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

Updated September 23, 2021 56.2k views18 items

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.
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  • 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
  • Get Credit Without a Man

    The Equal Credit Opportunity Act in 1974 allowed women to apply for credit without a male co-signer and to have a credit card in her own name.

    Source: Ms. Magazine
  • Become a Judge

    It was until the ‘70s that women were allowed to serve as judges across several states. However, the first woman judge in the United States was Esther Morris. She was appointed Justice of the Peace in Wyoming in 1870 one year after the state granted women suffrage. Go, Wyoming!

    Source: Cornell Law