Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court Justice:

“I think about how much we owe to the women who went before us – legions of women, some known but many more unknown. I applaud the bravery and resilience of those who helped all of us – you and me – to be here today.”

The Other Tea Party that Launched a Revolution

The Women’s Rights Movement had its start on a sweltering summer day in upstate New York, when a young housewife and mother, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, was invited to tea with four women friends. Their conversation turned to the limitations that still remained on women under America’s new democracy. While the American Revolution, fought just 70 years earlier, was waged to win freedom from tyranny, women had gained little if any freedoms. And the friends agreed, that women should play a more active role in this new republic.

Within two days of their afternoon tea together on July 13, 1848, this small group of women had picked a date for their convention, found a suitable location, and placed a small announcement in the Seneca County Courier. They called it “A convention to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of woman.” The gathering would take place at the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls on July 19 and 20, 1848.

Today we are living the legacy of that afternoon conversation. ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTY years after a friendly tea party, we are looking at the massive changes these women set in motion when they daringly agreed to convene the world’s first Women’s Rights Convention.

A HISTORY OF WOMEN’S RIGHTS IN THE UNITED STATES

1769 – American colonial laws were based on the English common law, which said, “By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in the law. The very being and legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated into that of her husband under whose wing and protection she performs everything.”

1839 – The first state (Mississippi) grants women the right to hold property in their own name, with their husbands’ permission.

1866The 14th Amendment is passed by Congress (ratified by the states in 1868). It is the first time “citizens” and “voters” are defined as “male” in the Constitution.

1869 – The first woman suffrage law in the U.S. is passed in the territory of Wyoming.

1875 – The U.S. Supreme Court declares, a state can prohibit a woman from voting. The court declares women as “persons,” but holds that they constitute a “special category of _nonvoting_ citizens.”

1890 – The first state (Wyoming) grants women the right to vote in all elections.

1918 – Margaret Sanger wins her suit in New York to allow doctors to advise their married patients about birth control for health purposes.

1920The Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is ratified. It declares: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

1923 – National Woman’s Party proposes Constitutional amendment: “Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and in every place subject to its jurisdiction. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

1963The Equal Pay Act is passed by Congress, promising equitable wages for the same work, regardless of the race, color, religion, national origin or sex of the worker.

1964Title VII of the Civil Rights Act passes including a prohibition against employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex.

1971 – The U.S. Supreme Court outlaws the practice of private employers refusing to hire women with pre-school children.

1972Title IX (Public Law 92-318) of the Education Amendments prohibits sex discrimination in all aspects of education programs that receive federal support.

1972 – The Supreme Court rules that the right to privacy encompasses an unmarried person’s right to use contraceptives.

1973 – The U.S. Supreme Court bans sex-segregated “help wanted” advertising as a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as amended.

1973 – The U.S. Supreme Court declares that the Constitution protects women’s right to terminate an early pregnancy, thus making abortion legal in the U.S.

1978The Pregnancy Discrimination Act bans employment discrimination against pregnant women.

1984 – The state of Mississippi belatedly ratifies the 19th Amendment, granting women the vote.

1996 – United States v. Virginia, 518 U.S. 515 (1996), affirms that the male-only admissions policy of the state-supported Virginia Military Institute violates the Fourteenth Amendment.

1997 – Elaborating on Title IX, the Supreme Court rules that college athletics programs must actively involve roughly equal numbers of men and women to qualify for federal support.

2009The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act expands workers’ rights to sue over pay discrimination.

For a more comprehensive History of Women’s Rights go to The National Women’s History Project website here.

Women Taking the Lead to Save Our Planet is this year’s National Women’s History Project theme. It is in recognition of the important work women are doing in the on-going “green movement. The 2009 Honorees include scientists, engineers, business leaders, writers, filmmakers, conservationists, teachers, community organizers, religious or workplace leaders or others whose lives show exceptional vision and leadership to save our planet.

Among the honorees is Hillary Rodham Clinton, who, while serving in the United States Senate, worked to secure federal legislation to protect the environment both on the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee and as the senior Democrat on the Fisheries, Wildlife and Water subcommittee. She co-sponsored the Petroleum Consumer Price Gouging Protection Act and Close the Enron Loophole Act to enable the President to declare an energy emergency and trigger federal gouging protections.

Pictured above is honoree Dr. Jean McLain, research microbial ecologist. For more information on Dr. McLain and the other honoree, please go here.

[also posted at No Quarter]

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