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Presidential Commission on the Status of Women

Presidential Commission on the Status of Women

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The Presidential Commission
Presidential Commission (United States)
In the United States, a Presidential Commission is a special task force ordained by the President to complete some special research or investigation...

 on the Status of Women
(PCSW) was established to advise the President of the United States
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 on issues concerning the status of women. It was created by John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy
John Fitzgerald "Jack" Kennedy , often referred to by his initials JFK, was the 35th President of the United States, serving from 1961 until his assassination in 1963....

's executive order 10980 signed December 14, 1961.

Background


John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy
John Fitzgerald "Jack" Kennedy , often referred to by his initials JFK, was the 35th President of the United States, serving from 1961 until his assassination in 1963....

's administration proposed the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women as a "compromise" measure. It would address people who were concerned about women's status while avoiding alienating the Kennedy administration's labor base through a potential mention of the Equal Rights Amendment
Equal Rights Amendment
The Equal Rights Amendment was a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution. The ERA was originally written by Alice Paul and, in 1923, it was introduced in the Congress for the first time...

. While running for the presidency in 1960 John F. Kennedy approached Eleanor Roosevelt for political support. It was granted in exchange for a promise to establish the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women.

Equality vs. protective legislation


Legislation related to women in the workplace up to this time had usually taken the form of protective legislation. Protective legislation advocated gender-based workplace restrictions for women on the belief that their biological differences needed to be accommodated in the workplace. Supported by many 19th century progressives including some feminists (difference feminists
Difference feminism
Difference feminism is a philosophy that stresses that men and women are ontologically different versions of the human being. Many Catholics adhere to and have written on the philosophy, though the philosophy is not specifically Catholic....

), protective legislation was supposed to help working women avoid workplace injury and exploitation. However, more often protective legislation provided employers with the justification to avoid hiring women altogether. If women needed so many accommodations in the workplace, it was subsequently easier and cheaper for employers to only hire men.

Until the 1970s, organized labor
Trade union
A trade union, trades union or labor union is an organization of workers that have banded together to achieve common goals such as better working conditions. The trade union, through its leadership, bargains with the employer on behalf of union members and negotiates labour contracts with...

 opposed the Equal Rights Amendment
Equal Rights Amendment
The Equal Rights Amendment was a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution. The ERA was originally written by Alice Paul and, in 1923, it was introduced in the Congress for the first time...

 (which would have prevented laws which held different standards for men and women), believing that women workers deserved or needed protective legislation as opposed to equal rights.

The commission is formed


When PCSW began in 1961, Congress began considering 412 pieces of legislation related to women's status. The PCSW's very existence gave the federal government an incentive to again consider women's rights and roles as being a serious issue worthy of political debate and public policymaking. Within that same time period, the Supreme Court
Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases...

 handed down rulings which allowed women to serve on juries and married couples to use contraceptive
Birth control
Birth control is an umbrella term for several techniques and methods used to prevent fertilization or to interrupt pregnancy at various stages. Birth control techniques and methods include contraception , contragestion and abortion...

s.

The Kennedy administration itself publicly positioned the PCSW as a Cold War era
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

 initiative to free up women's talents for national security purposes. To win against "the reds
Communism
Communism is a social, political and economic ideology that aims at the establishment of a classless, moneyless, revolutionary and stateless socialist society structured upon common ownership of the means of production...

", America needed everybody. America could not have everybody if the nation lacked information about women's sociolegal status.

Eleanor Roosevelt
Eleanor Roosevelt
Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was the First Lady of the United States from 1933 to 1945. She supported the New Deal policies of her husband, distant cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and became an advocate for civil rights. After her husband's death in 1945, Roosevelt continued to be an international...

, widow of President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt , also known by his initials, FDR, was the 32nd President of the United States and a central figure in world events during the mid-20th century, leading the United States during a time of worldwide economic crisis and world war...

, was appointed to chair the PCSW. Roosevelt chaired the PCSW until her death in 1962. A replacement was subsequently appointed to continue the work.

PCSW Members


PCSW committee members came from professional organizations, trade unions, religious groups, social and political clubs. Contrary to latter assertions by some activists from the women's liberation movement, the members were not uniformly white and middle class. They also included men.
  • Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt
    Eleanor Roosevelt
    Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was the First Lady of the United States from 1933 to 1945. She supported the New Deal policies of her husband, distant cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and became an advocate for civil rights. After her husband's death in 1945, Roosevelt continued to be an international...

    , Chair
  • Dr. Richard A. Lester, President of Economics, Princeton University
    Princeton University
    Princeton University is a private research university located in Princeton, New Jersey, United States. The school is one of the eight universities of the Ivy League, and is one of the nine Colonial Colleges founded before the American Revolution....

    , Vice Chair
  • Mrs. Esther Peterson
    Esther Peterson
    Esther Eggertsen Peterson was a lifelong consumer and women's advocate.-Background:The daughter of Danish immigrants, Esther Eggertsen grew up in a Mormon family in Provo, Utah. She graduated from Brigham Young University in 1927 with a degree in physical education. She moved to New York City...

