Today in Feminist History: Long Overdue Developments Regarding Equality for Women (June 9, 1970)

Today in Feminist History is our daily recap of the major milestones and minor advancements that shaped women’s history in the U.S.—from suffrage to Shirley Chisholm and beyond. These posts were written by, and are presented in homage to, our late staff historian and archivist, David Dismore.

June 9, 1970: Two long overdue developments today regarding equality for women, one in regard to an Executive Order by a former President, and another about a Task Force appointed last year by the current Chief Executive. 

PHOTO: The President’s Task Force on Women’s Rights and Responsibilities. The Task Force was chaired by Virginia R. Allan, and the report was signed by Elizabeth Athanasakos, Ann R. Blackham, P. Dee Boersma, Evelyn Cunningham, Ann Ida Gannon, Vera Glaser, Dorothy Haener, Patricia Hutar, Katherine B. Massenburg, William C. Mercer, Alan Simpson and Evelyn E. Whitlow.

Though it certainly took awhile, guidelines have finally been issued specifying what kinds of sex discrimination in the workplace were barred by President Johnson’s Executive Order issued on October 13, 1967. The Order required equal opportunity and equal treatment of women by contractors and subcontractors when they do business with the Federal Government, but it didn’t say exactly what constituted illegal treatment.

The new guidelines were issued by the Labor Department at a White House briefing, and ban a number of common practices. Newspaper “Help Wanted” ads may no longer specify whether the employer is looking to fill the position with a man or a woman, unless it can be shown that gender is a “bona fide occupational qualification” for the job. It is also now illegal to penalize women for taking time off to give birth, or to bar mothers of young children from being hired unless fathers of young children are similarly banned. Specific job classifications may no longer be made off-limits to women, and separate seniority lists based on sex are unlawful. Enforcement can begin immediately, and will be the responsibility of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance. 

Unfortunately, establishing these guidelines is the only part of the report by the President’s Task Force on Women’s Rights and Responsibilities that President Nixon has accepted. The report itself was completed and submitted on December 15th, but was suppressed by the White House until today, though some parts of it have leaked out. 

The Task Force, announced with great fanfare by President Nixon on October 1st of last year, and headed by Virginia R. Allan, gathered information about sex discrimination in the U.S., and made recommendations about how to end it in a report entitled “A Matter of Simple Justice.”

In a cover letter accompanying the report and sent to the President, Nixon was asked to use his influence on behalf of “the more than half our citizens who are women and who are now denied their full legal and Constitutional rights.” The Task Force noted that “an abiding concern for home and children” should not cut women off from “the freedom to choose the role in society to which their interest, education, and training entitle them.” The letter also said that:

“The United States, as it approaches its 200th anniversary, lags behind other enlightened and indeed some newly emerging countries, in the role ascribed to women.” 

Among other things, the Task Force recommended establishing a permanent Office of Women’s Rights and Responsibilities, whose Director would report directly to the President, passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, having the President send a special message to Congress calling for new laws against gender bias, and increased assistance in regard to child care for women who work outside the home.

Coincidentally, the results of a 56-question survey about workplace discrimination were released today by the American Association of University Women. Of the 4,173 women and 3,001 spouses and male workplace colleagues who returned the surveys, 84 percent of women and 77 percent of the men said that they believed women still suffer from discrimination in the workplace. Sixty per cent of the men, but only 43 percent of the women, still think that a woman’s prime role is that of wife and mother.

Clearly, even as the 50th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment approaches, a lot of work still needs to be done to achieve full equality for women.


David Dismore is the archivist for the Feminist Majority Foundation. His journey from would-be weather forecaster to full-time feminist began with the powerful impression made by a photo and a few paragraphs about the suffragists in his high school history textbook; years later, he had his first encounter with NOW—in which he carefully peeked in a window before opening the door to be sure men were allowed. He was eventually active in the ERA extension campaign of 1978, embarked on a cross-country bikeathon for it in 1982 and even worked for pioneers Toni Carabillo and Judith Meuli.