Legislative Action Chair
March is Women’s History Month! To celebrate, NOW GR has put together a special series of articles written by women, about women, and will be showcased each week for the month of March. To kick-start this series, the following timeline highlights the history of women’s rights and specific historical women in the United States. It is jam-packed with information you don’t want to miss, so read to the very end to become more educated, enlightened, and empowered by the fight for women’s rights, led by incredibly brave and intelligent self-identified women!
1600’s – 1800’s
During this time, African women experienced high rates of rape, forced sterilization, and forced separation of families. Further, in a “population control effort”, thousands of Native American women are raped and murdered.
Women have nearly no legal rights.
The first Women’s Rights Convention is held in Seneca Falls, New York. Elizabeth Cady Stanton writes “The Declaration of Sentiments”, and essentially sets the agenda for the future of women’s rights activism.
The first ever National Women’s Rights Convention is held in Worcester, Massachusetts. Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass are among the hundreds of attendees, and a strong alliance is formed with the Abolitionist Movement.
Sojourner Truth, a former slave, delivers the memorable and momentous speech, “Ain’t I a woman?”, at a women’s rights convention in Akron, Ohio.
U.S. Congress passes the Married Woman’s Property Bill, which now allows women the right to sue, be sued, make contracts, and inherit and bequeath property.
During the Civil War, efforts for the suffrage movement are temporarily put on pause during the Civil War when women instead begin to put their energies toward the war effort.
The American Equal Rights Association, an organization dedicated to the goal of suffrage for all people regardless of gender or race, is created by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Parker Pillsbury publish the first edition of The Revolution. The infamous motto, “Men, their rights and nothing more; women, their rights and nothing less!”, originally came from this periodical.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony found the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), a radical organization with the goal of achieving the vote through a Constitutional amendment, as well as push for other woman’s rights issues.
The periodical, The Woman’s Journal, is founded and edited by three women’s rights activists: Mary Livermore, Lucy Stone, and Henry Blackwell.
Victoria Woodhull goes before the House Judiciary Committee to argue for women’s voting rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.
Many women try to vote illegally in the presidential election and are either turned away, arrested, and/or brought to trial, including Susan B. Anthony and Sojourner Truth.
Due to the efforts of Abigail Scott Duniway, Oregon passes legislation granting rights to married women to be able to start and operate their own business, control the money they earn, and the right to protect their property if the husband leaves.
The “Declaration of Rights for Women” is presented to the Vice President during the official Centennial program at Independence Hall in Philadelphia by Susan B. Anthony and Matilda Gage.
In an effort to promote women’s advancement in society, the National Council of Women in the United States is established.
NWSA and AWSA merge and the National American Woman Suffrage Association is formed, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton becomes its first president.
Mary Church Terrell, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, and Frances E.W. Harper among others found the he National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs.
The Women’s Political Union organizes the first suffrage parade in New York City.
La Liga Femenil Mexicanista (The League of Mexican Women) is founded by Jovita Idár, and is its first president. She also founded La Cruz Blanca (The White Cross) to provide care to the wounded on both sides during the Mexican Revolution.
Women’s suffrage is supported for the first time at the national level by a major political party: Theodore Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party.
Jeanette Rankin is the first woman elected to the House of Representatives.
President Woodrow Wilson states his support for a federal woman suffrage amendment.
American women win full voting rights on August 26.
1930’s – 1940’s
White women take over men’s jobs in the public sector during WWII. During this time, over 100,000 Japanese Americans are imprisoned in internment camps, and many of the women suffered forced sterilization. (When the war ends and men begin returning home, women leave their jobs and are “sent back” into the home.)
Amelia Earhart becomes the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.
Frances Perkins is appointed as Secretary of Labor by President Roosevelt, and is the first woman ever to be a member of a presidential cabinet.
Alicia Montemayor is the first woman in the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) to hold a national office originally not designated for women.
Christine Jorgensen is the first American whose sex reassignment surgery became public. Her surgery caused an international sensation, and for many, she was the first visible transsexual in the media.
Rosa Parks boards local bus on December 1st after a long work day in Montgomery, Alabama; sat in the section reserved for white people only; and refused to give up her seat. The Montgomery Bus Boycott is soon organized to challenge transportation segregation laws.
In San Francisco, the first lesbian rights organization in the U.S. is established, called the Daughters of Bilitis.
Ellen Ochoa, the first Hispanic female astronaut, served a mission on the Discovery Shuttle.
The Civil Rights Movement, the nation’s first sexual revolution, the infamous Stonewall Riots, and rise of the Second Wave of Feminism all occur during the ‘60s.
The Pill is federally approved for contraceptive use in the United States, allowing women for the first time ever full control over their fertility and sexual freedom.
Transgender pioneer Virginia Prince published Transvestia, one of the first transgender magazines.
