Things That American Women Couldn't Do Until the 1970s

Until Mad Men reminded us, many people may have forgotten that there was a shocking amount of things women couldn’t do until the ‘70s. The rights women didn’t have until the ‘70s are the very things that give her control over her life, future, and ultimately her happiness. The choice to make decisions about her own body and health were up to men. The ability to own a business, control property, and not get fired for being pregnant again fell to the men around her. The chance to marry the love of her life, who happens to be another woman wouldn’t be decided much much later.

As we look at just how far we’ve come, it’s important to look back at things women weren’t allowed to do until to recently. Women were considered incapable of making decisions, owning and managing property by themselves, much less be trusted to run a company. They were considered emotional, weak, and just too pretty or silly to be taken seriously. Plus, their place was in the home. Hilarious and nuts, right?

The rights women didn’t have until the ‘70s definitely marginalized their roles inside and outside the home. Her right to refuse to have sex with her husband or serve on a jury didn’t arrive until the very recent past.

Today, the list of things women can’t do is shorter than it once was, but there’s still much to do. "We’ve come a long way baby," was a cigarette ad. Being able to design a full life with many different ideas of family and partnerships wasn’t even a possibility until the ’70s. Women still don’t receive equal pay for equal work. As of 2015, there hasn’t been a female president. Women are still not guaranteed maternity leave.

So now that women have been given more rights, it’s interesting to look back and see things women couldn’t do, at least until the 1970s. Read on to learn more about where we've come from and where we still have to go.
Photo: Metaweb / CC-BY

  • Get a Legal Abortion

    Roe v. Wade in 1973 protected a woman’s right to abortion until viability and has been a source of hot debate ever since. Before Roe v. Wade, it was illegal for a woman to get an abortion unless a doctor determined the mother’s life was in danger. Many women sought black market abortions and resorted to toxic and fatal self abortions before the ruling. Although abortion is legal, there are many states with tough regulations that affect young and poor women.

    Source: US History
  • Experience Equality at Work

    The 1964 Civil Rights Act made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender and race. Even though the law passed, it was overlooked and not enforced until the National Organization of Women came together to enforce it. And it’s still a struggle. Women continue to be underpaid for the same job as their male counterparts, even in the upper echelons of Hollywood.

    Source: Huffington Post
  • Serve on a Jury

    Whether a woman could serve varied from state with the common thinking being that women were the center of the home and needed to be there instead of sitting on some jury. They were also believed to be too delicate to hear the details of some cases. In 1973, all 50 states determined that women could serve on juries. Utah, however, let women serve beginning in 1879.

    Source: CNN
  • Use the Birth Control Pill

    Even though the pill was approved by the FDA in 1957 and approved as contraception in 1960, it was still illegal in some states. It could only be prescribed to married women for family planning. It was also hard to come by in some states, which was interesting considering that as soon as a woman became pregnant, her job could be in jeopardy.

    Source: CNN
  • Attend Yale, Princeton, Harvard, Brown, Dartmouth, or Columbia

    Yale and Princeton didn't admit women until 1969; Harvard until 1977. Brown, Dartmouth, and Columbia did not offer admission to women until 1971, 1972, and 1981, respectively. With the exception of the University of Pennsylvania, which accepted women on a case-by-case basis in 1876, and Cornell, which accepted its first female student in 1870, women weren’t allowed access to an Ivy League education across the board until the ‘70s.

    Source: CNN

  • Discuss Sex Openly

    Though talking about sex wasn't necessarily illegal, Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique had a huge impact on the acceptability of the topic, opening a channel for women to talk about life, womanhood, and choices. The book also addressed women’s dissatisfaction with their place in the world. "A woman today has been made to feel freakish and alone and guilty if, simply, she wants to be more than her husband's wife," said Friedan. Discussion of the female sex drive and fulfillment was scandalous, but that didn’t stop empowered women from talking about it and pursuing both.

    Source: CNN