasn’t until 1980 that sexual harassment was officially defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

3. Be acknowledged in the Boston Marathon.

Women could not don their running shoes until 1972!

4. Get a credit card.

Until the Equal Credit Opportunity Act in 1974, women were not able to apply for credit. In 1975, the first women’s bank was opened.

5. Refuse to have sex with her husband.

The mid 70s saw most states recognize marital rape and in 1993 it became criminalized in all 50 states. Nevertheless, marital rape is still often treated differently to other forms of rape in some states even today.

6. Compete as a boxer in the Olympics.

It wasn’t until the 2012 London Olympics that women could compete in boxing in the Olympics. This was marked with the amazing victory by Britain’s Nicola Adams.

7. Get a divorce with some degree of ease.

Before the No Fault Divorce law in 1969, spouses had to show the faults of the other party, such as adultery, and could easily be overturned by recrimination.

8. Celebrate International Women’s Day.

In 1980 President Carter declared one week in March to be National Women’s History Week, including International Women’s Day on March 8th.

9. Have a legal abortion in most states.

The Roe v. Wade case in 1973 protected a woman’s right to abortion until viability.

10. Read Ms. Magazine!

Ms. was launched as a sample inset in New York Magazine in 1971.

Photo courtesy of thstrand via Creative Commons 2.0.



    1. Women still get raped (under age) when in new situations and around people who have a more ‘rich’ background and whom can trace back events of the past within their family immediately. That is what gives rapist power; the fact that previous victims stop being scared and allow for a new flow of people to repeat. And there is no stopping, only saying it’s ok and empty feelings of overlapping betrayal and pain. I’m Forced to share everything about myself to people and believe everyone who is above me is my friend. meanwhile annoying races and sub cultures of people fight anything in their way to say it is because of them rapist and victims have fun!? And people feel shame in ways unimaginable to me

    2. Aneita Seyfrief says:

      No. 4 is incorrect. My family is not rich and my mother had her own credit card before 1970.

      • Cher DeLancey says:

        She was the exception, Aneita. I had to fight my heart out, after my husband left me and my children. I had a full-time job! We had a network of women who helped other women get cards.

      • 1. Get a credit card: In the 1960s, a bank could refuse to issue a credit card to an unmarried woman; even if she was married, her husband was required to cosign. As recently as the 1970s, credit cards in many cases were issued with only a husband’s signature. It was not until the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974 that it became illegal to refuse a credit card to a woman based on her gender.

      • My sister who was married and the only one working, had to have her husband’s signature. In the 70s.

      • Megan Zurawicz says:

        Then she was a rare exception. Are you certain no man cosigned for it? Far more common is the story of single women – even fairly wealthy single women, with high paying jobs – being denied credit cards. I can cite several people of my own acquaintance for this.

      • Max johnson says:

        Was it in her name ? My mother had one, as well, but it was not in her name, even though they were divorced.

      • Suzanne Johnson says:

        Number 4 is correct. I lived it. I had to have my husbands permission to use his Sears Credit Card to buy my children’s clothing.

      • Mpls_Me says:

        I do know that women could be supplied with a credit card using their husband’s credit and with their husband’s approval prior to 1970.

      • Donna Crane says:

        You are partly correct. I had 2 credit cards in my own name for 4 years as a working woman. I had no problems and no late payments. I was still working when I married in 1966 and wanted to change my last name on the cards. Both companies cancelled my cards and required I get new ones in my husband’s name, and he had to agree, and sign for the card as if I was a child with no rights of my own.

      • LuAnn Conroy says:

        Not incorrect. I couldn’t get a credit card without my husband’s signature. My friend’s sister had the option of asking her out of work father or her student ex husband to consign a car loan, even though she had a full time, professional job. My mother had credit cards when I was growing up too, but that was because they were really my father’s. Wonder why the name on them was ” Mrs. John Smith”?

      • I doubt it was in her own name based on her own creditworthiness.