    , Assistant Secretary of Labor, Executive Vice Chair
  • Robert F. Kennedy
    Robert F. Kennedy
    Robert Francis "Bobby" Kennedy , also referred to by his initials RFK, was an American politician, a Democratic senator from New York, and a noted civil rights activist. An icon of modern American liberalism and member of the Kennedy family, he was a younger brother of President John F...

    , Attorney General
  • Orville L. Freeman, Secretary of Agriculture
  • Luther H. Hodges
    Luther H. Hodges
    Luther Hartwell Hodges, Sr. was an American politician, who served as the 64th Governor of the state of North Carolina from 1954 to 1961 and as United States Secretary of Commerce from 1961 to 1965.-Biography:...

    , Secretary of Commerce
  • Arthur J. Goldberg, Secretary of Labor
  • Abraham A. Ribicoff
    Abraham A. Ribicoff
    Abraham Alexander Ribicoff was an American Democratic Party politician. He served in the United States Congress, as the 80th Governor of Connecticut and as President John F. Kennedy's Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare...

    , Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare
  • John W. Macy Jr., Chair, United States Civil Service Commission
    United States Civil Service Commission
    The United States Civil Service Commission a three man commission was created by the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act, which was passed into law on January 16, 1883...

  • Senator George D. Aiken (R Vermont)
  • Senator Maurine B. Neuberger (D Oregon)
  • Representative Edith Green
    Edith Green
    Edith Louise Starrett Green was an American politician and educator in the state of Oregon. A native of South Dakota, she was raised in Oregon and completed her education at the University of Oregon and Stanford University...

     (D Oregon)
  • Representative Jessica M. Weis
    Jessica M. Weis
    Jessica McCullough Weis was a two term Republican member of the United States House of Representatives from Rochester, New York....

     (R New York)
  • Mrs. Ellen Body, Rancher and civic leader, Henrietta, Texas
  • Dr. Mary I. Bunting, President, Radcliffe College
    Radcliffe College
    Radcliffe College was a women's liberal arts college in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and was the coordinate college for Harvard University. It was also one of the Seven Sisters colleges. Radcliffe College conferred joint Harvard-Radcliffe diplomas beginning in 1963 and a formal merger agreement with...

  • Mrs. Mary R. Callahan, Member, Executive Board, International Union of Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers, AFL-CIO
    AFL-CIO
    The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, commonly AFL–CIO, is a national trade union center, the largest federation of unions in the United States, made up of 56 national and international unions, together representing more than 11 million workers...

  • Dr. Henry David, President, New School for Social Research
  • Miss Dorothy Height
    Dorothy Height
    Dorothy Irene Height was an American administrator, educator, and social activist. She was the president of the National Council of Negro Women for forty years, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994, and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2004.-Early life:Height was born in...

    , President, National Council of Negro Women
    National Council of Negro Women
    The National Council of Negro Women is a non-profit organization with the mission to advance the opportunities and the quality of life for African American women, their families and communities. NCNW fulfills this mission through research, advocacy, national and community based services and...

    ; Director, Leadership Training Services, Young Women's Christian Association
    Young Women's Christian Association
    Young Women's Christian Association or YWCA or YWCA Building or Old YWCA Building or variations may refer to:*World YWCA, the organization formerly known as Young Women's Christian Associationor it may refer to:...

  • Mrs. Margaret Hickey, lawyer, Contributing Editor, Ladies Home Journal
  • Mrs. Viola H. Hymes, National President, National Council of Jewish Women
    National Council of Jewish Women
    The National Council of Jewish Women defines itself as a grassroots organization of volunteers and advocates who turn progressive ideals into action...

  • Edgar F. Kaiser, Industrialist
  • Miss Margaret J. Mealey, Executive Director, National Council of Catholic Women
  • Miss Marguerite Rawalt
    Marguerite Rawalt
    Dr. Marguerite Rawalt was an American writer and lawyer who lobbied in Congress on behalf of women's rights. She worked for the Internal Revenue Service for 30 years, and served on the board of directors for numerous interest groups relating to women's rights issues...

    , lawyer, former president of National Federation of Business and Professional Women's Clubs; branch chief in Office of Chief Counsel, IRS
  • William F. Schnitzler, Secretary-Treasuer, AFL-CIO
    AFL-CIO
    The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, commonly AFL–CIO, is a national trade union center, the largest federation of unions in the United States, made up of 56 national and international unions, together representing more than 11 million workers...

  • Dr. Caroline Ware, Sociologist, Historian for UNESCO
    UNESCO
    The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations...

  • Dr. Cynthia Wedel, psychologist, teacher, former Vice President, National Council of Churches
    National Council of Churches
    The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA is an ecumenical partnership of 37 Christian faith groups in the United States. Its member denominations, churches, conventions, and archdioceses include Mainline Protestant, Orthodox, African American, Evangelical, and historic peace...

    ; Member, National Board of Girl Scouts of America
    Girl Scouts of the USA
    The Girl Scouts of the United States of America is a youth organization for girls in the United States and American girls living abroad. It describes itself as "the world's preeminent organization dedicated solely to girls". It was founded by Juliette Gordon Low in 1912 and was organized after Low...


