Review of Women’s Rights and Roles in the US


Review of Women’s Roles

From a societal perspective, women (in the United States) tend to have a nurturing and care giving nature. Women as a general rule are thought to be warm and fostering the care of those around them, perhaps in part due to their biological roles as mothers, as well as the history of being housewives, and homemakers.

It is felt by some that society’s expected role of women has been part of the problem. Females were supposed to get married and stay home with the kids. This stereotyping occurred even up into the 1960’s and 1970’s. During the 1970’s decade women were offered better jobs, but the pay was still less than their male counterparts. The late 70’s and early 80’s held some changes. Women were more likely to attend college and started securing jobs as doctors, who had been held by men in the past.

Additionally, women also make up the largest number of workers in a protected class. In 1987, 60% of working women were responsible for being self-supporting financially. Also, at that time 3 out of 5 were the head of the household. To get a better understanding of where we are today, the past needs to be reviewed and understood as well.

Women’s Right to Vote

In July of 1848, it was originally suggested for women to vote at the Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention. However, the actual ability for women voting did not pass until many years later on August 26, 1920, over seventy years later. This right for women was not easily obtained either. Women’s parties had to work long and hard to earn this right, including marches, picketing the White House, rallies, and at times even having to get arrested to promote their cause.

In the early 1900’s things were changing, including World War I. During this war, women become more involved in outside jobs in an effort to give aid and assistance, including taking on jobs in plants and factories. They were contributing to the war cause and to the home front as well. With this, women leaders, such as Carrie Chapman Catt from the National American Woman Suffrage Association, took effort to ensure that the President Wilson and Congress noted women’s efforts and recognized their contributions with equal rights in the political arena. On a vote of 304 to 90 the House of Representatives passed the proposal to amend the Constitution stating:

“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by an States on Account of sex. The Congress shall have the power by appropriate legislation to enforce the provisions of this article.”

This Amendment was approved by the Senate in 1919. It then went on to the states to get passed. The state of Tennessee on August 18, 1920 became the 36th state to pass the Amendment. It was a very close vote and legislator Harry Burn, from Tennessee was the deciding vote to approve the Amendment (at his mother’s request supposedly). Some of those against the Amendment tried to delay or change the Amendment going through, but this did not work. Therefore, on August 26, 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment become official law and women were able to vote in the upcoming elections that Fall.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Many years later, Title VII was introduced to the Civil Rights act in 1964. Its purpose was to eliminate discriminatory practices for reasons relating to race, creed, color, and also gender. The CRA of 1866 regulated anyone who employed someone else, and has at least fifteen employees. While there are some exemption of the Title VII of the CRA of 1964 (including Indian tribes, government-owned companies, etc), it, “applies to all firms or their agents engaged in an industry affecting commerce that employ 15 or more employees for each working day in each of 20 or more weeks in the current or preceding calendar year.”

However, the first ruling relating to a female sexual harassment case didn’t come until 1986. The case was Meritor Savings Bank vs. Vinson. Vinson won her case on both counts. This was the first ruling from the United States Supreme Court regarding sexual advances being classified to a “hostile work environment.” In addition, their ruling stated that this was discriminatory based on gender and was covered under Title VII. This was victory on many fronts, and did help to shape and improve women’s roles even today.

Presently, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines sexual harassment as, Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when:

1. Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment.

2. Submission or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individual, or Such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.

Why We Should Remember

Great strides have been made over the decades, but they were not easy for women to obtain years ago, and should not be forgotten. The fight that those women in the past went through for these rights is important, and did help to greatly improve women’s standings in society as a whole; those rights have helped pave the way in many aspects. Future generations should be aware of what generations before had to overcome. Only by understanding the past difficulties, can today’s generation fully appreciate those obstacles, and not take them for granted.


Bennett-Alexander, Dawn D. and Hartman, Laura P. (2007). Employment Law for
Business. (5th Ed). New York: McGraw-Hill Irwin
Sexual Harassment – Case Studies – The Law at Work retrieved on April 28, 2010 at