      • You didn’t specifically have to be rich to get a credit card before the equal credit act, however in general, a married woman was not allowed to have credit in her name unless it was established before she was married. It was better or worse depending on where you lived. (big cities were more likely to allow it than small towns.)

      • Vivian Kim says:

        She probably had to have a man cosign for her.

      • Leslie Jaszczak says:

        At the very least it was very difficult for married women to get credit in their own names. I’m not sure when my mother got her first card, but she always said she established credit when it was extremely difficult – it definitely wouldn’t have been later than the early 70s.

      • I also had a credit card before 1970. I did get a letter from State Farm insurance company in 1968 cancelling my car insurance as they said I was living with a man and had bad morals. I wasn’t, and when I asked if I was what does bad morals have to do with my driving? They said they showed women with bad morals were bad drivers. Wish I would have keep that letter. They offer to rieinstate my insurance, but I just went to another company.

        • omg, i wish you could have shown us that letter! What a horrible thing to have happen to you, or any woman. We know it could never happen to a man.

      • SYLVIA R WALTERS says:

        Possibly it had something to do with where you live. I was in Pennsylvania, and a married woman could not get her own credit card in 1975.

        • Samantha says:

          I was issued a credit card by my bank without requesting it in Pennsylvania in 1969… when I was a ten-year-old girl.

      • M Keefer says:

        She may have had a card with her name on it, but the account was probably in her husband’s name. I remember being offered credit cards and applying for them with just my financial information. When the card came, the account was in my husband’s name. This was true for store cards and bank cards. It wasn’ t until about 1986 that Discover issued me a credit card account in my name only.

      • Yes, it’s a generalization that before 1974, women COULD NOT get credit cards. But it’s a fact that it was much more difficult for women to get credit cards before 1974, and in many cases it did move beyond difficult and into impossible.


      • It probably had your father’s name on it. When l applied for a credit card after graduating college, having a full-time job as only steady income in marriage, the only way l could get a credit card was to put my husband’s name on card!

      • Katy Sheridan says:

        No 4 is true enough. When I graduated from college with a teaching degree and secured a good job in suburban Chicago I attempted to get a credit card in my name. I was not allowed to do so without my father’s signature to back it up. My father lived over 800 miles away and I was employed. That stung mightily. I never shopped at Gimbel’s again. So women could not get credit cards on their own at that time. Someone male had to vouch for them.

      • Anonymous says:

        If your mother was married at the time she applied she had to disclose that on the application and her spouse’s credit record was probably used to determine credit worthiness even if she is the one who initiated the credit request. Sorry if this disappoints you. As a relatively recent widow I learned this when I tried to drop my husband’s name from the credit cards we had held for many years.

        • Very true. After my dad died some of credit cards were cancelled because he was the “primary.” My mom had to apply for new ones at the age of 77!

      • Kara Le Treize says:

        Your mother was exceptional. She had access to credit that was not typical of most women’s experience at that time. I remember reading articles in MS magazine in the 70s that explained how to get credit, and advocated support for ECOA.

      • Susan Garrett says:

        It was technically possible but very difficult. You either had to prove a steady, permanent income of your own (such as being a single career woman) or have the card cosigned by your husband or father. Very often the application was denied. I know, I was there.

      • Joanne Gareau says:

        It happened to my friend in N J – she could not get a credit card unless it was in her husband’s name.

      • Iris Riley says:

        A joint credit card with her husband, maybe. I was surprised when, in 1970, after the divorce, I was no longer able to have the credit cards that I had had jointly while married. It is true, I was there, I remember it. Everything a married woman did, she practically had to have her husband’s consent.

      • Ricka Smith says:

        It is not incorrect to say that it was often not possible for women to get credit – in fact, your mother was an exception rather than the rule, especially if she was not married.

      • In which state are you talking about. #4 is correct for me as far as Massachusetts was concerned.

      • Joyce Lieberman says:

        Probably on her husband’s credit and given to her with his permission.

