How Women Decide - Harvard Business Review

In this Declaration of Sentiments, Stanton carefully enumerated areas of life where women were treated unjustly. Eighteen was precisely the number of grievances America’s revolutionary forefathers had listed in their Declaration of Independence from England.

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Next: Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed, prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sex as well as race, religion, and national origin. The category “sex” was included as a last-ditch effort to kill the bill. But it passed, nevertheless. With its passage, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was established to investigate discrimination complaints. Within the commission’s first five years, it received 50,000 sex discrimination complaints. But it was quickly obvious that the commission was not very interested in pursuing these complaints. Betty Friedan, the chairs of the various state Commissions on the Status of Women, and other feminists agreed to form a civil rights organization for women similar to the NAACP. In 1966, the National Organization for Women was organized, soon to be followed by an array of other mass-membership organizations addressing the needs of specific groups of women, including Blacks, Latinas, Asians-Americans, lesbians, welfare recipients, business owners, aspiring politicians, and tradeswomen and professional women of every sort.


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So it’s clear that, contrary to common misconception, the Women’s Rights Movement did not begin in the 1960s. What occurred in the 1960s was actually a second wave of activism that washed into the public consciousness, fueled by several seemingly independent events of that turbulent decade. Each of these events brought a different segment of the population into the movement.


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As you might imagine, any 72-year campaign includes thousands of political strategists, capable organizers, administrators, activists and lobbyists. The story of diligent women’s rights activism is a litany of achievements against tremendous odds, of ingenious strategies and outrageous tactics used to outwit opponents and make the most of limited resources. It’s a dramatic tale, filled with remarkable women facing down incredible obstacles to win that most basic American civil right – the vote.

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The women’s rights movement of the late 19th century went on to address the wide range of issues spelled out at the Seneca Falls Convention. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and women like Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, and Sojourner Truth traveled the country lecturing and organizing for the next forty years. Eventually, winning the right to vote emerged as the central issue, since the vote would provide the means to achieve the other reforms. All told, the campaign for woman suffrage met such staunch opposition that it took 72 years for the women and their male supporters to be successful.

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The Seneca Falls women had optimistically hoped for “a series of conventions embracing every part of the country.” And that’s just what did happen. Women’s Rights Conventions were held regularly from 1850 until the start of the Civil War. Some drew such large crowds that people actually had to be turned away for lack of sufficient meeting space!

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In society at large, the Women’s Rights Movement has brought about measurable changes, too. In 1972, 26% of men and women said they would not vote for a woman for president. In 1996, that sentiment had plummeted to just over 5% for women and to 8% for men. The average age of women when they first marry has moved from twenty to twenty-four during that same period.