Congress passes the Equal Pay Act.
Trans women take a stand against discrimination and police harassment during the Compton Cafeteria Riots.
Pauline Small is the first Cheyenne Indian woman to be elected in the Crow Tribe to serve as vice-secretary of the tribal council.
Betty Friedan founds The National Organization for Women (NOW).
Seminole Betty Mae Jumper, the first of the Florida Seminoles to graduate high school, was the first woman to serve as a Seminole leader when elected head of the tribal council.
During the Stonewall Riots, trans women including Sylvia Rivera and Marcia P. Johnson are among those who clash with police in what is commonly acknowledged to be the birth of the modern LGBT movement.
Unmarried persons are granted the right to possess contraception on the same basis as married couples.
Title IX of the Education Amendments bans sex discrimination in public schools resulting in the substantial increased enrollment of women in athletic programs and professional schools.
Katherine Graham of The Washington Post becomes first woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company.
In the infamous Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade on January 22, the landmark decision is made to legalize the right to access safe and legal abortion.
Congress prohibits housing discrimination against women.
The Pregnancy and Discrimination Act is created, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.
Congress passed the Hyde Amendment that banned all abortion funding from comprehensive health care services provided by the federal government, disproportionately affecting poor women and women of color.
New York Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Renee Richards, professional tennis player and trans woman who fought in a case against the U.S. Tennis Association to gain the right to play professional tennis as a woman.
Jeane Kirkpatrick is the first woman to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, and Sandra Day O’Connor becomes the first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Global Gag Rule policy is established, stipulating that international non-governmental organizations receiving financial assistance from the U.S. cannot use U.S. funds to inform the public for the need to make safe abortion care available, provide legal abortion services, or give advice on where to get an abortion. This policy can either be established or rescinded with each new president.
Congress proclaims March as National Women’s History Month.
Wilma Mankiller became the first woman to be elected chief of the Cherokee Nation. She was later awarded with The Medal of Freedom, the highest honor a civilian can receive.
Dr. Mae Jemison, American physician, is the first Black woman to travel in space.
Cheryl Chase founded the Intersex Society of North America (ISNA), which creates and spreads awareness and offers support to Intersex people.
President Bill Clinton appoints Janet Reno to serve as the first woman U.S. Attorney General.
France Anne Córdova becomes the first woman – and the youngest person – to hold the position of Chief Scientist for NASA.
Ada E. Deer of the Menominee tribe served as head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs from 1993 to 1997.
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) tightens federal penalties for sex offenders, funds services for victims of rape and domestic violence, and provides for special training of police office.
The National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF) is founded by female Asian Pacific Islander activists, focusing on the issues and concerns of API women and girls in broader social justice movements.
SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective is formed to ensure reproductive justice and securing the human rights of all, especially Indigenous women and women of color.
Madeleine K. Albright, former U.N. Ambassador, becomes the first woman U.S. Secretary of State.
Coretta Scott King, widow of Martin Luther King, Jr., calls on the civil rights community to join the struggle against homophobia.
Melinda Whiteway was appointed co-chair of the National Lesbian and Gay Law Association on October 17th, making her the first self-identified transgendered person to co-chair a national gay and lesbian organization.
Hillary Rodham Clinton becomes the only former First Lady ever elected to the United States Senate.
Linda Chavez is nominated to Secretary of Labor and is the first Hispanic woman to hold a U.S. Cabinet position.
Kenyan environmental activist Wangari Maathai is awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace, becoming the first black African woman to win a Nobel Prize.
Condoleezza Rice becomes the first African-American woman appointed to Secretary of State.
Trans woman Kim Coco Iwamoto becomes highest-elected trans official in the U.S., elected to the Hawaii Board of Education.
Nancy Pelosi becomes the first woman elected to Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Hillary Clinton becomes the first and only First Lady to run for president.
President Obama signs the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law on January 29th.
Sonia Sotomayor becomes the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice.
Under the new Affordable Care Act, health insurance companies must now cover birth control with no co-pays.
New HUD rules go into effect on March 5th barring employment discrimination against gay and transgender people.
Michigan State Rep. Lisa Brown, used the word “vagina” in a speech on the house floor, sparking outrage from Rep. Mike Callton who claimed the use of the word was offensive and vulgar.
In June, Texas senator Wendy Davis rose to national prominence during a 13-hour filibuster protesting SB5, a bill that would further restrict abortion access in Texas.
The Stand Against Violence and Empower (SAVE) Native Women Act was introduced to Congress on February 15th. The purpose of the bill is to combat violent crime against Indian women, including crimes of sex trafficking, domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and dating violence.
Trans Timeline (PDF)
National Women’s History Project
Daily Kos: Native Americans
Daily Kos: Asian and Asian Pacific Americans