      • Your mother probably had a credit card on an account opened by or with your father. That is how it was it was usually done. It wasn’t that women couldn’t have or use credit cards. They just couldn’t open new accounts in their own names, or using their own credit.

      • Kristy Sermersheim says:

        I couldn’t get credit for a car in 1972 in my own name. the Credit union told me my husband had to sign. I didn’t want that and the person on the phone, you either can have him sign and get a car or not have him sign and not get a car …

      • She would have one as a second card of her husband’s. It would not have been in her name only.

      • Adele Abrams says:

        I believe you could get a card on your husband’s account but it was difficult if not impossible for women to qualify for a credit card if they were unmarried or divorced.

      • I agree. I had a Famous Barr credit card in 1965. My mother had a Libson credit card in her own name.

      • Megan Kasten says:

        It’s definitely an oversimplification. She may have had to have a male cosignor…that was the most common discrimination. Women were also given lower credit limits for equal incomes, and sometimes denied credit entirely.

      • Usually, single women could apply for credit without much problem, but a married woman’s card was often put in her husband’s name, or both names were on the card.

      • Maureen Taylor says:

        You could get one because of your husband but you could not get one on your own.

      • Gwynne Chesher says:

        Don’t know how! I was divorced in 1978, and had a good court-ordered income as child support and a job. I applied to every credit card company and they all turned me down because I was a single woman.

    3. Freida Hasek says:

      I was forced to quit my job with the St. Louus Board of Education in 1968 because I was pregnant. The Missouri Department of Employment listed me as: permanently and totally disabled.
      As a Social Worker I had client who had to get their “husbands” permission to have their tubes tied.

    4. College women, female teachers were required to wear dresses skirts to class.
      If the woman was a full time student and her husband was not, you couldn’t live in married student housing.
      Businesses could openly discriminate in wage agreement.
      There were few schools or towns that offered organized women/girls sports. Thank title 9.
      There were many occupations where women were excluded. Firefighters , police, construction. Women-if they worked- were expected to be teachers, nurses- who also wore skirts- hairdressers or secretaries.
      That’s just a few of things that went on that I can remember.

    5. 11. Marry the partner of their choice, unless their partner was a cisgender man. Marriage equality did not exist at the federal level until 2015.
      12. Be protected against discrimination on the basis of ability. The ADA did not exist prior to the 1990s.
      13. Serve openly in the military if she was a transgender woman. This discrimination was not lifted until 2016.
      14. Serve openly in the military if she was not heterosexual. All restrictions were not lifted until the 2010’s.

      So. Many. More. Examples. We need to remember to keep intersectionality in mind when developing these lists. I’m not just a woman.

      • NotJUSTaWoman says:

        The entitlement is breathtaking. You understand women were discriminated against because of our reproductive organs and capacity, right? Women weren’t denied jobs because they wore pink, they were denied jobs because of their female bodies and female organs, and the belief that women “had different brains” that weren’t capable of rational thought. This is offensive and sexist thinking, just as offensive and sexist as you coming here to whine about an article about females in a female-centered magazine being strictly about females.

        None of us are “just women.” Perhaps YOU need to think about your othering use of language there, and why you needed to make an article about women’s rights be about men instead.

    6. Linda Adams says:

      There were two categories of classified ads for jobs in the newspaper:
      Jobs – male
      Jobs – female

      Women couldn’t get hired for those in the first category.

    7. LindaNBCT says:

      Cal Tech first admitted women in 1976. Columbia University was a men’s college way into the 80’s. Last election people devoured Hillary’s choice of attending a women’s college completly bypassing the fact that Barrack graduated from a men’s college.
      Many of these barriers were kicked over by my generation, starting with dresses for school. What I am more proud of is we raised the sons and daughters who are socially skilled enough to allow men and women to work side by side as equals all over the place.

