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Archive for '- Women’s Rights'

A Matter of Simple Justice

The president’s directive of April 21, 1971. Barbara Hackman Franklin Papers, Penn State University Archives.

Today’s guest post was written by Barbara Hackman Franklin, former White House staff member for the recruitment of women and former U.S. Secretary of Commerce. The story of how Franklin and other women cracked the glass ceiling is finally told in a new book that draws from “A Few Good Women,” an oral history project at the Penn State University Libraries. The National Archives will host a special program to launch A Matter of Simple Justice: The Untold Story of Barbara Hackman Franklin and A Few Good Women on March 8.

The Nixon administration is remembered for many things, but advancing women’s roles in the workforce is usually not one of them. Yet in August 1972, Newsweek wrote that “the person in Washington who has done the most for the women’s movement may be Richard Nixon.”

Here is what happened.

First, on April 21, 1971, President Nixon issued a Memorandum for Cabinet Secretaries and Agency Heads outlining the administration’s new women’s initiative. The President called on all departments and agencies to create action plans to hire, promote, and advance women. Specifically, the plans had to address appointing more women to top-level positions, increasing the number of women in mid-level positions as well as on advisory boards and commissions.

This Presidential … [ Read all ]

Eleanor Roosevelt, what’s in your wallet?

The exterior of Eleanor's wallet, which had over 25 cards and notes inside.

Eleanor Roosevelt was born on October 11, 1884. She was the niece of former President Theodore Roosevelt, and later became the wife of future President Franklin D. Roosevelt (her fifth cousin).

She is known for her role as First Lady during the Great Depression and World War II. She was the first woman in that role to hold a press conference, and she was an advocate for minorities, the disadvantaged, and the disabled.

In her post–White House life, she served as chair of the Human Rights Commission for the United Nations General Assembly and as first chairperson of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women.

But to get a different sense of Mrs. Roosevelt’s many causes, interests, and associations, we can look inside her wallet.

Among the many cards and bits of paper, she had a license from the state of New York to carry a pistol, an expired card to the Newspaper Guild’s Press Club in New York City, a Diner’s Club Credit Card, a health insurance card, a “Bell System Credit Card” with instructions on how to make a collect call, a St. Christopher card for the patron saint of travel, and an air travel card.

The contents of her wallet—cards, photographs, bits of poems—at the time of her death in 1962 are now … [ Read all ]

A Factory Fire and Frances Perkins

Demonstration of protest and mourning for Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of March 25, 1911, By an unknown photographer, New York City, New York, April 5, 1911; General Records of the Department of Labor; Record Group 174; National Archives.

Demonstration of protest and mourning for Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of March 25, 1911, By an unknown photographer, New York City, New York, April 5, 1911; General Records of the Department of Labor; Record Group 174; National Archives.

Today marks 100 years since the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire—a blaze that lasted 18 minutes and left 146 workers dead.

Among the many in New York City who witnessed the tragedy was Frances Perkins, who would later become FDR’s Secretary of Labor, making her the first woman to serve in a Presidential cabinet.

As Secretary of Labor, Perkins was instrumental in creating and implementing the Social Security Act—but she was also intensely interested in the safety and rights of workers. “I came to Washington to work for God, FDR, and the millions of forgotten, plain common workingmen,” she said.

Perkins had a degree from Mount Holyoke College, where her coursework included touring factories. She later earned a master’s degree in in social economics from Columbia University. She had been working as factory inspector in New York at the time of the fire.

The fire started in a wastebasket on the eighth floor, and the flames jumped up onto the paper patterns that were hanging from the ceiling.

In an oral history, blouse operator Mary Domsky-Adams recalled that “My own machine was located near the locked front … [ Read all ]

Sex…and the Civil Rights Bill

Copy of HR 7152 showing amendments adding "sex" to the 1964 Civil Rights bill.

Copy of HR 7152 showing amendments adding "sex" to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. (Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, RG 233)

Forty-seven years ago this past Saturday, Martin Luther King, Jr., touched a nation with his inspiring words. Just six months later in February of 1964, one small but powerful word was added to the House version of the divisive Civil Rights Act.

Representative Howard Smith of Virginia sponsored an amendment to the bill—he added the word “sex” to the list of categories such as race and religion that the employers couldn’t consider when hiring someone. He thought the addition was so ludicrous it would kill the bill on the floor.

Smith’s track record on civil rights was clear: he protested Brown v. Board of Education, and in 1957 when another civil rights bill (this one on voting) had come before his rules committee, he had said, “The Southern people have never accepted the colored race as a race of people who had equal intelligence . . . as the white people of the South.”

But in 1964—whatever his intent for including the word, whether to torpedo a bill he opposed or even to try to gain some benefit from a bill he knew would pass—the word “sex” stuck around in this civil rights bill.

The bill cleared the House and Senate and later, when a conference committee suggested removing the word, committee … [ Read all ]

Women can’t vote, but they can run for Congress

Representative Jeannette Rankin (1880-1973), By Matzene, 1917; Courtesy of the Senate Historical Office

Representative Jeannette Rankin (1880-1973), By Matzene, 1917; Courtesy of the Senate Historical Office

While the Constitution does not say who is eligible to vote, it does say who is eligible to run for Congress.

No Person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the age of twenty-five Years, and been seven Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen.

That means ladies could run, too. And one did, four years before the Constitution recognized her right to vote.

Jeanette Rankin was sworn into Congress in April 1917, as a representative from Montana. She had helped secure women the right to vote in Montana in 1914, and now had her eye on the rest of the nation.

But the calling of the 65th Congress in April 1917 was not a normal Congressional session. Congress had been convened because Germany had declared unrestricted submarine warfare on all Atlantic shipping. Woodrow Wilson had requested Congress declare war against Germany.

There was still heavy division on whether the United States should enter the conflict. Wary of foreign entanglements, but aware that Germany and its allies had all but declared war on the United States and its interests, the United States had prolonged its entrance into the fray. But with … [ Read all ]