10 Rights Women Didn’t Have 60 Years Ago

Fatuma Roba Boston Marathon

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Fatuma Roba Boston Marathon
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Step in the Rights Direction

March has been Women's History Month in the United States since Congress designated it in 1987. (It started out more modestly in 1980, when President Jimmy Carter made March 8 the start of that year's Women's History Week.) Though U.S. women have had the right to vote since 1920 and are mentioned in federal civil rights acts dating back to the 1950s, many rights all adults take for granted today were denied to women as recently as our grandmothers' day, or even our mothers' — 60 years ago or less.

Related: Best and Worst States for Women

We the Jury

Serve on a Jury

Pivotal years: 1957, 1994

For most of U.S. history, most states either outright banned women from serving on juries or just made it far harder for them to do it. Not until the Civil Rights Act of 1957 did women gain the right to serve on a federal jury, and states still had the right to exclude women if they wished; as late as 1961’s Hoyt v. Florida, the Supreme Court ruled it was fine for Florida qualifying all men for jury duty automatically but obliging women to go through the trouble of volunteering, with the expected result: Most Florida juries were primarily or exclusively male. 

Not until 1975, in Taylor v. Louisiana, did the court call for equal treatment — and even then, not on equal-protection grounds for women, but because all-male jury pools was a Sixth Amendment violation of the accused's right to a jury drawn from a representative cross-section of a community. 

Not until 1994’s J.E.B. v. Alabama did the court rule that prosecutors could not try to exclude jurors based on sex (though in that child support case, ironically, lawyers had wanted a jury made entirely of women).

Woman hands opening birth control pills in hand. Eating Contraceptive Pill.
Rattankun Thongbun/istockphoto

Have Legal Access to Contraceptives

Pivotal years: 1960, 1972

Although Enovid, the first oral contraceptive, got Food and Drug Administration approval in 1960, this did not mean women who wanted birth control pills had access. Various states started immediately restricting or denying access until the 1965 Supreme Court decision Griswold v. Connecticut, which said states could not deny married women the right to use contraceptives. Only in 1972 did birth control pills and other forms of contraception become legal for single women as well.

Related: How to Protect Yourself From 10 Top Causes Of Death For Women

Jeanette Sustad

Rise to the Rank of Colonel or Higher in the Military

Pivotal year: 1967

Though women have openly and honorably served the military in every 20th century American war, they were forbidden from making service a permanent career until President Harry Truman signed the Women's Armed Service Integration Act in 1948. But even then, military women faced career barriers men did not, including strict limits on the number of high-ranking officers: Until 1967, when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Public Law 90-130, only one woman in each branch of the armed forces could rise to the rank of colonel at a given time.

Related: Military Skills That Can Help Land a Civilian Job

woman in bar 1970s
Hulton Archive/Getty

Drink in a Bar

Pivotal year: 1970

Though taverns, alehouses, saloons, and similar businesses have been commonplace throughout America since the earliest colonial days, as recently as the 1960s it was difficult if not impossible for U.S. women to unwind after work (or any other time) with a drink in a bar. In 1970, attorneys Faith Seidenberg and Karen DeCrow won a lawsuit they'd filed the previous year against McSorley's Old Ale House, then a 116-year-old New York City tavern that had never admitted a female customer. The U.S. District Court for New York ultimately ruled that the alehouse's refusal to serve women violated the Constitution's equal protection clause.

Related: 11 Things That Cost More for Women

Boston Marathon
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Officially Run in the Boston Marathon

Pivotal year: 1972

For the first 75 years of its existence, the Boston Marathon was officially male-only. One woman, Kathrine Switzer, did manage to enter the marathon in 1967 by registering as K.V. Switzer, and went unnoticed until halfway through the race, when officials realized a woman had infiltrated the runners' ranks. Officials chased after Switzer in hope of tearing off her numbers and removing her forcibly from the race, but she managed to outrun them all and finish the marathon with a total time of 4:20:00. Not until the 76th Boston Marathon, in 1972, did officials finally allow women to compete and Nina Kuscsik became the first winner of the marathon's women's division.

Related: The 'Iron Nun' and Other Seniors Who Are in Better Shape Than You

Loan officer with client
Kerkez / istockphoto

Take Out Personal or Business Loans

Pivotal years: 1974, 1988

Until the 1970s, many banks and credit card companies refused to issue credit to married women in their own name rather than their husband's, and single women could find it difficult or impossible to get credit at all. This changed when Congress passed and President Gerald Ford signed the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974, which “prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, or age in credit transactions.”  Many states kept laws requiring business loans for women to have a husband or male relative co-sign, though, until the Women's Business Ownership Act of 1988 signed by President Ronald Reagan overturned all such state laws.

Related: The Best and Worst States for Women Entrepreneurs

Stop violence against women,
pregnant woman working
sally ride
Space Frontiers/Getty

Become an Astronaut

Pivotal year: 1978

In 2017, Hillary Clinton shared a schoolgirl anecdote about the time she wrote a letter to NASA expressing interest in becoming an astronaut when she grew up, and NASA wrote back to say girls were not allowed into the astronaut program. (The letter was “a reflection of the early 1960s culture when astronauts were required to be military test pilots,” a NASA representative told CNBC. “We believe NASA today embraces the race and gender diversity that reflects America and its values.”)  In 1978, NASA enrolled its first class of female astronauts, and in 1983 one of them, Sally Ride, became the first U.S. woman to go into space.

Related: 11 Careers Where Women Are Paid More than Men

 Wear Pants on the Floor of the U.S. Senate (1993)
Hill Street Studios/Getty

Wear Pants on the Floor of the U.S. Senate

Pivotal year: 1993

Although the first woman was elected (and reelected) to the U.S. Senate in the 1930s, it would be another 60 years before women could wear pants rather than skirts or dresses on the Senate floor. In 1992, Carol Moseley-Braun became the first black woman elected to the Senate, and dressed for her first day on the job wearing a pantsuit because “I just didn’t know any better; I was wearing my nice outfit, I thought. And I walked onto the floor of the Senate, and the gasps were audible. And again, it’s like. ‘What’s up? What’s the problem?’” Other women followed, she recalled: “All the women staffers went to their bosses and said. ‘If this senator can wear pants, then why can’t I?’ And so it was the pantsuit revolution.” The Senate's sergeant-at-arms changed the dress code that year.

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