    8. Lyone Fein says:

      Change their name back to their maiden name after getting divorced. . . . . It was *my* mother (and one other woman) who challenged the court’s denial of her petition for reverting back to her maiden name. The case ended up going to the State (of New Hampshire) Supreme Court in 1978 (!) where the lower court’s decision was overturned, and it was ruled that a woman may use any name she chooses at any time as long as it is not for fraudulent purposes. The original case is still on the records as “Moskowitz vs. Moskowitz”. (Ironically.)

    9. Patricia Shafer says:

      In 1962 I worked at Xerox, Syracuse, NY, had to quit when 3 months pregnant, but my husband was a student at Syracuse Univ, we needed my paycheck, so I lied and worked until I was 6 months !!!!

    10. Gloria Sanders says:

      I was living in Texas when I married in 1960 and immediately had no rights at all. I was considered my husband’s chattel. I couldn’t get a loan in my name (I worked in a bank). I couldn’t contract for anything in my name.

    11. Ricka Smith says:

      Prior to 1970, it was common for single women being interviewed for a work position to be asked if they planned to get pregnant, and to be very specific about the method of birth control they were using – if you were single, it was not uncommon to be asked if you were sexually active and if you used birth control.

      • Anne Arsenault says:

        I remember such questions being asked at an interview for a job when I was married. But I could not get a credit card unless my husband signed for it. And he would not give his permission. This was when I had a very good job. Finally American Express gave me a card and I’ve treasured it for years. But I was refused a card when I was working as a professor at a college and the students were being wooed with offers of cards. It was something about a husband’s control. But my father finally got me one.

    12. Marbeth Ramirez says:

      1.I worked alongside pregnant women in the early 60’s. However. Unmarried pregnant women were let go as soon as it became apparent they were pregnant.
      4. I bought a car and my sister and I owned a home by 1964. I was 24 and she was 26.
      Things have changed dramatically since I started working. The wage discrepancy between men and women was much higher than today. In 1958 it was mandatory we wear a girdle, stockings, slip and bra under our clothes. Without air conditioning I used to continuously have a heat rash.
      We’ve come a long way
      However some church’s still won’t allow women in the pulpit, we are anxiously awaiting the election to see if a woman will finally become POTUS, and wages are still unfair. We have a lot of work ahead

    13. I’m Irish and I served Jury duty in the early 1970s. I was young then and I guess they didn’t know I was Irish!!!! Looks like a lot of changes occurred in the 70s.

    14. LizinSR says:

      Couldn’t be an FBI agent either. Found that out at Career Day in 1968. I didn’t really want to be one, but I was extremely angry that it wasn’t allowed!

    15. mary Lynch says:

      I was paying my morgage on my house after a divorce in late 1990’s. Only Discover would give me a card for &500.00. Now even your dog or baby gets an envelope with a credit card in mail

    16. In 1967 I bought a Ford Mustang. Dad accompanied me to the dealership and helped me with paperwork including a loan. I was twenty years old and dad had to co-sign the loan. Three years later I had a good job and made OK money for the time. I had moved out of my parents home and gotten an apartment with my girlfriend. I decided to refinance the car loan, which was popular at the time, so that I would have a bit more money at the end of the month. I went to the same banker and asked for help refinancing. The man (of course) filled out the paperwork and I was getting ready to sign the papers when he said, “And we’ll get your dad to co-sign again.” I said I was over 21 and had a good job and there was no reason to have my dad co-sign. He said, “Well, we just like to be safe, I’ll just have him co-sign again, no problem.” I said I didn’t want him to cosign, I was supporting myself. Mr. Man said, “well it’s just to be safe.” I reached across the desk and picked up all the papers that were mine and started to stand up. I swear to god he said, “And what do you think you are doing young lady?” HA! I said in a very loud voice (it was Friday and there were lots and lots of people in the bank cashing their checks) “There’s a new bank opening on second street, I’m going there.” As I started to walk away from his desk, he stood up and said, “Now let’s not be hasty.” I put the palm of my hand in his face and loudly said, “It’s too late! I’m never banking here again.” I walked out and went to the new bank that had JUST opened up and got the refinancing loan AND switched all my banking to the new bank. About a month later my dad said to me, “I hear you got your car loan refinanced.” HA! The banker and my dad were friends and I guess he had to tell dad all about it. Skunk.