The Presidential Report on American Women


October 1963, the PCSW issued their final report documenting the status of American women.

The report criticized inequalities facing the American woman in a "free" society while paradoxically praising traditional gender roles as themselves being anti-communist.

Reflecting the then-position of labor and Kennedy's labor ties, the report avoided mentioning the Equal Rights Amendment
Equal Rights Amendment
The Equal Rights Amendment was a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution. The ERA was originally written by Alice Paul and, in 1923, it was introduced in the Congress for the first time...

 as a potential remedy.

Coverage of the Commission and Report


U.S. Department of Labor Women's Bureau head Esther Peterson
Esther Peterson
Esther Eggertsen Peterson was a lifelong consumer and women's advocate.-Background:The daughter of Danish immigrants, Esther Eggertsen grew up in a Mormon family in Provo, Utah. She graduated from Brigham Young University in 1927 with a degree in physical education. She moved to New York City...

 appeared on The Today Show to discuss commission findings and ramifications.

The Associated Press
Associated Press
The Associated Press is an American news agency. The AP is a cooperative owned by its contributing newspapers, radio and television stations in the United States, which both contribute stories to the AP and use material written by its staff journalists...

 ran a four-part nationwide story on the final report recommendations, and a 1965 mass-market book was published of the findings.

Creation of a national commission subsequently encouraged states and localities (cities, colleges and universities...etc.) to begin studying women's sociolegal status. All fifty states had commissions in operation by 1967.

In 1970 these commissions formed the Interstate Association of Commissions on the Status of Women (IACSW) and in 1975, the IACSW became the National Association of Commissions for Women (NACW) (www.nacw.org). At that time, the NACW expanded to include city and county commissions.

PCSW founds the National Organization for Women


The PCSW was only supposed to research and report on women's status, but that process subsequently radicalized many commission members. Realizing that they were not alone in caring about women's rights, an underground activist network quickly spread across America. It was only then a matter of time before the network publicly organized.

At a subsequent 1966 Citizens Advisory Council on the Status of Women (successor to the PCSW), several of the attendees began talking with each other about their similar frustrations with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is an independent federal law enforcement agency that enforces laws against workplace discrimination. The EEOC investigates discrimination complaints based on an individual's race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, perceived intelligence,...

's (EEOC) lack of interest in enforcing sex non-discrimination. Howard W. Smith
Howard W. Smith
Howard Worth Smith , Democratic U.S. Representative from Virginia, was a leader of the conservative coalition who supported both racial segregation and women's rights.-Early life and education:...

 (Virginia) previously had added 'sex' into the 1964 Civil Rights Act to attempt derailing the measure so African American
African American
African Americans are citizens or residents of the United States who have at least partial ancestry from any of the native populations of Sub-Saharan Africa and are the direct descendants of enslaved Africans within the boundaries of the present United States...

s would not gain civil rights
Civil rights
Civil and political rights are a class of rights that protect individuals' freedom from unwarranted infringement by governments and private organizations, and ensure one's ability to participate in the civil and political life of the state without discrimination or repression.Civil rights include...

.

Much to his own surprise, the entire amended Act passed into law without additional floor debate. For the first time, the United States had a law against sex discrimination in federally-funded public accommodations.

Because enforcement against sex discrimination was proving to be much more difficult, the CACSW conference attendees subsequently wanted to create an independent organization—a "NAACP for women" which would press for enforcement of this law and for achieving other objectives.

The National Organization for Women
National Organization for Women
The National Organization for Women is the largest feminist organization in the United States. It was founded in 1966 and has a membership of 500,000 contributing members. The organization consists of 550 chapters in all 50 U.S...

 (NOW) was founded by former CACSW/PCSW members and public leaders who had grown very frustrated that sociolegal reality was very slow to catch up with both the written laws and their own aspirations of women's equality. A former EEOC commissioner, Richard Graham
Richard Graham
Richard Graham is a Brazilian/American historian specializing in nineteenth-century Brazil. He was formerly Professor of History, University of Texas at Austin, and is now professor emeritus there.-Works:...

, was on NOW's first officer board as a Vice President.

Sources

  • Davis, F. (1999). Moving the Mountain: The Women's Movement in America since 1960. Chicago: University of Illinois.
  • Martin, J. M. (2003). The Presidency and Women: Promise, Performance, and Illusion. College Station, Texas: Texas A&M.


See also

  • Equal Pay Act of 1963
    Equal Pay Act of 1963
    The Equal Pay Act of 1963 is a United States federal law amending the Fair Labor Standards Act, aimed at abolishing wage disparity based on sex . It was signed into law on June 10, 1963 by John F. Kennedy as part of his New Frontier Program...

  • Civil Rights Act of 1964
    Civil Rights Act of 1964
    The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a landmark piece of legislation in the United States that outlawed major forms of discrimination against African Americans and women, including racial segregation...

  • Wage gap
  • Economic inequality
    Economic inequality
    Economic inequality comprises all disparities in the distribution of economic assets and income. The term typically refers to inequality among individuals and groups within a society, but can also refer to inequality among countries. The issue of economic inequality is related to the ideas of...