During the early years of this country, women were not entitled to the same rights and privileges as men. Women were not allowed to vote and were usually required to surrender control of their property to their husband upon marriage. Moreover, their educational and occupational opportunities were severely limited. It was commonly believed that a woman's place was in the home, raising children and tending to domestic affairs.
The first real efforts to achieve equality for women occurred in the 1800s. During the early part of that century, coeducational studies at the university level were offered for the first time. State laws were passed which allowed women to retain their property after marriage. Also, the first women's rights convention was held. Many who supported women's rights became active in the abolitionist movement during the Civil War era. Some even became well-known public orators, an uncommon occupation for women at the time.
The quest for equality continued after the Civil War. In 1869, the Wyoming Territory passed a law which allowed women to vote and serve on juries. Several other western territories and states subsequently granted women the right to vote. Women's rights advocates were outraged that the Fifteenth Amendment, which was ratified in 1870, prohibited the states from denying voting rights on the ground of race, but not on the basis of sex. In 1878, Congress considered a Constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote. Although the amendment failed, it was revitalized every year for a period of 40 years. The movement for women's suffrage was led, among others, by Susan B. Anthony, who was arrested for voting in a presidential election, and by Lucy Stone, who was one of the first American women to retain her maiden name after marriage. In 1920, women were finally given the constitutional right to vote in the Nineteenth Amendment, which provided that "[t]he 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."
The women's rights movement lost its impetus after the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. It was not until the 1960s that it regained its momentum. With more women rejecting the traditional role of housewife and entering the work force, there was an increased demand for equal rights and opportunities. In response, Congress passed the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the ground of sex with respect to the terms of compensation. The following year, Congress enacted Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans discrimination in employment on the basis of sex, among other grounds. Males, as well as females, have been granted protection against sex discrimination under both the Equal Pay Act and Title VII.
In 1972, Congress submitted the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the states for ratification. Basically, the ERA barred all discrimination on the ground of sex. However, the ERA suffered defeat after the necessary number of states failed to ratify it within the mandatory ten-year deadline. To date, women are still struggling with the issue of equality in their personal and professional relationships. Thirty-five years after the passage of the Equal Pay Act, women have still not achieved equality in wages.
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