    17. As currently as 2002 I was fired for being pregnant. Of course, it was categorized as a “reduction-in-force” move but after several years of glowing promotions and raises, suddenly I was baggage. The company was self-insured and didn’t want to be exposed to the financial risk of a 40+ pregnancy. It doesn’t matter how right you are, as opposed by a corporate law team, you’re a baby buggy set in the course of a steam train. No way to win.

    18. Paulette Zawadzki says:

      In the 60’s, I owned a car in my name, had my own insurance and had a gas credit card, a Sears card and several accounts at department stores. I wasn’t married until the 70s.

    19. On the flip side you could call the utilities and say I’m Mrs. Whatever and get all the help you needed. Now if a utility is in his name you have to let him call. Not much fun when the power is out.

    20. N Smalley says:

      You have left out very critical issues. Getting birth control, getting your tubes tide without your husband’s consent. Birth control pills were a godsend but try getting contraceptives, without your husband’s consent.

      • Jacquelyn Gardiner says:

        I had gotten my tubes tied in 74 and my husband had to sign a consent. When we applied for a mortgage in 79 I had to prove I had my tubes tied since my income was a factor.

    21. In 1968, I had my first department store credit card. In 1970 I got a Texaco gas card in my name. And when I was married in 1971, we went to Florida on our honeymoon and needed a gas credit card for a car rental! Lucky for my new husband as he only had a Sears card!

    22. Karen Coleman says:

      Try 2016 and become a widow…married many year …all utilities in husbands name…including cell phones….can’t just remove name from anything…have to start over with credit checks for whatever they choose to charge you…it has been a nightmare!

    23. It was common practice in 1965 to issue credit cards (gas and credit) to anyone who was going to graduate from college. This was when it was still legal to send out unsolicited cards. I had Shell, Union 76 and a Visa even before graduation day — they didn’t ask anything about me — just mailed the cards with a nice “welcome” letter.

    24. I had to get my unemployed husbands signature for a library card in 1971 in Texas,

    25. kathryn lustig says:

      Within the past 10 years, I opened my own credit account in our local Macy’s here in Long Island, NY because they insisted that my husband be listed as the primary name on our account, and the one to whom the bills were addressed, and I as “spouse”.

    26. I am almost 82 years old and have smarted all my life from being discounted, excluded and denigrated because I am a woman. Being a “second class citizen” has shaped my life. We were cut back, cut down, and dismissed. I wanting to be in theatre arts or fashion design but birth control was a taboo subject and was not available. I had a normal sex drive, I got pregnant, abortions were illegal. I got married to a boy (the father) even more clueless than I, dropped out of school, in short order had 3 kids, 6 miserable years of marriage, and a divorce. Thanks to my parents for helping me get back on my feet with 3 kids and an ex husband who didn’t feel inclined to share the responsibilities that entailed, I did
      get my teaching credential, and I taught elementary school for 33 years. It was OK, there was a union so there was equal pay for equal work (but few to no women in the higher paying jobs of school
      administration), and all those other restrictions applied around pregnancy and credit cards etc. I spent so many years trying to conform to society’s expectations for women, carried the last name of 3 different men as a result. My present husband (of 32 years) wouldn’t care if I took back my maiden
      name but now it’s just too much trouble. I was a good teacher but it’s not what I dreamed of. This is my story. There’s so much I’ve left out, though.

    27. A. Riedel says:

      Wow, this sucks! I am sharing this with my 9th Grade English classes. We are reading “Of Mice and Men” and examining the treatment of women (Curley’s Wife – no name) in the novel and comparing it to Virginia Woolf’s “Shakespeare’s Sister” essay. I was born in 1971 and I didn’t even realize…

      The best thing about Donald T-Rump and his misogyny is that much much more of this type of garbage will come to the surface. After reading this, and even though I had nothing to do with it, I am embarrassed to be a man.

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